Usually, you would think a smaller school would jump at the opportunity to to join the NCAA's highest division. But when the Sun Belt of the FBS came calling for FCS James Madison, the Dukes appear to have turned down the chance to become the 130th (counting Charlotte in 2015) FBS school.
According to Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson, via the The Virginian-Pilot, JMU had been mulling whether to move to college football's top division after three of its rivals left the Colonial Athletic Association. However, despite a consulting firm finding that the school was, indeed, ready for the move, the Dukes decided to stay put.
JMU officials were approached by the Sun Belt more than a year ago, according to media reports, but the Dukes weren't enamored with a league that last season put just two teams in bowl games. The Sun Belt's TV contact also doesn't provide as much exposure and revenue as the C-USA contracts.
(SB Nation reported in March 2013 that the Sun Belt would offer JMU a spot upon WKU's exit. Benson says the Dukes were "under consideration.")
That's right. According to the report, James Madison so unimpressed with the Sun Belt that it decided it would be a better move to stay in a lower division. That doesn't exactly make the Sun Belt look that great — it's still searching for a 12th member after adding Appalachian State and Georgia Southern from the FCS, and could consider a school like Liberty — but it actually might be a good move for the school.
Moving to a small FBS conference can be tough financially for FCS schools, especially if it doesn't find the right conference. In this case, JMU would have had to do a lot of traveling, since most of the Sun Belt's teams are spread throughout the Deep South.
Plus, there are cautionary tales. UMass is the best example of the perils of an FCS-to-FBS move. The Minutemen have struggled since moving up to the MAC for football only in 2011, and they announced they'll leave the conference after the 2015-2016 season. They have yet to find a new home and could potentially head back to FCS, though there are some other FBS possibilities on the table.
James Madison will probably make the move to FBS eventually, but good on the Dukes for not jumping at what could've been a bad situation. As for the Sun Belt, even with the announcement of a new bowl game, it's seen better days.