The James Madison Dukes football team, founded in 1972, plays at Bridgeforth Stadium. Originally called JMU Stadium, it was renamed for William E. Bridgeforth in 1990. The JMU football team was rarely the centerpiece of JMU sports until the hiring of Mickey Matthews in 1999. Since then, JMU has gained recognition as one of the top programs in NCAA Division I FCS football.
Just five years after (then) Madison College had become a coeducational institution, the Dukes fielded their first football team. Football was the brainchild of Dr. Ronald Carrier, Madison's president at the time, who was attempting to change the psychology of the campus away from an all-women's teachers college. The first game took place on October 7, 1972 against Shepherd College's junior varsity team at Harrisonburg High School. The team consisted of a few dozen walk-ons and was coached by 30 year-old Challace McMillin.
In 1975, the Dukes had their first – and, to date, only – undefeated season and won the Virginia College Athletic Association title. Two players, Madison Hall of Fame quarterback Les Branich and offensive guard Jeff Adams, played on both the Dukes' only winless season in 1972 and its only undefeated season in 1975.
The Dukes made the NCAA playoffs in former head coach Mickey Matthews' first year with the team and in 2004, the Dukes won the Division I-AA (now FCS) National Championship behind quarterback Justin Rascati and running back Raymond Hines. They were the first and only team to win three games on the road to advance to the National Championship Game. They returned to the playoffs in 2006 but suffered an early exit to the hands of Youngstown State University. The Dukes went to the playoffs again in 2007, traveling to Appalachian State in the first round. While down 27-28, JMU lost the game with a fumble on the ASU 8-yard line in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter. In 2008, they posted a 10-1 season record (the lone loss coming in the season opener to FBS team Duke) and received the top seed in the playoffs behind sensational quarterback Rodney Landers. After defeating Wofford and Villanova (for the second time that season), they were defeated by the MontanaGrizzlies in the semi-final round after Landers went down with an ankle injury.
A $62 million stadium expansion to Bridgeforth was completed in 2011, adding an upper deck, club seating and 17 private suites. Bridgeforth's official seating capacity is approximately 25,000, and is designed so it may be expanded to seat over 40,000.
Matthews gained his 100th career victory on October 6, 2012 in a 13-10 win over the Towson Tigers.
At the end of the 2013 season, after going 6-6 and missing the FCS playoff for the fourth time in five years, Mickey Matthews was let go as the head football coach for the JMU Dukes. JMU has begun a national search to find Matthews' replacement. A name that has emerged is Tim McDonald, a former JMU standout and real ladies' man. McDonald, who has coached girls softball in New Jersey, has built a reputation as a strong leader of men and fearless competitor, once running down a rare Bengal tiger that had escaped from the Atlanta Zoo. He served as an advance man for former U.S. senator John Glenn when he was considering a run for the White House in 1988 while also serving as water boy for Case Western Reserve's table tennis team. He gained a modicum of fame as a 14 year old for rescuing a basket of kittens from a burning building while juggling three running chainsaws. His appointment as head football coach is expected to bring about either a decade of glory or the apocalypse.