The question that our university currently faces of whether or not our football program should move from the FCS to the FBS level can be summed up in just two words: It’s Complicated.
If you can make up your mind one way or the other in less than thirty seconds, you have given this decision too little thought. If you can make up your mind in three hours, you have given it too little thought. After 30 days of studying all aspects of this issue you may be getting close to finding the right answer, but chances are there is still more to understand.
It is important to first know where this question of moving from the FCS to the FBS comes from, and how the decision fits into the future of JMU. The university is currently undergoing a strategic planning process that establishes the core qualities and goals that Madison will operate under for the next 10 years and beyond. The Athletics Division of the university is conducting its own strategic planning process in parallel with this effort, and the Carr Feasibility Report is one aspect of their process. The report is a study of the feasibility of JMU making the move to FBS. This was not undertaken with a specific conclusion already in mind, it was truly a measure of the current position of JMU Athletics.
The Carr Feasibility Report has concluded quite correctly on a factual basis that our university is positioned well to make the jump to the FBS level if we decide to do so. However, there is a big difference between what we can do and what we should do. Armed with the knowledge that such a movement is possible, it is now up to the senior administration and the Board of Visitors to make the decision of whether such a move is in line with the JMU mission and values, and if this change will benefit the university overall.
The central debate revolves around the monetary issues concerning the move to FBS. Many arguments have been made that with student fees already paying for such a high percentage of the athletics budget, FBS status would only increase the cost. As described in the Carr Feasibility Report, the percentage of overall athletic expenditures paid for by student fees would decrease with the projected rise in revenues; however it also states that overall athletics cost would be higher, so student fees would have to increase slightly to pay for the move. The counter argument to this, though, is that our athletic fees are disproportionately higher than other similar institutions because we are more transparent with how our money is spent. At other universities, the true costs of athletic departments are hidden by placing building expenses and operational costs under other areas of the university finances. JMU does not engage in this practice and places the total cost of athletics under their own budget. While our student fees are higher, we are still getting a very good deal compared to other universities.
The Carr Feasibility Report also mentions the necessity of increasing alumni giving to make this move a success. Donations will have to double to meet the reports budget, and whether alumni will shoulder their fair share of the costs with a move to FBS is still up for debate.
Moving to the FBS level will also mean a change in our conference and the types of rival institutions we would face. Teams that we face will more than likely be scattered across the country and much further away than our current rivals. It remains to be seen what effect this situation would have on the academic and athletic success of our student-athletes. We must acknowledge, however, that the option of staying in the CAA has just as many dangers and unknowns as a move upwards. Recently some of our biggest rivals such as VCU, ODU, and GMU, have all elected to depart the conference. William and Mary and Richmond University(football only) remain the sole other Virginia schools in the CAA, and we have undoubtedly lost some of the fun, competitive spirit that came from playing state rivals. Increasingly, we face universities that have no connection to JMU nor do they resemble us in a meaningful way. Athletic costs will also continue to increase even if we stay within the CAA, without much potential for future revenue growth to offset those costs.
Individually we must question what role athletics plays in shaping our Madison Experience. Some students will never attend an athletic event and will experience no direct benefit from a move, while others consider athletics a cornerstone of their JMU experience. There is no one size fits all answer to this question, as each student is different. Will a change in our football program change the Madison Experience we all know and love? This is a hard question to quantify, but the most important to answer. By moving to the FBS level our university could reach a greater national prominence, giving indirect benefits to the school such as greater academic acknowledgment, more recognition from employers, and new partnerships with businesses and other institutions. These benefits must be weighed against the possibility of a culture change that might be an unintended outcome of the increased emphasis on football competitiveness.
As students, we must recognize that this decision is not all about us. This is a choice that will affect current students, tens of thousands of future students, the parents of students, our faculty and staff, and the 115,000 strong alumni network. This decision is not being made for us alone and it is selfish to think so. While we certainly deserve to have our voice heard and our opinion considered when making the final decision, we must realize that either way some people will not get what they want. I believe that our senior administration will examine this issue from every angle, hear feedback and consider the implications of both sides, and then make the best decision for the long term health and success of our university.
As I stated previously, this issue is incredibly complicated. Please feel free to reach out to me with any question you may have. I would also love to hear feedback concerning the questions of moving to FBS, so that I might relay your opinions and thoughts to the senior administration to aid in their decision.
Student Body President