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JMU coach, AD excited about Bridgeforth improvements
James Madison football coach Mickey Matthews looked around Bridgeforth Stadium on Friday as workers power washed, painted and put the finishing touches on expansion.
He couldn’t help but grin.
“You have an SEC feel when you walk in the place,” he said. “It’s very impressive.”
JMU plays in the lower-level Football Championship Subdivision. But it is about to sport a higher-level stadium that athletic director Jeff Bourne hopes will put the Dukes at “the pinnacle of FCS football.”
A two-year, $62.5 million project that expanded the seating capacity from about 15,700 to about 25,000 is scheduled to make its debut when JMU plays its home opener Sept. 10 against Central Connecticut State.
The first phase of construction began after the 2009 season. Since the end of last season, a towering second deck, 17 luxury suites and a pressbox on the west side have been completed; permanent seats have been installed in the north end zone; a club level that wasn’t available for use last season has been finished; a 24-by-60 videoboard in the south end zone has been erected; and restrooms and concessions have been expanded.
“There’s two reactions we always get,” Matthews said. “One is like taking them through the White House or seeing the Empire State Building for the first time. You just say, ‘Wow.’ The second is people are speechless. They just don’t say anything.”
Bourne said construction is two weeks ahead of schedule. JMU was able to practice in the stadium for the first time Friday.
Bourne expects a sellout for the opener, which could present traffic issues. Donor parking has increased, he said, which will reduce public parking.
“We’ve worked with our campus community, police department, local law enforcement to make sure the flow in and out of campus is good,” Bourne said. “We feel really good about the plan. The plan is only as good as the first game. We’ll see how that goes.”
The expansion positions JMU in case it ever wants to jump to the Football Bowl Subdivision. Capacity could be increased to about 40,000 by wrapping the stands around to the east side. But Bourne said the FBS “is really not on the radar screen at this point.”
“There are a lot of things going on in the NCAA with regard to the whole future of FCS, FBS,” he said. “The bottom line is to be the absolute best program in the FCS right now, head to toe. Best facilities, we end up doing well every year and getting into the playoffs, that’s the goal.
“If we can do that, we’ve postured ourselves where we need to be with regard to the big picture. Who knows? If something down the road were to change and we were to decide to look in (the FBS) direction, we would at least be poised for it. You can’t start facilities when those kinds of discussions take place. You have to methodically work your way through and do what’s right.”
Matthews said the facility will enhance recruiting and home-field advantage for the Dukes. It also will increase expectations.
JMU won a national championship in 2004 and went to the playoffs in 2006, ’07 and ’08. It went 6-5 the past two seasons.
“We’re very aware we’ve set the bar very high,” Matthews said. “Two 6-5 seasons, and you’d have thought we won one game.
“You’ve got to win a lot of games here. . . . (Our fans) just anticipate we’re going to be very good. It’s a lot different than it was 10 years ago, there’s no question.”
By: Tim Pearrell, Richmond Times Dispatch