United? Or a Front?
Following North Carolina A&T’s announcement of its intent to leave for the Big South, the MEAC issued a statement that the remaining leadership was united. That included, at the time, Florida A&M and BCU. We now know that both schools were already researching potential moves in advance of moving to the SWAC.
“All the presidents and chancellors, stated at that time that they were committed,” Dr. Fredrick said. “But we all recognize that they all have boards they have to answer to, they have fan bases to answer to.”
So how big would the new, improved MEAC be? Dr. Thomas gave a clear answer on that.
“Our strategic plan was to have 12 football-playing institutions so that we could go to divisional play,” Dr. Thomas said. “We would like to continue to add football-playing members, and non-football playing members, to get us to that 12-13 number so that we can hopefully go into divisional play and still gain control over the travel expenses and missed class time.”
So who would those potential members be? Both Dr. Fredrick and Dr. Thomas declined to get into specifics about targets, deferring to the consulting firm’s report later this year. MEAC expansion, over the last 25 or so years, has meant finding HBCUs ready to leap from Division II to Division I. The results have been hit or miss.
Hampton stuck around for 22 years after leaving the CIAA, but eventually chucked the deuces for the Big South. Norfolk State made the same trip two years later and it has stuck around, as has North Carolina Central in its second stint as a conference member. Winston-Salem State was provided provisional membership status in the mid-2000s only to abort its attempt at DI status. Savannah State joined the conference shortly after WSSU, but eventually, it reverted back to Division II as well.
While MEAC officials declined to name potential members, several names have been floated as potential additions, some more than others. Bowie State, Virginia State and Winston-Salem State are names frequently listed as potential targets for the league.
The leap between divisions was already big when WSSU tried it the first time, and it’s only gotten bigger. All those schools would have to basically double their athletic budgets to get into the bottom tier of their MEAC peers.
“If we’re gonna participate at this level we have to be able to recruit schools and institutions that are going to be able to make the financial commitment, and that’s one of them. We have to have a viable conference around what we do,” Dr. Fredrick said.
And then there’s the $1.6 million entry fee to get into Division I. When asked if the conference would petition the NCAA for a waiver for a potential Division II to Division I, Dr. Fredrick didn’t seem to think that was the right play for long-term fiscal success.
“Even getting a waiver, really, just takes care of one financial aspect,” he said. “But in terms of long-term, stability, I don’t think that that’s necessarily a road (we’d like to travel).”