The Bethune Cookman University Board of Trustees unanimously approved an invitation to accept membership into the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) effective July 1, 2021. The move was approved by SWAC membership on June 23rd, and a formal offer was then extended to the university by SWAC Commissioner Charles McClelland. The recommendation was made to the Board of Trustees via a special committee led by President E. LaBrent Chrite, Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Lynn W. Thompson and other integral stakeholders from the university community including members of the Executive Leadership team.
The Wildcats, members of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) since 1979, will remain members of the MEAC for the 2020 season and begin play as a full member of the SWAC in 2021.
The move by B-CU came just two weeks after Florida A&M announced they were moving from the MEAC to the SWAC.
“Bethune-Cookman’s move to the Southwestern Athletic Conference is one that is clearly in the best interest of the University, particularly during this major shift in higher education and intercollegiate athletics,” said President Dr. E. LaBrent Chrite. “We believe this is a logical next step in the evolution of our University. Moreover, it reflects our commitment to strengthening the University’s longterm competitiveness and viability, while providing the best possible experience for our student-athletes.
The addition of B-CU and the Wildcat Nation to the SWAC also opens up the very lucrative central and south Florida media and tourist market to the fanbase of the historic conference and its member institutions.
“We’re extremely excited to welcome Bethune-Cookman University to the Southwestern Athletic Conference,” said McClelland. “The Wildcats undoubtedly align with our core principles and strategic plan; and they also align with our overall vision and forward movement within our strategic plan. The addition also brings to our league an institution with academic prowess, a world-renowned marching band, along with an enthusiastic base of alumni, fans and supporters. Bethune-Cookman’s alliance with the Southwestern Athletic Conference from a competitive standpoint strengthens us in all of the sports in which the Wildcats compete. Many of our member institutions have competed against B-CU for decades and will now have the opportunity to do so on a yearly basis. Bethune-Cookman’s addition to the Southwestern Athletic Conference ultimately puts us in a great position to expand our brand in a manner that will bring a high level of value to our league and membership.”
The Wildcats now must turn their attention to implementing a smooth transition from a conference it helped make great over the past four decades.
“Obviously, it is a disappointment to lose a long-standing member, however, institutions do what is in the best interest of their institutions,” said MEAC Commissioner Dr. Dennis E. Thomas. “I wish President Dr. E. LaBrent Chrite, Lynn Thompson and their institution the absolute best.”
With the upcoming departures of FAMU and Bethune-Cookman, the MEAC will have eight remaining full members in Coppin State, Delaware State, Howard, Maryland Eastern Shore, Morgan State, Norfolk State, North Carolina Central and South Carolina State. Six of those institutions sponsor football championship subdivision (FCS)-level football which means that the MEAC will retain its NCAA automatic qualification in nine sponsored sports.
“For 40 years Bethune-Cookman University’s brand has been synonymous with the MEAC. I want to thank Commissioner Dennis Thomas and the entire MEAC family because it has provided a treasure chest of unforgettable moments, invaluable relationships and life changing championships for our student-athletes, as they represented our university and the MEAC across the nation,” said Thompson, who is the longest tenured athletics director in Division I. “ We were charged by our Board of Trustees to study the changing landscape, analyze the data and prevailing trends and make a recommendation that would position our program and our University on a trajectory for long-term success. Joining the SWAC gives us the opportunity and momentum to align with a new set of great universities who share our same mission, vision and history and we will need the entire Wildcat Nation to join us on this exciting journey.”
Before Bethune Cookman joined the MEAC, they spent time in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (1950-79) and the Southeastern Athletic Conference (1946-49). The Wildcats were a Independent from 1925-45.
The SWAC, founded in 1920, is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama and includes Alabama A&M, Alabama State, Alcorn State, Grambling State, Jackson State, Mississippi Valley State, Prairie View A&M, Southern University, Texas Southern and Arkansas Pine Bluff. With the addition of Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M in 2021 the conference will grow to a 12-team league with six teams in the Eastern and Western Divisions, respectively.