With a miraculous comeback win over Weber State this season and a thrilling defeat of North Dakota State in Fargo last season, JMU football fans have had plenty to cheer about in the FCS playoffs. While the postseason runs have been magical, the wins pale in comparison to what it would be like if the Dukes were in the FBS, competing in bowl season.
A potential move to the FBS has been a hot discussion topic of JMU football fans for years, and with each riveting bowl game, I’ve finally come to agree with those saying the Dukes need to move up.
Look, I attended the Weber State victory, and the atmosphere was electric. I also attended the national championship win over Youngstown State and was on site as thousands of fans flooded the Toyota Stadium field. It was awesome, but the FBS offers much more.
I was sitting on my couch two nights ago and BAM! It hit me like a cool, refreshing glass of Cheribundi Tart Cherry Juice plus whey protein. As I was watching Florida Atlantic rout Akron in the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl, I was struck by the intensity and importance of the bowl game. That’s what the FCS playoffs are missing.
For FAU, there’s no telling how much momentum its win will carry into next season. There’s nothing a recruit loves more than the opportunity to dominate a MAC opponent in front of literally dozens of fans that are likely all relatives. For Akron, there’s nothing more motivating than having to spend all offseason knowing you lost the prestigious CTCBRB. The pain of the loss will hurt for months. When the Zips enjoy a bottle of Cheribundi Tart Cherry Juice Light on a stuffy summer evening, the acidity of the drink might sting just a little bit more now, knowing they couldn’t proudly hoist a bowl full of cherries over their heads following a bowl game triumph.
In all likelihood, not a lot of JMU fans are familiar with FAU or Akron, so I’ll use in-state foe Old Dominion as an example of what JMU is missing. The Monarchs were in the CAA in the last decade, so they’re a perfect representation of what the Dukes have left on the table. Just last season, ODU went to the Bahamas Bowl in one of the most important games of the college football season. Decades from now, ODU fans will gather together and reminisce on where they were when their beloved Monarchs beat Eastern Michigan 24-20 to finish their season with a remarkable 9-3 record. The Monarchs might not be national champions, but nobody can take away their title of 2016 Popeyes Bahamas Bowl champions.
JMU, sadly, wasn’t playing in a bowl game on a beautiful day in the Bahamas. The Dukes spent their last game of the season suffering on an unseasonably cold day in Texas playing Youngstown State in a game that had nothing to do with fast food chicken. To make matters worse, with such a demand for tickets, JMU fans were huddled together in tight quarters for the duration of the game. In the Bahamas Bowl, Old Dominion fans seemingly had acres worth of space to stretch out and enjoy the game in silent peace. For claustrophobic people, being a JMU football fan is a living hell.
Let’s move to one of the most important parts of the FBS-FCS argument — playing well-known opponents. ODU played teams like Virginia Tech and North Carolina this season, while JMU only got to face teams like East Carolina, Richmond and North Dakota State. There’s no “Wow Factor” for the Dukes. The Monarchs, on the other hand, battled Tech and UNC to a pair of losses by a combined score of 91-23. Wow.
I hate to pile on even more, but while the Dukes are frolicking around Frisco, the Monarchs are extending their advantage over their in-state foes. In a stroke of genius, ODU decided to win only five games and keep themselves out of a bowl this season. This gives the athletic department plenty of time to schedule future opponents from major conferences. JMU’s AD Jeff Bourne doesn’t have the same luxury as he’s burdened with the responsibility of attending a national championship game in early January instead of scheduling other teams to play seven years from now.
All of these points beg the question for JMU fans: would you rather play teams like North Dakota State in a national championship or would you rather play against two Power 5 teams in early September and then later compete in the Little Debbie Mini Frosted Strawberry Donut Cleveland Bowl? I think the answer is fairly obvious. JMU needs to take Little Debbie’s advice this holiday season and unwrap a smile from JMU fans by announcing a move to the FBS.