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James Madison joining the Sun Belt for 2022 season, a year early

James Madison will be positioned to compete immediately in one of the most competitive FBS conferences.

A strange news item passed the desk earlier this week. Middle Tennessee, an FBS team, will take $700,000 to open their season at James Madison. That is, an FBS team taking a guarantee from an FCS team, the reverse of how the scheduling economy typically works in college football.

On Wednesday, we found out why.

James Madison will join the Sun Belt this season, a year earlier than previously announced. 

“We look forward to JMU competing as a full member of the Sun Belt Conference in the Fall of 2022. I want to thank JMU President Jonathan Alger and Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne for positioning themselves so well to allow for such a quick transition. None of this could be possible without tremendous leadership and preparation,” said SBC Commissioner Keith Gill. “I’d also like to thank our current member institution presidents and athletic directors for helping make this transition for JMU take place a year ahead of schedule. We certainly appreciate the collaborative process.”

For football purposes, the Middle Tennessee game allows JMU to hit the 5-game threshold, required for FBS teams.

The Dukes will play a full Sun Belt schedule this fall, though they will not be eligible for the SBC championship or a bowl game. The school is appealing the NCAA to shorten its transition period from two years to one, thereby making them eligible for the postseason in 2023.

And there's no reason to believe James Madison won't be immediately competitive, even in one of the most competitive conferences in FBS. The Dukes reached the playoffs in their final eight FCS seasons, and from 2016 on went 70-11 (39-4 CAA) with five final fours, three title game appearances, and one national championship.

James Madison's enrollment (20,000-plus) and its athletics budget (nearly $60 million) will put it above many current Group of 5 schools.

“JMU is ecstatic to be joining the Sun Belt Conference, and it’s a win-win for everyone involved that this transition will take place this July,” said JMU Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne. “Each of our sports will be a great fit for the Sun Belt and bring value to the conference while also being positioned to be successful from day one. I’d like to thank Keith Gill, the rest of the Sun Belt staff, and the member institution presidents and athletic directors for their hard work to make this happen.”

James Madison will give the Sun Belt 11 football-playing schools for the 2022 season, assuming Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss don't find a way to join for this coming season as well. The Sun Belt unveils its 2022 schedule next month.

In addition to James Madison, Jacksonville State and Sam Houston are leaving FCS for FBS; the latter two will compete in Conference USA. The Dukes, Gamecocks and Bearkats will push FBS membership to 133 schools.

As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.