Today's the first official day of JMU as a member of the Sun Belt Conference.
Athletic Director Jeff Bourne released this statement:
Today's the day! I'm proud as director of athletics at James Madison University to usher in this new era for JMU as a member of the Sun Belt Conference!
On behalf of the intercollegiate athletics program at JMU, our administration, staff and coaches, I'm so excited for this move and what it will mean for our programs. JMU Athletics has positioned itself as a national entity in the collegiate athletics landscape, and the Sun Belt Conference provides the perfect stage to continue that trajectory.
Recently this spring I had the privilege of attending the first Sun Belt meetings comprised of the 14 member institutions for 2022-2023. I came away impressed with the administrative leadership of the league as well as with the cohesive nature of the conversations with other league members.
When we announced the Sun Belt move, we cited alignment with peer institutions as a key factor. Our spring discussions confirmed that we're in the right place for peer alignment moving forward.
I'm often asked about the status of our other sport programs, which were not announced as Sun Belt sports in February. As announced by the league, there was healthy dialogue around adding women's swimming and diving and field hockey as future Sun Belt sports. While nothing is promised at this juncture, discussions are encouraging.
Another question I receive ponders how long it will take for our sports to compete in the Sun Belt. I answer that question with two parts: A) the Sun Belt is a great league and will rank among the best conferences in the nation in many sports (football, men's soccer, baseball, softball, among others) and B) we fully expect JMU to compete for championships immediately in most sports. The truth is that we already have the facilities, support staff, financial and academic resources and quality coaching to compete now and to win championships.
Much work has taken place since our original November announcement and will continue through the summer. We've poured hours into working with the Sun Belt to rebuild conference and non-conference schedules in all sports to be ready for August, and we're excited to work with Anthony Travel to manage a new environment of travel logistics.
Many of our facilities have had Sun Belt logos installed or are still in process this summer. Part of our facility work includes prep for ESPN+ broadcasts, with construction of a broadcast control room underway in the Atlantic Union Bank Center. Facility expansion projects continue at Sentara Park, Convocation Center and softball's Veterans Memorial Park, and I anticipate more projects to be able to share in the near future.
Our athletics ticket office and Duke Club have surpassed 7,000 season tickets for the 2022 football season, our first in the Sun Belt. This total is higher than the 6,853 sold for the 2021 season, but season tickets remain on sale with two months remaining before the season. Individual game ticket sales begin today, July 1. Season tickets for men's and women's basketball are also on sale now.
Fundraising will always be a key priority as expectations and operational costs rise. We have not officially closed the books on our 2022 fiscal year but anticipate a record fundraising year with our annual fund nearing $4 million. The excitement for the Sun Belt is evident in our donors. However, we also know that increased giving capacity exists and will be critical in order to fund our department to the level of achievement expected by our constituents and by our internal staff and student-athletes. Please consider starting or increasing a gift to support JMU Athletics.
Finally, as we look with excitement to our future, we must also acknowledge our past and how we got to this point. I'd like to thank the Colonial Athletic Association, its member institutions past and present and commissioners Tom Yeager and Joe D'Antonio. Just as the Sun Belt is the right place at the right time for JMU now, the CAA was the right home at the right time for JMU in its past. We are grateful for the home that it provided.
During this 50th anniversary year of Title IX, we must also acknowledge the critical role that Title IX has played in forming this athletics program. JMU enjoys a rich history in women's athletics and is committed to equal competitive opportunities for all student-athletes. We are overwhelmingly proud of the accomplishments of our women's sports programs. More importantly, we are proud of the young women who have competed at James Madison and proud of the people they became following their time at JMU.
There have been difficult moments in our Title IX journey, but we are committed to prioritizing Title IX compliance, and we work extensively to ensure that our operations align with the law. Stay tuned for more information soon about celebrating the 50th anniversary of Title IX at JMU during the upcoming year.
I hope you are enjoying your summer and some downtime with friends and family. Be sure to purchase your season tickets and start to highlight dates on our fall schedules. And find some time in the SUN to relax and refresh for an exciting year!