The MEAC had planned on having a glorious 50th-anniversary celebration for the 2020-21 season.
But as with every facet of life, COVID-19 has thrown a monkey wrench in those plans. It started when the conference basketball tournaments were abruptly ended due to the pandemic in March. The MEAC was the last conference playing when things got shut down.
Four months later the conference was forced to postpone fall sports until spring 2021.
MEAC spring football?
Dr. Dennis Thomas, the MEAC’s commissioner, said there is a consensus that the conference will play football in the spring. COVID-19 permitting, of course.
“I think that we have a consensus on that. But that consensus is based on how the future will look,” Dr. Thomas told HBCU Gameday. “Everyone wanted to have a fall season for cross country, women’s volleyball, and football. But the pandemic played a role in the fall, as with each institution in terms of how it’s going to have an academic fall.”
Thomas said he expects winter sports schedules to be rolled out in the near future. He said this has all been an on-going process since things shut down in March.
“All of this depends upon how the COVID-19 plays out the rest of the fall semester and heading into the spring,” Thomas said. “You get different reports from the federal government and the pharmaceutical companies in reference to the vaccine.”
In addition to the medical concerns, Dr. Thomas said he’s also concerned with the psychological impact on the student-athletes.
“I don’t think enough attention is being addressed to the mental and psychological aspects of the COVID-19 (pandemic).”
Conference in transition
Outside of the COVID-19 crisis, the MEAC is currently in a transitional mode. North Carolina A&T, Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman are all on their way out of the conference in 2021. But they are still involved in the planning— at least through the end of this year.
“All the institutions that are leaving June 30, 2021 are members our conference until then,” Dr. Thomas said. “And they are involved in the decision-making process for the 2020-21 academic year. So they are involved.”
For now, the conference will shift to celebrating its legacy as it grapples its present and prepares for an uncertain future. Much of that celebration was set to take place around football season. Now the conference is regrouping how that will take place.
“We still can celebrate former student-athletes, former coaches, former administrators who have played a huge role in the history of our conference,” Dr. Thomas said.
“What our staff is doing is presenting creative ways on how they can present that information to the public.”
With all the turmoil and changes, the youngest HBCU conference in the NCAA has gone over the past year, changing the narrative is a necessary challenge.