June 13, 2024

James Madison officials made another plea to the NCAA Division I board of directors Monday to reduce its football program’s FCS to FBS transition from two years to one, so the undefeated Dukes can be eligible to compete in a postseason bowl game this season.

In a letter to NCAA Division I board of directors chairman Jere Moorhead, the University of Georgia president, JMU president Jonathan Alger and athletic director Jeff Bourne argued the Dukes have “embarked on this transition in ways that no other institution has since the transition rules changed 23 years ago” and that their “student-athletes have achieved an astonishing, unprecedented level of success during this period.”

“Relief that allows our student-athletes to participate in a bowl game, as their play has earned, is warranted,” the JMU officials wrote.

“Our student-athletes have done everything the right way, and they view the postseason prohibition in this instance as inexplicable punishment in light of the NCAA’s stated priorities. As many commentators have noted, this is an opportunity for the NCAA to do the right thing for our student-athletes and recognize their exceptional efforts on and off the field.”

Under NCAA rules, teams making the transition from the FCS to FBS are ineligible for the postseason the first two years. On April 27, the NCAA denied the school’s appeal to complete the two-year transition in only one year.

James Madison was the first school to appeal the two-year period.

The NCAA transformation committee established new FBS membership requirements that will go into effect Aug. 1, 2027. In the letter to Morehead, JMU officials wrote that “due to the diligence and planning of our institution, we are able to confirm that we are meeting the updated requirements now. We have met full FBS membership requirements in both years of our transition, and will continue to meet them in the future.”

The Dukes, in their second season in the Sun Belt Conference, are 9-0 and ranked No. 21 in the Associated Press and coaches’ polls. Because James Madison is ineligible under NCAA rules to compete in the postseason, it is not included in the College Football Playoff selection committee’s rankings.

If the Dukes were eligible to compete in a bowl this season, they might be the highest-ranked team from a Group of 5 conference in the CFP rankings and in contention to play in a New Year’s Six bowl game. Last week, the Dukes won their 12th consecutive game, 42-14 at Georgia State, and they’re among seven unbeaten teams in the FBS.

James Madison hosts UConn on Saturday (2 p.m. ET, ESPN+).

As it stands, the only way the Dukes can play in a bowl game is if there aren’t enough 6-6 teams to fill 82 spots in 41 bowl games at the end of the regular season. The Dukes also aren’t eligible to play in the Sun Belt Conference championship game, despite being the only team that’s still unbeaten in league play.

JMU officials noted in the letter to Morehead that the Dukes are 15-3 against FBS competition the past two seasons, and they’re the only program to be ranked in the AP poll in each of the two years while transitioning from the FCS to the FBS.

“Most importantly, relief is warranted as a matter of student-athlete welfare,” JMU officials wrote in the letter. “The membership recognizes postseason participation as a fundamental element of the student-athlete experience. If relief is provided, our student-athletes would potentially have the rare opportunity to participate in a prestigious New Year’s Six bowl contest.

“Our team includes cohorts of students who have been through COVID disruptions, missed out on earned opportunities last year, and face uncertain prospects for postseason play again this year despite their sustained success. … The artificial denial of such opportunities, which have otherwise been earned on the field, is clearly detrimental to our students’ mental health and well-being. Further, this denial hinders our student-athletes’ financial prospects and professional possibilities.”

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, a JMU alumnus, wrote a letter to NCAA president Charlie Baker in September, asking him to allow the Dukes to play in a bowl game.

In a response to Miyares last month, Baker didn’t budge from the NCAA’s position.

“The Division I Board of Directors and council believe clear standards and timelines for reclassification processes will promote strategic membership growth and allow for a uniform experience for all reclassifying institutions,” Baker wrote. “The board and council agreed 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.”

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