Madison Would Like FCS Kickoff Spotlight
HARRISONBURG — Over the weekend, the FCS had a Saturday all to itself.
In the nationally televised FCS Kickoff contest on ESPN, five-time defending national champion and No. 1 North Dakota State beat No. 6 Charleston Southern 24-17 in overtime.
This weekend, FBS programs begin play, so there isn’t another Saturday for the rest of the year when an FCS matchup is the only game to watch. Even in December with the FCS playoffs ongoing, there’s the traditional Army-Navy game and a few of the early bowls at the FBS level.
James Madison athletic director Jeff Bourne said he “would very much like” for the Dukes to compete in the FCS Kickoff.
“I think it could be a contest that is healthy for the institution,” Bourne said last week. “I think it brings a lot of national attention to help with our branding and recruiting. But it has to be at the right time.”
To play in a marquee non-conference matchup like the Kickoff game or against an FCS program like North Dakota State, Bourne said JMU would likely have to sacrifice its annual money-grab game against an FBS school.
Bourne said he doesn’t want to create a schedule so difficult that it ends up jeopardizing Madison’s chance of reaching the postseason. If JMU were to schedule a top-tier FCS opponent like the Bison along with an FBS opponent, it would only leave one open non-conference date to set aside for an expected win against a lesser foe.
“Since I came to JMU in 1999, the most difficult thing year in and year out is scheduling,” Bourne said.
JMU opens the season on Saturday at home against Morehead State and a week later will host Central Connecticut State. Morehead State plays in the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League and Central Connecticut State hasn’t had a winning season since 2010.
New Dukes coach Mike Houston, however, said he doesn’t believe playing those schools will alter how his team is viewed come playoff selection time.
“I don’t think it will have any kind of negative impact on us,” Houston said Monday morning during the Colonial Athletic Association coaches teleconference. “Looking at Morehead State. They are a seven-win team from last year that I know has aspirations of being in the FCS playoffs this year.”
For Bourne, the challenge with the 11-game schedule is finding balance to give JMU a realistic opportunity to reach eight wins for a postseason berth while keeping the athletic department’s budget stabilized.
The FBS opponent provides financial incentive to keep playing against elite competition. SMU paid JMU $425,000 to play in Dallas last year — a game JMU won 48-45.
JMU’s upcoming games against FBS schools include one at North Carolina on Sept. 17, a trip to East Carolina in 2017 and a matchup at North Carolina State in 2018.
The first league opponent JMU meets this fall is Maine. Under coach Joe Harasymaik, the Black Bears will travel to two FBS opponents to begin their season before welcoming JMU on Sept. 24.
Maine plays at Connecticut on Thursday night and at Toledo next weekend.
“As players and as coaches we like these games,” Harasymaik said last month at CAA media day. “It’s a really good evaluator of where you are, but the challenge is coming out of that second game fully healthy.”
Maine played at Boston College and at Tulane last fall. In order to ease scheduling for its league members, the CAA is assessing — at least internally — one solution. The league has discussed the potential of a scheduling alliance with another conference.
“We’re always looking for any way that we can improve our scheduling matrix,” CAA commissioner Joe D’Antonio said Monday. “An alignment that would give us quality opponents to strengthen our nonconference schedule certainly would be beneficial.”
“You could do the Southern Conference or the Patriot League,” Bourne said. “The big advantage would be to find a way to play [opponents] at a point where you don’t have to fly.”
Chartering flights for football costs between $100,000 and $150,000, Bourne said. Renting buses are a tenth of the cost.
D’Antonio said a scheduling agreement with another league would likely differ from how Power Five leagues create agreements for basketball. In other words, CAA football will probably not have something like the ACC-Big Ten challenge in hoops with whatever league it came to an agreement with.
“You’re dealing with a finite number of games,” D’Antonio said. “In basketball you deal with a finite number of games, but there is flexibility. If there were to be some type of alliance for our football, you probably wouldn’t see it for all teams in the conference, but you’ll see it for a section of teams. The devil in the detail lies in what you determine what those sections of teams need and how they match up.”
Bourne said he is eager to continue talks about a possible scheduling alliance with other athletic directors in the CAA.
“We need to find a way to look at some form of collaborate arrangement with other leagues that would guarantee so many games a year with them,” Bourne said. “From early indications, there’s support from the athletic directors, so it’s something that I’d like to pursue going forward because there are other institutions out there like us that have trouble scheduling and it’s a way for us to work cohesively to help one another.”