James Madison cannot officially head to the Sun Belt without ramifications from the Colonial Athletic Association.
JMU is likely to head to the Sun Belt and the top level of college football next season as the Sun Belt expands to 14 teams for football. But when it announces that move in the near future it will then be banned from competing for team championships this season in its current conference.
The CAA has a provision that allows it to block members from competing for league titles if those schools make a move for another conference; it enacted the same provision eight years ago when Old Dominion moved to top FBS level of college football from the FCS level.
"As we head into a potentially monumental week for the future of James Madison University and our intercollegiate athletics program, we were extremely disappointed to be informed by the Colonial Athletic Association that, should the university accept an invitation to another conference, JMU student-athletes would not be allowed to compete for postseason conference team championships and, therefore, for the opportunity to earn NCAA automatic team qualification," James Madison said in a statement via the Richmond Times Dispatch. "In an era when the industry of college athletics stresses student-athlete welfare, this decision is completely contrary to those ideals."
The ban also means that JMU can't host any league tournaments scheduled for the rest of the school year, though fall tournaments set to begin this week are apparently unaffected.
It's hard to disagree with the points JMU makes in that statement. The athletes on its teams have nothing to do with the school's move to the top level of college football and another conference. They don't deserve to be punished. If the CAA wants to punish the adults running the school and the athletic department for leaving the conference — if it could even do that via provisions in its contracts with schools — then that's fair game. But the students who are currently at the school don't deserve to get punished for the school's decision.
James Madison would be the 16th member of the Sun Belt, but the 14th that plays football (Little Rock and UT Arlington do not have football teams). The conference currently has 10 football teams and has added Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss no later than July 1, 2023. If James Madison's move doesn't happen until the summer of 2023, then it would prohibited from competing for CAA titles for two school years.