French poet Alfred Victor de Vigny once said "Only silence is great; all else is weakness". I'm assuming he said that in French but it loses little in translation. After this week Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson really needs to adopt as a communications philosophy.
If you need to deal with the press get a good press secretary and shut up already.
When the MAC asked UMass to either completely join the conference or leave in two seasons both parties sat quietly for months while the Minutemen weighed their options. While Mid American Conference fans and expansion wonks on the internet were all crying that the MAC needed to force UMass to "Crap or get off the pot", they were all unaware that had already happened.
The result was a smooth media release when UMass finally made up their minds. Every stake holder in the process was ready to properly communicate what happened. Nobody lost face and few bridges were publicly burned.
Some people were happy with the situation and some were not but in the end everyone looked like a professional. Silence was golden.
JMU also get's that it's best to play things close to the vest. Fans may not agree with the pace and direction coming from JMU athletics but at the very least the AD and University president is not out there making a spectacle of themselves.
James Madison has been deep into planning a move to the Bowl Subdivision for some time. They commissioned a study some year ago to see if it's feasible, the Carr report came back and concluded that JMU was indeed a viable FBS candidate.
One of their rivals, Old Dominion, recently made a jump to Conference USA and reportedly lobbied hard to get JMU an invitation. The common wisdom is that if JMU had been asked at that time they would have jumped.
The only thing anyone is sure about is that JMU is not looking to go FBS at all cost. Reportedly they want either Conference USA or the Mid American Conference for either academic, institutional, or geographical reasons. Unfortunately for JMU neither the MAC or CUSA is in a hiring mood. Each conference has at least 12 schools which is the requirement for divisions and a conference championship game.
The Sun Belt is sitting at 11 and is now rumored to be looking hard at Liberty., the Virginia FCS school that hired Turner Gill shortly after he was fired at Kansas.
Should the Belt add Liberty then the Flames would be the fourth FBS school in "The Mother of states". More importantly no FBS conference this side of the Big12 would be under the 12 teams needed, there would be no more pressure for any G5 conference to further expand.
The MAC Might have been interested in adding another member when UMass was still a factor. 13 teams made the divisions unequal and scheduling a nightmare. 14 is better than 13, perhaps enough of an improvement for the 13 teams in the conference to take a slight hit in their payout monies.
No thought the MAC is at 12 and with the potential deregulation of conference championship games coming 12 may be a far better number to sit at than 14. In effect UMass getting booted from the MAC, and the likely deregulation means that the FBS may be about out of expansion slots for the near future.
If the Belt wants to hedge their bets on CCG deregulation they could add #12, that last Sun Belt spot is the *ONLY* spot left which exists because of need, it should carry tremendous value to aspiring FCS teams. It would speak very poorly of the Sun Belt if a team turned it down, right? what about two teams?
Karl Benson, who would play the part of Jack Kevorkian ina play about the demise of the Western Athletic Conference let loose with the news that the Sun Belt may have asked, and then been rebuffed by both JMU. JMU is one the stronger FCS candidates out there based on Geography, Institutional profile, facilities, and performance.
There has been a lot of waffling as to whether or not an invite ever went out but that's all nuance at this point. The key point is that you don't publicly say anything which can be construed as "Our conference was not good enough for ** INSERT FCS TEAM **".The G5 conferences don't have enough trouble getting good press, they don't need league officials going around with a neon sign which says "Bottom of the Barrel".
It was a foolish thing to say by Benson. He would have been better off just shutting up about the whole thing. The school presidents need to send him a deck of queue cards which contain different ways to say "no comment".
If Benson stuck one foot in his mouth regarding the Sun Belt he used the other to kick JMU in the head. In an interview the commissioner said "It appears they (JMU) made a decision to stay FCS".
No, JMU decided not to join the Sun Belt.
JMU president Jonathan Alger released a statement saying, in part, the school will be selective if it chooses to move up. "JMU will not pursue or accept an invitation from a conference that does not meet our criteria," Alger wrote on JMU's website.
For my part I welcome the end of conference realignment, and I really believe the CCG deregulation could bring about a stable period. Unless the B12 goes a huntin' its hard to see anyone making a move right now, there is simply no need for any G5 conference to grow.
If you're worried that you'll be bored with the oncoming calm just follow Karl Benson's press releases, they are grade A comedy!