JMU Changes: Athletics

Earlier in the 2006 school year JMU decided to cut ten sports teams to comply with Title IX. The affected teams were men’s archery, cross country, gymnastics, indoor track, outdoor track, swimming, and wrestling, as well as women’s archery, fencing, and gymnastics. I can’t say that I agree with the decision, but I feel that JMU needs to move on and focus its attention to the remaining sports.

Currently JMU is not a powerhouse in any of the “major” sports (football, basketball, baseball). The football team competes in Division 1-AA, and has had some recent success (e.g. 2004 National Championship). The baseball team is competitive, and the program has produced several minor league prospects. The women’s basketball team was recently ranked in the AP Top 25, but the men’s team hasn’t had a winning season in a number of years. In the 1980s and early 1990s JMU’s men’s team was a CAA powerhouse. Coached by Lou Campanelli and “Lefty” Driesell, the team made several NCAA tournament appearances, and several of these trips included first round upsets. In fact, in 1982 JMU was a 9 seed and played UNC in the second round of the tournament (after beating Ohio State) and lost, 52-50. That Tar Heel team included Michael Jordan and James Worthy, and they went on to defeat Georgetown in the Championship game.

The Dukes’ football team is in the Atlantic 10 and probably won’t graduate from D1-AA anytime soon, but I’m not worried about the direction the football team is headed in because Mickey Matthews has done an excellent job the past couple of years. The football team has excellent facilities, a great coaching staff, and a growing tradition of excellence. However, if the team ever makes the jump to Division 1, JMU will need to make some major changes to Bridgeforth Stadium.

The men’s basketball is a different story. The team is currently in the CAA, and they haven’t had a winning season in a number of years. Coach Dean Keener hasn’t won more than 6 or 7 games in a single season, and his team barely draws 2,000 fans to the 7,000 seat Convocation Center. The basketball team is in Division 1, and every year the CAA sends at least one team to the 65-team NCAA tournament. So, the Dukes do have a chance of winning a National Championship (alright, I know that sounds crazy but last year George Mason, a CAA team, went to the final four), but they won’t be able to do it with the players, coaches, and facilities they have now.

Good athletes are the key ingredients for success, but the best recruits only go to schools that have top-notch facilities, excellent coaches, and a strong tradition of winning. Currently, JMU lacks all three of these necessities. Therefore, I propose that JMU builds a new basketball arena and hires a new coaching staff to rejuvenate the program. Facilities are expensive and their construction requires a lot of fund-raising and planning, so it would take a couple of years for a new facility to be constructed. We don’t need a $130 million dollar arena that seats 16,000 (e.g. UVA’s John Paul Jones Arena), but we need a small, start-of-the-art facility that will attract top recruits.

A quick way to jump start a program is to change coaches. In 2004, JMU fired Head Coach Sherman Dillard and replaced him with Dean Keener with the hopes of bringing the program back to life. This was Keener’s first head coaching job (he was an assistant coach at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech), and over the years he’s proven that he doesn’t have what it takes to be successful at the D-1 level. Keener has failed to bring in high-profile recruits, and he hasn’t had any tournament success (NCAA or CAA). His style of basketball is bland and it isn’t appealing to players or fans. JMU’s next head coach should be a proven winner that has experience recruiting top players and coaching competitively at the top level. Certainly, we don’t have the resources or pull to hire coaches like Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski, Billy Donovan, or Tubby Smith. But we can get coaches that were recently released from high-profile jobs (“Lefty” Driesell came to JMU after a successfully stint at Maryland). I think some potential candidates could be former UVA coach Pete Guillen, former Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy*, former UNC coach Matt Doherty*, former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins, and former Indiana coach Mike Davis.

* Both were candidates when Sherman Dillard was fired, and both have jobs in Conference USA

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