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James Madison will pass on Sun Belt and FBS move

Stony Brook James Madison Football

With a number of programs making the move from the FCS to the FBS in recent years, James Madison will hold firm with their place in the Colonial Athletic Association at the FCS level.

“Consistent with these values and principles and the ongoing issue of conference alignment, JMU will not pursue or accept an invitation from a conference that does not meet our criteria,” James Madison president Jonthan Alger said in a statement released on the school’s athletics website this week. “If we do receive an offer consistent with our established values, we are prepared to review it and make a recommendation to the Board of Visitors. This process is ongoing and will require continued support on the part of the university, students, faculty, staff, coaches, alumni, and fans.”

Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson told reporters the powerhouse FCS program was under consideration for an invite to join the conference, which will add Appalachian State and Georgia Southern this season.

“We never offered an invitation,“ Benson said, but “[t]hey were under consideration.”

If James Madison was to move up, Conference USA would look to be the most attractive and realistic option for the Dukes. Conference USA has added Old Dominion, another school from Virginia, and is adding Charlotte in football in 2015. There is no indication Conference USA is looking to add any other future members after Charlotte, which makes for a rough spot for James Madison and any FBS plans. As Massachusetts can prove, making the move for the sake of making the move can sometimes backfire on a school. If Conference USA is not coming to James Madison, the best situation for the Dukes may be to sit still, because it is not likely the ACC or SEC will come calling anytime soon.

The Sun Belt has been exploring expansion possibilities for a while now. James Madison may have been removed from the conversation, but that will not stop the conference from looking at all possibilities for future consideration. Liberty appears to be one of the consistent names in the mix to be the next FCS school to make the move up to the FBS ranks, and the Sun Belt Conference would appear to be a good fit with the latest additions to the conference (Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Georgia State). The Sun Belt will have 11 football members including the additions of Idaho and New Mexico State this season, so adding one more football member would balance the conference out and allow for a conference championship game if desired.

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11 Responses to “James Madison will pass on Sun Belt and FBS move”
  1. robconstant says: Apr 16, 2014 8:12 PM

    Actually they’ll have 11, which is why they’re looking for a new member.

  2. dmcgrann says: Apr 16, 2014 10:57 PM

    I’m not surprised. All of the JMU folks that I know personally hate the idea of JMU joining the Sun Belt. Basketball is really the main reason JMU would want to leave the CAA. In basketball, they’ve lost their natural in-state rivals in the CAA – VCU, ODU, GMU, and Richmond.

    They’d like C-USA, and they’d even probably be satisfied in the MAC. They seem to fit in with the profile of a “MAC school”.

    Liberty would not turn down the Sun Belt or any other FBS conference, though I don’t know of any FBS conference that would even consider Liberty except the Sun Belt. My understanding is that any Sun Belt expansion is approved by the presidents of the member schools. Some of them might have a little difficulty in accepting Liberty into their club. And, at first, Liberty looks sort of weak, with a relatively small endowment. But they have money. Their online students (maybe as many as 80,000 and growing) are their cash cow.

    Like any FCS school thinking about moving up, JMU and Liberty both had Carr Sports Consulting perform a feasibility study. Carr told both schools it could be successful. JMU hasn’t made up its mind conclusively that moving up is a good idea. Liberty has said, “We’re going to do it.” But they need an invitation. I’m not aware of any other FCS schools that are as far along as JMU and Liberty.

  3. chris3141084 says: Apr 16, 2014 11:28 PM

    They don’t want to pay for unlimited ‘snacks’.

  4. planecrashguy says: Apr 17, 2014 9:13 AM

    dmcgrann–Are you implying the SBC presidents might not want Liberty because it is a private, church supported university?

  5. chunkala says: Apr 17, 2014 11:10 AM

    Yes, the SBC presidents want nothing to do with Liberty more so because they are basically a degree mill/online university without academic standards. Don’t shoot the messenger here but it’s true.

