12 teams in a conference is the magic number in the Football Bowl Subdivision to hold a conference championship game. The Sun Belt currently has 11 teams.
Because conference title games are a lucrative proposition not only in terms of money and exposure, the Sun Belt is looking for a team to fill up the football egg carton.
James Madison won't be that 12th team. The FCS school was under consideration by the conference to make the jump to FBS, but any move to the Sun Belt isn't happening.
“It appears they made a decision to stay FCS,” Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson told the Orlando Sentinel on Tuesday. “We never offered an invitation and we never extended an invitation either formal or informal."
The Sun Belt had 12 teams lined up for 2014 last year, but as other conferences made moves throughout the trickle-down-effect of conference realignment, Western Kentucky is moving to Conference USA for 2014, leaving the Sun Belt back at 11 for football. (Arkansas-Little Rock and Texas-Arlington are members but don't play football.)
Among those 11 teams are Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, two schools who made the move from FCS to FBS and two schools who have monumental upsets of BCS teams in recent history. James Madison has the upset too, but not the desire to move up a rung in the football hierarchy at the moment.
"We are well aware of the changing scene within our conference as well as nationally," James Madison president Jonathan Alger said in a statement. "In response, we have engaged in a rigorous analysis of our athletic profile within the context of our strategic planning process . . ."
"Consistent with these values and principles and the ongoing issue of conference alignment, JMU will not pursue or accept an invitation from a conference that does not meet our criteria. If we do receive an offer consistent with our established values, we are prepared to review it and make a recommendation to the Board of Visitors. This process is ongoing and will require continued support on the part of the university, students, faculty, staff, coaches, alumni, and fans."
According to the Harrisonburg News-Record, JMU athletic director Jeff Bourne said no decision on a conference has been made and dialogue continues.
James Madison was reportedly dissatisfied that only two Sun Belt teams made bowls last year.
According to media reports, JMU officials have privately expressed dissatisfaction with the CAA and its tepid reaction to conference realignment, which cost the league three of the Dukes' top rivals.
JMU officials were approached by the Sun Belt more than a year ago, according to media reports, but the Dukes weren't enamored with a league that put just two teams in bowls last season. The Sun Belt's TV contract also doesn't provide as much exposure or revenue as the C-USA TV contracts.
With three of Conference's USA's teams (East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa) departing for the AAC for the 2014 season and Old Dominion (in 2014) and UNC-Charlotte (in 2015) transitioning into the conference, there will be a spot for a 14th team available in two years.
Old Dominion's athletic director has lobbied the conference on behalf of JMU previously, but the conference has said it has no intentions of expanding.
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