Sun Belt fast tracks JMU, including football, for next fall

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — James Madison is joining the Sun Belt Conference this summer, a move that will include a football transition for the Dukes from the second-tier FCS to the FBS level, the university and conference announced Wednesday.

The move is set to officially take place when the new academic year begins on July 1, setting the stage for JMU to compete in the Sun Belt Conference in the 2022 football season.

Sun Belt Conference commissioner Keith Gill credited JMU President Jonathan Alger and athletic director Jeff Bourne for positioning themselves so well to allow for such a quick transition.”

The Sun Belt in November first announced its intention to admit JMU as a member, but had not committed to doing so this year, saying only that the move was expected to occur no later than July 2023.

Gill said the presidents of all Sun Belt institutions helped make it possible for JMU to compete in 13 sports in the conference a year ahead of schedule.

James Madison played football last season at the FCS level, going 12-2 and reaching the national semifinals for the fifth time in the last six years. The Dukes have gone 33-5 in the past three seasons under coach Curt Cignetti.

“We believe that JMU is uniquely situated for a successful transition to playing FBS football,” Bourne said. “Given the overall strength of our program and the attractiveness of the move to the Sun Belt, we did not feel it was in our best interest to construct a gradual transition. The opportunity to play a full FBS schedule as a member of the Sun Belt, including five FBS programs visiting Bridgeforth Stadium, is a significant step forward.”

JMU also will compete in volleyball, cross country, women’s soccer, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, men’s golf, women’s golf, men’s tennis, women’s tennis, track & field, softball and baseball.

“It’s a win-win for everyone involved that this transition will take place this July,” Bourne said. “Each of our sports will be a great fit for the Sun Belt.”

James Madison is in Harrisonburg, Virginia, about 60 miles northwest of Charlottesville and a little more than 100 miles west of Washington, D.C. JMU will become the Sun Belt’s lone member in Virginia.

The Sun Belt’s other members in the upcoming academic year will be Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, South Alabama, Texas State and Troy.

Southern Mississippi also is slated to join the league no later than July 2023.

Two current non-football members, Texas-Arlington and Arkansas-Little Rock, plan the leave the league at the end of June.