  6. dmcgrann says: Apr 17, 2014 12:45 PM

    I don’t think that being private and church-supported is what academics might find objectionable. I think they might not like the fact that Liberty doesn’t have tenure for faculty and that their president doesn’t have a PhD.

    “Church supported” is sort of a misnomer. Liberty collects more Federal funds for higher education than any other school in Virginia.

  7. planecrashguy says: Apr 17, 2014 2:50 PM

    OK, thanks for the clarification. A different situation than we saw in the PAC 10 with a couple schools blackballing BYU.

  8. rmiller1959 says: Apr 18, 2014 12:29 AM

    In the interest of full disclosure, I’m an associate dean at Liberty University, as well as a football fan. I enjoy your site very much!

    By definition, a “degree mill” is “an unaccredited higher education institution that offers fake academic degrees and diplomas for a fee.” Liberty is not only accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the same accrediting body that certifies all southern colleges and universities, but its athletic training, business, education, engineering, exercise science, nursing, medicine and law programs are all accredited by the specific professional associations for each discipline.

    Even the online programs are accredited, and we are one of the largest such programs in the nation, and one of the few with an actual campus behind it. I’ve witnessed enough students fail the online classes, and failed enough of them myself in my role as an assistant professor, to know they’re not “fake.”

    The federal government had a big problem with civil servants and military members holding degrees from diploma mills several years ago; I was a senior executive in the government at the time, and my successor in a job was caught with a fake doctorate. As a result, the Department of Education has a database of accredited colleges and universities so people can determine if a school is “legitimate,” and you’ll find Liberty on the list.

    The “federal funds” Liberty collects are federal student loans only, and our default rate is half the national average. Most of the $1 billion in net assets that Liberty holds, along with its AA bond rating, is due to the distance learning/online program, which has been in existence since 1985 and whose success has schools like the University of Michigan seeking our counsel on how a “brick and mortar” school can run a successful online program. Much of that money is being put into a $500 million expansion program on campus so we offer a college experience that any student would desire, including the 13,000 currently in residence.

    I don’t know if we’ll end up in the FBS or not, but I invite you to come and check us out. We’re sure to surprise you!

  9. dmcgrann says: Apr 18, 2014 2:31 PM

    Liberty’s students also receive Pell Grants, not just loans. And Federal student loans are guaranteed at a cost to the taxpayer and some are subsidized at a further cost to the taxpayer. In addition, Liberty also has students receiving financial aid via the GI Bill. There’s a lot more Federal money flowing into Liberty each year than just loans. It’s true of all schools.

    Liberty’s default rate has been on par with other private, non-profit schools, but the latest default rate figures really predate the rapid expansion of Liberty’s online student body. Time will tell if the default rate can be maintained at its past levels.

  10. dmcgrann says: Apr 18, 2014 6:46 PM

    I would like to say that I’m not really picking on Liberty. Some my kid’s friends go to Liberty or have graduated from there. I’ve met a number of Liberty graduates over the years, as well as staff members. None are stupid; all are unfailingly pleasant. I’d doubt that LU gets many applicants for on-campus admission that are considering LU to be a “safety school” and that for most applicants it’s their first choice. Obviously, they speak to a good number of folks.

    But, Liberty does things that most other universities don’t do. In and of itself, that’s fine. That’s a choice. But you can’t expect some rolling of eyes from folks who wouldn’t do those things, or who have different values.

  11. bleed4philly says: Feb 5, 2015 8:22 AM

    Revisiting this issue after the season is over, it’s pretty clear that Liberty University has progressed under the leadership of Turner Gill. Not only do they have the resolve and the resources, but the team had another respectable recruiting class, nabbing 4 national ranked athletes yesterday… What they need to do is keep playing FBS schools, they have West Virginia, Baylor, and Virginia Tech on the schedule for the next 3 years.

    Comparing Liberty’s academia to other universities and calling them inferior is ludicrous, I’m currently enrolled in their online masters program for public health administration and it is a lot more challenging that my undergrad at a public university in California (CSU-Fullerton). Being more challenging than a public university should be good enough.

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