Is the End Approaching for the MEAC?

Editor’s note: This article was written hours before the news of Bethune-Cookman’s official departure from the MEAC.

The hits keep on coming for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). After the news that Florida A&M was leaving for the SWAC three weeks ago, reports have surfaced that two remaining members – Bethune-Cookman and Delaware State – are considering jumping ship.

And who could blame them?

The losses have been heavy for the MEAC. Hampton left after the 2017-18 season for the Big South while Savannah State departed after the 2018-19 season to return to the Division II level. In addition to Florida A&M earlier this month, back in February North Carolina A&T also voted to leave after this season. The Aggies will join Hampton in the Big South next season.

Including Bethune-Cookman and Delaware State, there are 7 football members left in the MEAC: HowardMorgan StateNorfolk StateNorth Carolina Central, and South Carolina State. The MEAC also has two non-football members in Coppin State and Maryland Eastern Shore.

Bethune-Cookman

Bethune-Cookman’s Board of Trustees held an emergency meeting last week to discuss the possibility of switching conferences. BCU athletic director Lynn W. Thompson even issued a statement on the matter.

“Bethune-Cookman University has enjoyed a great partnership with the MEAC for forty years.  However, like many other institutions across the nation, we are presently engaged in an analysis to assess all options available to us regarding athletic conference affiliation.  Toward this end, we will continue to follow the directive of our Board and institutional leadership to ensure our alignment with an athletic conference that best meets the long-term needs of Bethune-Cookman University.” 

The Atlantic Sun has been thrown around as a potential landing spot for the Wildcats but that still leaves the football program to find a new conference (most likely the Big South). The SWAC has also been suggested, which would follow Florida A&M’s recent move there as well as giving the SWAC an even membership of 12 teams.

Bethune-Cookman is on an island in terms of travel costs if they remain in the MEAC, which is all the more reason to leave and find a more suitable geographic conference.

Delaware State

The other report involves Delaware State. The Hornets are rumored to be considering the Northeast Conference and would fill the recent vacancy left by Robert Morris.

This is another potential move that fits geographically. All schools would be situated snugly in the… well, Northeast. Bryant in Rhode Island would be the furthest east and north they would have to travel. Saint Francis in Pennsylvania would be the furthest west and the Hornets would then become the most southern team in the NEC.

The biggest step would be getting an invite from the NEC. Would they be willing to accept a team that has struggled on the field? Since 2010, the Hornets have had one winning season – in 2012 when they went 6-5. The Hornets record since the 2010 season has been 27-85.

While it makes sense geographically for Delaware State and the NEC, the question will ultimately come down to whether it makes sense financially for the NEC.

For what it’s worth, neither Delaware State nor the Northeast Conference has confirmed or denied the rumors.

The Rest of the MEAC

Let’s say both Bethune-Cookman and Delaware State find new homes. That leaves Howard, Morgan State, Norfolk State, North Carolina Central, and South Carolina State as the last remnants of the MEAC in football.

The MEAC has to find teams willing to join the conference or… it’s over. These 5 schools are unlikely to stick around a decimated conference that has lost its top teams in the span of 6 months.

So what happens to the remaining five football members?

One potential spot is the Big South. This would give them a mega-conference of 14 teams but that also allows for divisions to be created to keep travel costs lower. Below is a simple example of how to split the divisions in the event of a 14 team conference.

North DivisionSouth Division
HamptonCampbell
HowardCharleston Southern
MonmouthGardner-Webb
Morgan StateKennesaw State
Norfolk StateNorth Alabama
North Carolina A&TNorth Carolina Central
Robert MorrisSouth Carolina State

This would allow an 8 game conference schedule with only 2 crossover games between the divisions. Furthermore, this would also keep the long-distance trips such as Robert Morris at Kennesaw State to once every six years in football. Again, this is just one example of how the division could be split with many other iterations possible.

The other option is for the MEAC to try and poach schools from Division II or other FCS conferences. However, given the current landscape and recently high profile departures it will be a tough sell.

Schools may also consider being an independent, dropping down to Division II, or find a different conference not mentioned above. Maybe they even try to band together and convince other programs to join the MEAC or perhaps a new conference springs up.

As with any realignment, it depends on whether the move makes sense geographically and financially for both schools and conferences especially given the ongoing pandemic that threatens the revenue of many schools.

Photo courtesy of the MEAC.

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