RICHMOND, VA (WTKR)- James Madison student-athletes, coaches, administrators and fans have pushed back on the CAA's ruling to ban the Dukes from conference championship play in the wake of the program's decision to join the Sun Belt Conference. The conference isn't budging.
The CAA made a statement reaffirming its decision to deny JMU's waiver request to allow the Dukes to compete for league titles on Wednesday.
"Following a request by the JMU administration that the CAA review this matter, and upon receiving a petition from JMU student-athletes, the CAA Board of Directors met on Tuesday, November 9," the statement read. It also indicated a full discussion and vote was held, upholding the initial decision to enforce a bylaw outlined in the conference handbook stating that teams could be prohibited from competing for CAA championships if a school declares its intention to leave the conference.
The same bylaw impacted Old Dominion when the Monarchs departed for Conference USA in 2013.
The CAA outlined its reasoning for upholding its initial ruling.
"JMU alone set the timeline for its withdrawal from the CAA, having full knowledge of the consequences of its decision," one of the bulletpoints read. "The university could have chosen to announce its withdrawal from the CAA at the end of the Fall 2021 semester, allowing its men’s soccer and volleyball teams to compete in their respective CAA Championships. Additionally, if JMU had chosen to defer a withdrawal announcement to an even later date most, if not all, of its qualifying teams would have been permitted to participate in CAA Championships. JMU chose a timeline that fit its needs."
The league also noted that JMU leadership supported this "well-established" process in prior conference realignment scenarios.
"This is not a decision that the CAA took lightly, and it agrees with JMU that caring for the health and wellness of student-athletes is of paramount importance," the statement continued. "With that in mind, the CAA has made decisions that it feels are best for the member institutions and student-athletes that will remain in the CAA. The opportunity to compete for a Conference championship should be reserved for institutions and student-athletes that are committed to being part of the Conference."
In addition, the CAA expressed its desire to have an amicable relationship with James Madison going forward and noted that it respects the university's decision to change subdivisions and join the Sun Belt Conference.
James Madison has been a member of the CAA since 1991 and has put the league in the national spotlight on several sports platforms, including two FCS national championships and a softball Women's College World Series appearance. The Dukes announced this past Saturday that they have accepted an invitation to join the Sun Belt, elevating their football program to the FBS level.
The news that JMU would be banned from conference championship competition was met with outrage from across the Duke community. Many expressed frustration at a perceived lack of concern for student-athlete welfare. Student-athletes filled a corner of Bridgeforth Stadium prior to Saturday's football game, chanting "Let Them Play," and a petition was submitted to the CAA containing over 1,000 student-athlete signatures, urging the league to reconsider.
While James Madison cannot be crowned CAA champions, its athletic teams can still earn at-large bids to NCAA Championships during the 2021-2022 school year.