Despite two of its conference members leaving, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference is moving on and operating as usual.
This writer got the chance to ask MEAC Commissioner Dennis Thomas some questions about the conference from topics ranging to possible new memberships to concerns about other schools leaving. Savannah State joined the MEAC in 2011 and announced in April that they will leave the conference as well as Division I to return to Division II and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Hampton, who had been a member of the MEAC since 1995, announced in mid-November that they would leave the conference. On July 1, 2018 Hampton became a official member of the Big South Conference. SSU will have their MEAC farewell tour this academic year before bolting for the SIAC.
Hampton claimed MEAC conference titles in football (1998, 2004-06), basketball (2001, 2002, 2006, 2011, 2015, 2016), women’s basketball (2000, 2003, 2004, 2010-14, 2017), cross country (1996), men’s indoor track and field (2003, 2014), men’s outdoor track and field (1996, 2003, 2004, 2013), men’s tennis (1996- 99, 2002, 2003, 2007), softball (1996, 2013), volleyball (2013, 2014), women’s cross country (2004, 2006, 2010, 2011), women’s indoor track and field (2001, 2003-09, 2011-16), women’s outdoor track and field (2002-04, 2006-10, 2012- 14), and women’s tennis (1996, 1998, 2002-04). Savannah State has a pair of MEAC tournament titles under their belt in baseball (2013) and women’s basketball (2015).
With SSU and Hampton leaving, the MEAC will be left with 11 schools and only nine institutions that play football.
When asked back in early 2018 if Savannah State or Hampton would be issued a fine for leaving the conference, the commissioner stated that SSU would not be fined but he had nothing to say about the Hampton situation.
“Regarding Savannah State, they have met all the requirements for resignation from the conference so Savannah State will not receive a financial penalty regarding their exit. I have no comment on Hampton at this time. At some point and time there will be an announcement regarding Hampton’s departure from the conference.”
The MEAC office did issue a statement on Hampton but not until after things got messy with accusations. In the end, the conference and Pirate officials met and things were hashed out.
A press release issued on March 12 stated that The Council of Chief Executive Officers of the MEAC and Hampton had come to an amicable agreement with regards to Hampton’s resignation from the conference. It went on to state that Hampton will have to pay a fine of an undisclosed amount for failing to meet the MEAC’s July 1, 2017 deadline for withdrawal from the Conference. The agreement would allow for Hampton and MEAC member institutions to play as non-conference opponents in the future and preserves the traditional rivalries held dear by stakeholders of both Hampton and the MEAC.
Thomas also said that there was no concerns about other institutions possibly leaving the conference and indicated that the current membership is very stable. “When I first became commissioner 16 years ago they had 11 schools in the conference with two non-football playing schools. We are back to 11 now. “
With two schools leaving said that the conference, one might think that the MEAC may have their eyes focused on replacing SSU and Hampton. “We’ve always been about the business of looking for compatible institutions so that is a ongoing process. It’s been ongoing since I have been commissioner,” said Thomas.
Augusta State who is currently an associate member of the MEAC in men’s golf could be one possibility. With Savannah State bolting the addition of ASU would keep the MEAC with a Georgia footprint. However, Thomas was quick not to add Augusta State to the mix so fast. “Augusta is Division I in men’s golf and Division II in their other sports. You will need to ask Augusta of what their intentions are going to be. I cannot speak for them.”
The conference will have three associate members during the upcoming academic year.
In June, the MEAC announced that Alabama Birmingham (UAB) and Monmouth will join the conference as associate members for women’s bowling, effective for the 2018- 19 season.UAB finished this past season No. 16 in the final National Tenpin Coaches Association (NTCA) Coaches Poll while Monmouth was 24th in the final 2017- 18 NTCA Coaches Poll.
Many historically Black institutions are struggling to keep their doors open these days and the rising costs associated with athletics is one of the reasons Savannah State officials opted to move back to Division II and Hampton to move to another Division I conference that would whittle down some of their traveling expenses.
When asked what financial shape the MEAC is in and where does he see the conference five years from now, Thomas stated that the conference is in great shape fiscally and they are still trying to generate additional revenue stream for the conference. “We hope five years from now to be even stronger as a conference. We will see if there are compatible institutions that fit our footprint, academics and athletics programing. We’ll always have our long range and strategic plan in place that we follow. The future is bright from my perspective.”