Presidents of the MEAC released a statement of solidarity on May 4th. What's their next move?
On May 4, 2022 in Norfolk, Virginia, the presidents of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference issued a statement "reaffirming their commitment" to staying in the MEAC and keeping the conference together. The current eight members of the conference are South Carolina State, Coppin State, Delaware State, Howard, North Carolina Central, Norfolk State, Morgan State, and Maryland Eastern Shore.
Sonja Stills was selected as conference commissioner in October of 2021, taking over for Dr. Dennis Thomas January of this year. Dr. Stills took over during a time of change in the conference with Florida A&M and Bethune Cookman leaving in 2021.
There has been an exodus from the MEAC in the last four years. Hampton University left in 2018 for the Big Sky Conference, Savannah State left for the SIAC (Division II) in 2019 and North Carolina left in 2021 with FAMU and Bethune. The conference which once had 12 members now has eight.
With the remaining schools committed to the MEAC, what's next?
Expansion is a possibility.
The simplest solution is expanding the conference. The MEAC was 13 members strong as recently as 2018. It is possible to expand and have two HBCU "Super Conferences" at the FCS level. That is easier said than done.
When the MEAC expanded in the 1970s, they invited several Division II schools. The last two schools, Winston-Salem State and Savannah State, did not fare well when they attempted to move up to the MEAC. There are several hurdles for a Division II with aspirations to move up to Division I. First, the fee to move stands at $1.7 million. Second, the scholarship alottment increases from 36 to 63. In order to get the "paycheck" game, schools have to fund 55 of those 63 scholarships. Many D-II schools don't even fund the full 36.
Conference presidents rejected Chicago State's bid to join the conference and many reports have Virginia State on the MEAC's radar. That said, the SIAC and CIAA have been conduits for the MEAC before.
The MEAC could stand pat...for now
Sometimes you handle things by not handling them. The conference currently has the Celebration Bowl winner (South Carolina State) and six of the top 20 HBCU schools in the country. Norfolk State hiring Dawson Odoms away from Southern in 2021 shows their commitment to playing quality football.
The MEAC doesn't need divisions with six of their eight member schools playing football. The round-robin format allows for entertaining football and crowns a true conference champion. The MEAC could encourage their two non-football members, Coppin State and Maryland Eastern Shore to join. Coppin State does not have a football program and Maryland Eastern Shore ended their program in 1980.
If both schools formed football programs the conference would in essence build from within and become a stronger conference without adding any additional schools. The strength and stability of the MEAC is important to the viability of HBCU sports. The eyes of the HBCU world will be watching the MEAC and President Sonja Still closely for the next few years .