The sign’s message: “JMU FANS READY FOR NEXT LEVEL. JMU2FBS.COM.”
Richard Dean, a part-time JMU student and owner of a Lynchburg-based Web design company, is one of the eight core members behind JMU2FBS.com. The site launched five weeks ago with the goal of showing the school’s administration how much support there is among the JMU fan base for a move from the Football Championship Subdivision to the sport’s top level, the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Supporters who register on the site can pledge donations to the athletics department, to be used exclusively for FBS-related purposes, which would be paid out over five years after JMU announces a move to FBS. Dean, 30, says the site has raised $410,000 from 100 supporters in five weeks. The ultimate goal is $5 million.
An independent study in 2013 projected that a move to FBS would enable JMU to pay more of its athletics expenses with less dependency on student fees, and increase revenue between $4.4 million and $5.5 million by 2019. Expenses would increase at the FBS level as well.
“We want to work with the administration,” Dean said. “If the right opportunity presents itself and the university is concerned about finances, we want to be able to say, ‘Hey, look, you make a move, here are all of these pledges.’ ”
The JMU2FBS team had planned to fly a banner at the Richmond game, which is Homecoming for the Dukes, long before ESPN announced it was bringing “College GameDay” to Harrisonburg. Dean, who organized the crowdfunded $1,400 fly-over, said the group is also making “JMU2FBS” signs to hold up behind the “GameDay” set and distributing crepe-paper streamers to students. For the record, he fully expects Corso to don the Duke Dog mascot head when he picks the winner of Saturday’s game.
“We’re going to have a sold-out crowd of 25,000,” Dean said. “We’re probably going to have a few more thousand that are just in the tailgating lot. That banner is going to be visible to the city as well. My hope is that we’re going to get 40,000 to 50,000 sets of eyes on it. What that translates to in site visits and pledges, we don’t know. If it’s successful, who knows where this goes?”
One of JMU’s former Colonial Athletic Association rivals, Old Dominion, moved to the FBS in 2013. There were reports that JMU could’ve joined the FBS’s Sun Belt Conference in 2014, but opted to stay in the CAA. JMU Athletic Director Jeff Bourne declined to discuss specific past or present discussions with potential suitors, but told the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Monday that the school continues to explore FBS opportunities.
“Right now our concentration is on, especially for this week and this game and where we are, doing really, really well in this FCS league and trying to win a national championship,” Bourne said. “We’ve come out with statements in the past and said if an opportunity were to present itself in FBS, then we’d certainly look at it and take it to our board to evaluate. We continue to monitor the landscape. It’s not just monitor. It’s actual dialogue. We talk to people and thought leaders across the country all the time to get some lay of the land, an idea of where things are going to go. Our goal is to be educated and informed, and to get some sense for what we think these other leagues might be dealing with longer term and what life is like for them.”
Dean said JMU has outgrown the CAA and its member schools, and is primed to make the jump to FBS.
“We’re now a 20,000-student, state institution,” Dean said. “We don’t see too many schools with our size, and with our budget, playing in FCS. We have one of the largest football stadiums out of the schools in [potential FBS landing spots Conference USA, Mid-American Conference and the Sun Belt Conference]. We have higher attendance than any school in the Sun Belt and any school in the MAC. All these numbers line up with us needing to make a move.”