And then, as a way for you two to foster a new partnership, ask simply: Who the heck does keeping JMU out of a bowl game serve? Or maybe even better: Who would be hurt if the NCAA allowed JMU to play in a bowl game?
In a college football world that is perpetually twisted if not fully torn apart, this is the simplest problem to solve. It should take one phone call from NCAA President Charlie Baker to JMU Athletic Director Jeff Bourne: “Sorry for the headaches. You’re in. Good luck.”
“We’ve met all the standards,” Bourne said Tuesday during a Zoom call with reporters. “We’ve proved, not just in football but in all other sports, that we are extremely competitive. In this case … I don’t know what more could be done on JMU’s part to prove that we’re [ready] to be treated equally with regard to a bowl opportunity.”
Bourne spoke calmly, in measured tones. But at times he sounded exasperated. Who can blame him? He was less than 24 hours removed from sending a letter to Jere Morehead, chair of the NCAA’s Division I board of directors, making one last plea for sanity.
Forgive him if he’s losing his.
“I’m laughing because it’s very, very difficult to try to anticipate in this current environment what relief might be provided by the NCAA,” Bourne said.
Laugh, Jeff, because if you don’t, you’ll cry.
This is silly. JMU is 9-0. It has won five road games, including at Virginia and at Marshall. In 2022, it went 8-3 while playing 10 FBS opponents. Some quick math shows the Dukes are 17-3 in 2022 and 2023 combined, just shy of Tulane’s 20-3 mark as the best among the Group of Five conferences. They’re not playing pushovers. They’re playing peers.
Why have the Dukes played fewer games than the Green Wave? Well, in part because Tulane got to play in the American Athletic Conference championship game last season, then advanced to the Cotton Bowl, where it beat USC. Think that doesn’t matter to a school or a program or the players who pull it off?
That’s what’s at stake for the Dukes, who could finish this season as the highest-ranked Group of Five team — status that could grant them access to a prestigious New Year’s Six bowl game. As it stands, the Sun Belt Conference, following the NCAA’s lead, won’t even allow the Dukes to play in its title game.
The Dukes are not impostors. They have shown in their planning and their commitment — in finances and facilities — that they more than belong.
“Winning at this level the way that we have this year I think really accentuates the preparedness for where we are,” Bourne said. “And I think it adds significantly to our case and what the public’s perception is.”
This shouldn’t be a PR campaign. It should be a common-sense campaign. An NCAA spokesperson said the organization received JMU’s request, which “will be considered by the appropriate membership committees in a timely manner.”
Tick, tick, tick. JMU’s regular season ends Nov. 25. The Sun Belt title game — which it could host — is Dec. 2. Let’s get those appropriate membership committees together immediately. Or bypass them altogether.
Why are we even discussing this? It should not have taken a letter from Virginia Attorney General Jason S. Miyares (R) to bring the matter to Baker’s attention. Miyares wrote to Baker in October, asking for a waiver. Baker denied it, writing back that “if changes to the FCS-to-FBS reclassification process are warranted, these should be handled through legislation that applies to all schools reclassifying from FCS to FBS.”
If you run an organization built on red tape and arcane bureaucracy, you better lean into red tape and bureaucracy in your decisions, right?
That brings us to Monday’s letter to Morehead, signed by Bourne, JMU President Jonathan Alger and JMU Rector Maribeth Herod. Morehead, whose day job is serving as president of the University of Georgia, should know something about quality football.
“Our university has embarked on this transition in ways no other institution has since the transition rules changed 23 years ago; and our student-athletes have achieved an astonishing, unprecedented level of success during this period,” the letter reads. “Relief that allows our student-athletes to participate in a bowl game, as their play has earned, is warranted.”
That’s important because this isn’t about the administration or Bourne or Coach Curt Cignetti, who is 50-8 in his fifth season. It’s about the players. They put in the work. They deserve the rewards.
“Whenever you lose the opportunity to appear in those final rankings, it’s a penal expression for our student-athletes, and it hurts them,” Bourne said. “And those of us in the NCAA who do what we do every day, you don’t want anything to hurt your student-athletes.”
College football will morph into forms never before considered to create the outcomes it wants. USC and UCLA can essentially detonate a conference with more than a century of history because another conference promises more cash. The NCAA wants Congress to hold its hand as it navigates the new — and just — world in which athletes can profit from use of their name, image and likeness.
And this is where NCAA leaders decide to take a principled stand? On James Madison’s 9-0 football team? As JMU said in its letter to Morehead, “The current, rigid application of the rule, which takes away an earned postseason opportunity in this instance, is indefensible.”
So stop defending it, NCAA. Sit down with Common Sense. Grab a cup of coffee. Put away your rule book and disband your committees. Make the right decision — and soon: JMU is better than many programs that will play in bowl games. Why on earth keep the Dukes out?