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 colleges. 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 current 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 dollar 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.