HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) – James Madison University is officially joining the Sun Belt Conference. However, leaving the Colonial Athletic Association will come at a cost to the Dukes after the CAA chose to exclude JMU from conference tournaments.
“Once an institution notifies the conference that it is withdrawing… the teams are not eligible to compete in CAA championship events,” said CAA Commissioner Joe D’Antonio.
In response, the Dukes are coming together to fight for the chance to play for CAA titles. In a movement they call Athletes Unite, the Dukes are taking to social media to garner signatures for a petition opposing the CAA bylaw that puts an abrupt end to their conference title play. In less than a day, the petition has gained over 800 signatures.
For redshirt sophomore Rodrigo Robles, his season came to an abrupt end just days before his team was scheduled to compete in the CAA Soccer Championships.
“When we got the news, we could not believe it. The CAA is taking away our opportunity to compete next to our teammates and raise trophies. This movement is to convince them to let us play and finish our season. But we also want to change this policy because we don’t want anyone else to feel like we are feeling right now,” said Robles.
For junior Felicity Ryan, her team lost the chance to make history with a fifth straight CAA Swimming and Diving Championship.
“We lost a big motivation for our season. This is bigger than JMU; this bylaw should not be affecting any student-athletes. This rule has big implications on our mental health and the CAA should want to get rid of this policy because it could impact additional student-athletes in the future,” added Ryan.
On Saturday, the Dukes took to the field at Bridgeforth Stadium before JMU football faced Campbell. The student-athletes linked arms and chanted ”let us play,” while the football team stood behind them in support.
“We have a great deal of empathy for them and what they are going through… Sometimes young people make better decisions than older people,” revealed head football coach Curt Cignetti.
As a separate entity, JMU football remains eligible for a CAA conference title this season. However, the Athletes Unite campaign involves Dukes on and off the football field.
Only time will tell if the CAA decides to reverse a bylaw that has been in effect for over 20 years. In the meantime, Commissioner D’Antonio said the conference is constantly evaluating its policies.
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