News broke earlier this week that East Carolina is moving a road game against Georgia State to their 2020 schedule. While the Pirates didn't confirm that they were officially out of their previously schedule trip to Virginia Tech in 2020, there's no doubt that this move is filling the gap that the Pirates planned to have for months after Virginia Tech backed out of future games at East Carolina.
So the Hokies will have vacancies in 2020 (and 2022 and 2024) at home and while fans may be dreaming of a last minute home-and-home with a Power 5 program that includes a 2020 game, the reality is that the Hokies will likely fill the 2020 vacancy with an FCS team given the timing and logistics of figuring out a schedule.
Part of that is due to the fact that scheduling a series with a year break is usually difficult given how teams usually plan their home and away schedule balances based on having one game in an even year and the other in an odd (usually the following or preceding year), not in two or even-year intervals. Additionally, while it would be possible to move the home opener against Liberty to another date, it seems unlikely that VT would pursue a neutral site game though that shouldn't be ruled out.
However, there's one FCS program that should be the first and only call for this game: James Madison University.
Yes, the pesky neighbor from a few hours up I-81 is the one FCS team that Virginia Tech should prioritize to fill their 2020 vacancy.
Of course, there are probably some of you that are ready to close this page and would rather schedule a D3 school than face the team who's fanbase somehow thinks they have a better team just because they compete for national titles at what is equivalent to saying one of the best basketball teams in Europe can beat a no worse than middle-of-the-tier NBA team.
Regardless of those feelings, this is the one FCS matchup that makes sense and should be the first (and only) call to an FCS team that Whit Babcock makes.
Why? Here's why.
1. Chance for Closure for Virginia Tech's Biggest Upset Loss
2010 was a great season for Virginia Tech as the Hokies won 11 games and an ACC Championship. However, the first thing that anyone thinks of when 2010 and Virginia Tech football are in the same sentence is the loss to JMU that came days after the season opening loss to Boise State at FedEx Field.
That season deserves to be remembered as an ACC Championship winning year, not for the loss that came before an 11-game winning streak. Now that may be hard to do, but one way to help bring some of that closure is to go out and beat James Madison in Lane Stadium.
When the Hokies can get the on-field result that reflects the reality of Virginia Tech being better than JMU, the loss will start to come up less and less simply because of human nature when the most recent result is the expected one.
Of course, all of this relies on Virginia Tech doing what they're supposed and comfortably beating JMU, but there's no doubt that Virginia Tech would be plenty motivated for a game that will definitely have lots of fans wanting to close the door on one of the worst losses ever suffered by Virginia Tech.
Additionally, the financials of this game would be better than most Power 5 vs. FCS games for both Virginia Tech and JMU.
2. JMU Should Be Cheaper Than Most FCS Teams
Okay, so this may be seen as an insult to JMU but that's the case at all. The reality is that JMU can likely afford to ask for less money out of Virginia Tech than what VT is paying Rhode Island and Furman this season. Why? Because JMU can easily balance that out by selling all of their visitor tickets.
Look, Rhode Island and Furman may bring small contingent of fans, but Furman doesn't have a large alumni base to pull from and not only is Rhode Island a basketball but they're making a long trip from where many of their fans likely live.
JMU, on the other hand, is a football school with a large alumni and fan base that can fill a stadium that seats almost 25,000 for games against FCS competition in a place like Harrisonburg that is only somewhat convenient in location for
Imagine the excitement JMU fans will have for playing a game at Lane Stadium. It would be shocking if the Dukes didn't sell out their road allotment of tickets, therefore allowing JMU to take less direct money because of the money they could make on selling their road allotment of tickets. Additionally, JMU could sell special travel packages that would only bring in more money for the Dukes that they don't have to include over the top from Virginia Tech.
I can't imagine that there's a team that JMU fans would want their team to play more than the Hokies other than maybe if they had the chance to play Clemson, Alabama, or Ohio State. That's probably it.
The biggest thing with these deals are the financials and given how JMU could come at a cheaper price than most FCS teams, that should drive down the money VT has to pay for JMU to come, making this financially great for both teams. There's also the high likelihood of better-than-normal ticket sales for a FCS opponent on VT's end as well.
3. Guaranteed Sellout
Virginia Tech's athletic department deserves credit for the creativity they have shown trying to sell tickets for what may be the worst home schedule since VT joined the ACC. However, next season sets up to be a dream for selling season tickets with Penn State, Miami, and Virginia all slated to play in Blacksburg.
Even a game against a regular FCS team (that would likely be weeks into the season given the timing of the vacancy) would have a decent chance at selling out, but a game against James Madison, a school that requires no reserarch, would be a guaranteed sellout.
Think about it, there would be a lot more interest in taking care of business against JMU given the recent history than even other in-state schools like William & Mary or Richmond. JMU also has a large alumni base that would definitely drive up interest in tickets even more.
Now the FCS tag will hurt regardless but even with the FCS tag, a game against JMU would likely more fan intrigue than the season opener against an FBS Liberty or general interest in the road trip to Middle Tennessee the week after facing Penn State. Additionally, while this may not be what fans want to hear, the increased interest likely means that Virginia Tech can keep ticket prices higher than they normally would for a game against an FCS team.
The financials of this being the replacement for ECU in 2020 make too much sense among the realistic options Virginia Tech has for this game not to happen next year.
4. JMU Would Be A Better-Than-Normal FCS Opponent to Prep for ACC Play
While most FCS teams struggle to provide decent competition, the Dukes could give the Hokies a solid opponent right before they kick off ACC play two weeks after taking on Penn State in Lane Stadium.
In many cases, the best FCS teams are equivalent to a mid-tier Group of 5 program at worst, making this a better matchup than a random middle-of-the-road Sun Belt or Conference USA team not only for fan recognition but also for the actual quality of oppositions to help the Hokies prepare for the challenge of ACC play.
Combine that with the fact that there would be no overlooking this game given the past history that will be quite loud in the leadup and this has the potential to be a great prep game with a high level of intensity against one of the best possible FCS opponents. Compare that to when Virginia Tech beat Delaware but struggled early to have the intensity to take the game seriously and you can bet that the VT coaching staff would prefer a FCS team that wouldn't require any motivation to get their players fired up to play.
Not only do the financials make sense for this game, the football side of it is a lot better than normal than most FCS opponents.
5. Finally End The Ridiculous Hysteria/Fake Twitter Rivalry
This is more personal but the whole Virginia Tech-JMU rivalry among probably no more than 5% of each fan base needs to end with the only way to do being to actually play each other again.
Look, there's some normal friendly in-state rivalry but how this non-existent rivalry has become something that both schools have interest in is just ridiculous. Any JMU fan that buys into it has to know that Virginia Tech is the much bigger athletic program with the much better football program while Hokie fans making a rivalry just because fans have bragging rights from a single upset and holding it against them unnecessarily is just ridiculous. Move on, they won in 2010, let's go get a victory and turn our focus back to real rivals like UVA or West Virginia.
Then again, UVA and West Virginia haven't beaten Virginia Tech this decade so maybe JMU is more of an actual rival.
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
Stay up with The Tech Lunch Pail for the latest on Virginia Tech. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our email updates.