JMU makes it official; Sun Belt Conference is next stop

November 6, 2021 GMT

James Madison decided Saturday to pursue a move to the Sun Belt Conference despite being told by the Colonial Athletic Association that it will be barred from participating in CAA championships before its actual departure.

The Dukes’ withdrawal from the CAA is effective June 30, 2022, the CAA said.

“JMU has been extremely successful during its time as a member of CAA Football and has brought great recognition to the conference. We understand their desire to move to the FBS level and wish them well in that pursuit,” CAA commissioner Joe D’Antonio said in a statement released Saturday.

In a statement released before the vote, James Madison President Jonathan Alger and athletic director Jeff Bourne said the CAA’s decision to ban the Dukes from competing for league championships in sports other than football “is completely contrary” to the ideals that stress student-athlete welfare.

“We were thorough and heartfelt in appealing to the league’s council of presidents, but that appeal was denied. Eight other Division I conferences have full members that have publicly announced an exit and yet all eight have allowed the student-athletes at those institutions to continue competing for championships.,” the statement says.

D’Antonio said the decision was in keeping with the league bylaws, which the JMU officials said are outdated.

“To our knowledge, the CAA is alone in this outdated bylaw. JMU has striven to be a good partner of the CAA and to treat other institutions as they would want to be treated, but that ideal is not being reciprocated,” the statement said.

The Dukes, two-time national champions at the Football Championship Subdivision level, will not be barred from representing the league in the football playoffs because different bylaws govern that sport in the CAA, and the league does not play a championship game.

D’Antonio on Thursday noted that the league exacted the same limitations against Old Dominion and Georgia State when they chose to leave the league in 2013.

JMU was scheduled to host CAA championships in men’s soccer, women’s basketball, women’s lacrosse and softball, but the league said it will work with the membership to determine new sites for those championships.

The Dukes’ departure for the Football Bowl Subdivision has been anticipated for years, especially after the Dukes won a pair of Football Championship Subdivision national championships and became regulars atop the FCS polls. They also expanded Bridgeforth Stadium to hold 25,000 fans for football.