End of a Decade Brings New Opportunities
When Dean Ehlers came to Madison college, there was really no kind of athletic program, most of the sports were being coached by staff that was already present, and would switch between what they were they were teaching and what they were coaching. With Dean Ehlers being on board and being a part President Carrier’s “Memphis Mafia,” Madison took a major shift to the coeducational institute that President Carrier was trying to create from day one he stepped on campus (Dr. Carrier). Creating an official athletic program was what President Carrier said was at the top of his list in order to create the institute he wanted, because in his mind there was really no way better to attract guys at this school (Dr. Carrier). This was something that even John Doe realized, who was a student here during the later part of the decade, and gives a lot of credit to what President Carrier was trying to do with institution and say that it is what it is today because what he did (Doe). Without Ehlers though, the college would not have the true leader in athletics that they needed, and would not be able to live up to the potential that it had. The University today is one that is known for its athletics even though it on a small scale but would be nothing without Ehlers kick start to the program. One thing that was stressed though was the idea that the students were here to learn first, and that was to be their priority. To put it in Ehlers words, “JMU is not going to be an athletic factory,” in the idea that he was not there to create players, he was there to create well rounded, educated people, and was his idea of what it took to create a strong athletic program (Reed).
The program really started to hit the extra level when Ehlers would took the program into Division I in 1976 for everything but football, which would get its chance in 1978. For a school that was just starting most of their teams within the decade, this was an extreme achievement, one that Dean Ehlers received a lot of credit for (Morgan 1). It was actually a move that he felt necessary though as there were very few teams left in Virginia to compete with, and Ehlers also wanted to have to conference affiliation in order to have that next step in the program, as well as create rivalries for what was then James Madison University. Ehlers did realize that it would not be an easy road for the university ahead, but it was a step that he wanted to take and bring the athletics program to the next level and put JMU further onto the map (Morgan 1). It would take the school some time to actually find a conference that would not only accept them but they felt that they could compete in. The university would eventually join the ECAC, and would eventually fit into the ECAC South, but the future would have much more in hand for JMU (Dr. Carrier).
President Carrier says that he still has a plaque in his home for being the father of the Colonial Athletic Association, something that would not be created until the 1980’s but something that is still a part of JMU athletics (Dr. Carrier). The CAA is conference that took some time to build, but was always a dream of Ehlers, but would never meet fruition until after the 70’s. From the moment he found out that JMU would be in Division I, Ehlers would try to create a conference within the state to create local rivalries that he was looking for, and of course would not get what he wished (Morgan 2). Old Dominion University wanted to join the plan, but was concerned on where the conference was going, and with them backing out, did not give Ehlers and the other athletic directors enough schools to create the conference and did not go anywhere (Morgan 2). Ehlers would bring JMU into the ECAC division since his original plan did not work in his favor, but little did he know that the ECAC south would essentially form into the CAA, the division he was wanting to create for the entire time, and although was not a Virginia only conference, brought things back to where Ehlers, a local fairly local conference that was close to home (Dr, Carrier). Unlike last time, President Carrier made sure that everyone stayed with the plan and made it seem like they would regret backing out. JMU is a part of the CAA to this day, and although the conference seems to be slowly dissipating, it is a conference that Ehlers helped create and actually has an award named after him (Dr. Carrier). During the 1970’s Madison was taken to a whole new level athletically, and the hoping of bringing the school to a whole new level was on a right path. Although it is not solely on Ehlers for the strides that were made, he was a large part of it, and really help President Carrier achieve his goal of creating a diverse coeducational institution.
BoB Grimesey, “ECAC Accepts JMU’s Application, The Breeze, September 23, 1977.
Bob Morgan, ” A Basketball COnference in Virginia’s Future,” The Breeze, January 23, 1977.
Bob Morgan, “NCAA Approves Division I Move,” The Breeze, September 3, 1976.
Bob Morgan, “Sun Belt Hampers Proposed State Conference,” The Breeze, April 8, 1977.
Gary Reed, “JMU is not an Athletic Factory,” The Breeze, December 8, 1978.
John Doe, interview by author, James Madison University, April 17, 2013. (Informant’s identity withheld at his request)
President Dr. Ronald Carrier, interview by author, James Madison University, April 23, 2013.