It’s been nine years since James Madison’s basketball team scheduled a home game with the expectation of selling out the 7,156-seat Convocation Center. The Dukes’ 2014-15 season opener on Nov. 14 against rising power Virginia will change that.
As the crown jewel of JMU’s home slate – which will be finalized with either 19 or 20 games at the Convo, according to assistant athletic director Mike Carpenter – the Dukes will bring their first power-conference opponent to Harrisonburg since Seton Hall during the 2008-09 season and their first big-name school since Georgetown almost a decade ago.
Madison’s season-ticket packages don’t go on sale until Sept. 1 and the sale of individual tickets starts Nov. 1, but Carpenter is confident the game’s convenient timing – along with U.Va.’s growing profile and close proximity, as well as a series of planned promotions aimed at JMU’s student body — will lead to a sellout.
“It’s going to time well with when the student body is on campus,” Carpenter said of the matchup, scheduled for a Friday night. “It’s not going to be Thanksgiving or Christmas [break], so we’re anticipating a really good student crowd – kind of like what you see at a football game. So that would really help fill [the Convocation Center] and drive the atmosphere.”
U.Va. would be a highly attractive draw anytime for JMU, but the Cavaliers are especially hot now. They reached the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 last season after winning their first Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship since 1976.
This will be the first time Virginia has made the one-hour trek to Harrisonburg since coming twice during city native Ralph Sampson’s stint in Charlottesville. The Cavs – 9-0 against the Dukes – visited JMU in both 1980 and 1982.
Perhaps of as much interest to Madison fans as U.Va.’s impending visit is the uptick in the number of games at the Convocation Center. JMU has averaged 13 homes games per season during coach Matt Brady’s six-year tenure, with the Dukes drawing a previous high mark of 15 contests at the Convo during the 2010-11 season. While the Dukes led the Colonial Athletic Association by averaging 3,612 people at their home dates last season, their uncommonly sparse 10-game slate at the Convo was the lowest in Brady’s time at JMU.
Carpenter has worked with Madison’s ticketing department since 2004 and said JMU’s 2005-06 season opener at the Convo against Georgetown was the last time a sellout was anticipated for a men’s basketball game. The Dukes lost that game 73-66 before a well-below-capacity 5,556 fans. In this millennium, though, that crowd ranks behind only last season’s women’s basketball home finale – which drew 6,590 people as departing former Turner Ashby High School standouts Nikki Newman and Kirby Burkholder were honored on Senior Day.
Coach Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers – who defeated JMU 61-41 in both teams’ season opener in Charlottesville last year — earned the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament’s East Region and finished with a 30-7 record.
U.Va. – which graduated star wing Joe Harris and defensive stopper Akil Mitchell — comes to Harrisonburg this November to close out the home-and-home series it agreed to as part of last year’s game at John Paul Jones Arena.
Brady, whose Dukes finished 11-20 last season, will be unveiling a new-look team that night, with Cincinnati State transfer Winston Grays (shooting guard) and incoming freshman Hari Hall (forward) expected to fill the voids left behind by the transfers of former starters Charles Cooke and Taylor Bessick.
“Other than a ‘Purple Out,’ there’s not a whole lot we want to put out there [publicly right now],” Carpenter said of possible promotions to entice JMU students to attend the game. “We want to try to build some student excitement and we’ve got a few things that we’re trying to make sure will happen. We don’t want to use them until they’re really out there. But we feel because of the magnitude of the game and the closeness of the two schools … most people are going to be fired up to get here.”
Carpenter said JMU sold just over 1,000 season-ticket packages last year and is aiming to hit 1,250 this time around. For the first time in years, Carpenter said, there will be a ticket-price increase for both season-ticket packages and individual-game tickets, but those numbers won’t be finalized until JMU’s schedule is released.
Last season, individual-game tickets ranged from $7-$15, while season-ticket packages went anywhere from $75-$135.
Multiple sources said Madison has been trying for more than two months to fill the final game of its 2014-15 schedule, which would preferably be a home game.
“We anticipate pricing going up across the board a little bit,” Carpenter said, “but it won’t be anything drastic.”