James Madison asks NCAA for full bowl eligibility amid undefeated season, potential NY6 contention

James Madison sent a letter to the NCAA Board of Directors on Monday requesting relief from NCAA legislation to allow full bowl eligibility for the Dukes, who are 9-0 this season and 17-3 since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision. Here’s what you need to know:

  • JMU is not eligible for a bowl game as a second-year transitioning team up from FCS unless there aren’t enough 6-6 teams. The same goes for 7-3 Jacksonville State.
  • The NCAA has postseason bans for teams that move up divisions or classifications as a deterrent from allowing too many teams to move up.
  • The Dukes are the second highest-ranked Group of 5 team in the AP and Coaches polls but are not eligible for the College Football Playoff rankings.
  • JMU applied for a one-year transition waiver in the spring, but it was denied.
  • The Sun Belt Conference also sent a letter to the board on behalf of JMU, a league source said.

Is this a surprise?

The attention and pressure on this has grown each week, and JMU continues through its season undefeated. The Virginia attorney general sent a letter to the NCAA a few weeks ago arguing for the Dukes, but it was largely dismissed by NCAA president Charlie Baker, who explained that it’s up to the Board of Directors. Local politicians have also made subtle threats to the NCAA over possible legal action (Tuesday is election day in Virginia).

The undefeated nature of JMU’s season has put a greater spotlight on this. It perhaps would not be such a heated topic if the Dukes were 7-2. There hasn’t been much attention on Jax State, for example. But because JMU is undefeated and looks like it might very well be the best Group of 5 team in the country, there will be pressure on the Board of Directors to re-examine their decision. No matter the reason for the rule, if an undefeated team that has proven it belongs at this level is left out because of bureaucracy and technicalities, it’s a tough look for the sport. — Chris Vannini, senior college football writer 

Will this actually work?

The NCAA has always been a popular punching bag, but we’ve been seeing more forceful pushback on its decisions and policies in recent years. This fall, in particular, has been defined by the public relations campaigns from schools such as UNC (related to the Tez Walker transfer waiver denial) and now JMU.

It’s not entirely clear how effective public pressure is in situations like this in terms of actually getting the NCAA to reverse course — the organization eventually ruled Walker eligible but cited new information, not a reconsideration of its rules — but surely this will garner more sympathy for the Dukes regardless. — Nicole Auerbach, senior college football writer 


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Amid massive conference realignment in 2021, James Madison moved up to the Sun Belt and did so almost immediately, beginning play in fall 2022. Because the Dukes started that two-year process at the FBS level instead of FCS like most transitioning teams, the school hoped it could get a waiver to make for a one-year transition. JMU went 8-3 in its first season and technically won the East division bolstering hopes for complete eligibility in 2023. (Sun Belt policy does not allow postseason-ineligible teams to play for the conference championship.)

However, the waiver request was denied by the NCAA board in the spring. The school said it accepted the decision. A person familiar with the board’s waiver denial told The Athletic that the group simply did not want to create a precedent. In 2014, Georgia Southern went undefeated in Sun Belt play but did not get to play in a bowl game. The situation has come up several times in basketball, too. Fairleigh Dickinson went on its NCAA men’s basketball tournament run this year only because conference champion Merrimack was ineligible as a former Division II school transitioning to Division I. That jump includes a four-year transition period, instead of two like the FCS-to-FBS move.

The NCAA has those postseason eligibility rules in place to allow schools time to make the necessary financial and infrastructure improvements and also as a deterrent for schools that aren’t ready. But JMU already had a budget and an infrastructure in place across most sports. It was one of the top football programs in FCS and hasn’t had a losing season since 2001. Its immediate success in the Sun Belt has proven that out. — Vannini 

What they’re saying

“Our university has embarked on this transition in ways that no other institution has since the transition rules changed 23 years ago; and our student-athletes have achieved an astonishing, unprecedented level of success during this period,” reads JMU’s letter, signed by the school’s president, athletic director and rector of the board. “Relief that allows our student-athletes to participate in a bowl game, as their play has earned, is warranted.”

The letter goes on to say, “Relief is warranted as a matter of student-athlete welfare. 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 excellence. Postseason participation is a reward for on-field success, and it serves as a special and high-profile developmental opportunity.”

Required reading

(Photo: Lee Coleman / Icon Sportswire via Getty)

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