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Student athletes of team sports at James Madison could pay a steep price if football leaves for Sun Belt

The move from FCS to FBS football would be a big deal for James Madison, but their current conference is prepared to make student athletes in all team sports pay a steep price if the school decides to leave

The pipeline from successful FCS program to FBS member is a trail littered with plenty of recent success stories with programs like Appalachian State, Liberty, Charlotte, Coastal Carolina immediately coming to mind.

With the Sun Belt looking to expand, James Madison was a natural and logical target. The Dukes are expected to formally move to the Sun Belt and FBS ranks next season, and while that will come with some sort of financial price, the Colonial Athletic Association plans to lobby their own punishment as well.

According to, the CAA has informed JMU that they will not allow James Madison's teams to compete for league championships for the rest of the year if they accept an invite to another league. 

The article points out automatic bids would be off the table for the Dukes for the remainder of the year, but they would be able to receive at-large bids for NCAA tournament contests. Because of some separate bylaws, this would not apply to the football team, who remain eligible for an automatic bid. 

The league has a bylaw that allows it to block schools from competing for conference championships if they intend to leave the league, and they previously enforced that bylaw in 2013 when Old Dominion left for Conference-USA.

On Monday night, JMU appealed to the presidents of the other conference schools to reconsider, but they ultimately voted "overwhelmingly" to keep the Dukes from postseason play for the rest of 2021-22 seasons.

JMU shared the following in a statement:

“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. To our knowledge, the CAA is alone in this outdated bylaw."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. With our sights set on an important next step on Friday, it’s unfortunate that the CAA made this decision right in the middle of the fall championship season.”

This is not a good look for the CAA, and JMU president Jonathan Alger and AD Jeff Bourne shared an excellent point in a joint statement where they shared:

“In an era when the industry of college athletics stresses student-athlete welfare, this decision is completely contrary to those ideals.”

JMU reps will meet again on Friday morning to think through some more of the red tape that will go along with going to the Sun Belt, and thanks to rules from the CAA that don't take into account the best interests of their student athletes, James Madison's decision will have some completely unnecessary, and absolutely avoidable collateral damage throughout the rest of the student body.

Head here to read a full run down, including comments from coaches outside of football about how it is affecting their programs and their kids that have long dreamed of going to JMU to compete for championships.