Stadium Expansion Illustrates Growth of JMU Program

By: Damon Dillman Email
By: Damon Dillman Email

James Madison senior Arthur Moats has been through media days before, but Friday's was a little different.

"My freshman year, media day? It wasn't that big. It was like a couple reporters here and there," says Moats. "Now, three or four years later, we've got TV crews out here and everything."

Increased coverage from the media is one way to measure JMU's growth as a program in recent years.

Coach Mickey Matthews learned another this off-season while talking to Ohio State's Jim Tressel.

"We were just all distraught about losing to Montana, and he made a good comment," Matthews recalled during his annual media day press conference. "He said, 'Mickey, let me tell you this. Your football program has arrived when the fans all remember specific losses, because you have so few of them.'"

But perhaps the best way to measure JMU's growth is simply by looking at the stands.

"I remember coming here as a kid sometimes, and you could kind of just walk in," said senior Charlie Newman, who grew up in Rockingham County. "The stadium wouldn't be crowded, it wouldn't be packed."

"I tell people when I took this job you could throw a hand grenade up in the stands," Matthews deadpanned. "It wouldn't have killed anybody. It wouldn't have injured anybody."

But today, JMU football is the toughest ticket in town. According to NCAA statistics, the Dukes ranked tenth in the FCS last season with an average of 15,362 fans per game.

According to athletic director Jeff Bourne, the increased demand for seats is why following the 2009 season, work will begin on the $62 million expansion of Bridgeforth Stadium.

Once the first phase is completed in 2011, the stadium's capacity will go from the current 15,500 to 25,000.

"This is going to change the way JMU is preceived, I think, in the sports arena," Bourne said Friday.

Bourne also said that because of tight construction deadlines, JMU won't be able to host any FCS playoff games in 2009, and the possibility was unlikely for 2010.

Most of JMU's current players won't get to play in the new stadium, but they take pride in their roles in helping the program grow.

"I mean, we can come back knowing that we helped build this," Newman said of the new stadium.

"We already have the talent," said senior cornerback Scotty McGee. "So if we can get a facility that matches the ability, we'll definitely have something."


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