The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference landscape is going through a considerable change.
In fact, South Carolina State University's athletic department will have at least 3 fewer conference match-ups across the board by the start of the 2021-22 sports seasons, due to recent decisions made by MEAC members.
In a time when people have been staying home more than they usually do, the month of June started with one MEAC program packing its bags to leave the league and, as of Thursday, the month is ending with another program on the way out.
For both programs located in Florida, the destination is the Southwestern Athletic Conference, the rival FCS league which sends its football champion to Atlanta annually to face the MEAC champion in the Celebration Bowl.
Florida A&M University leadership voted unanimously three weeks ago to jump ship after this coming school year, then on Thursday it was a unanimous vote by the Bethune-Cookman University board of trustees to leave the MEAC behind at the same time.
The website hbcugameday.com first reported the plans of the exodus, which now have North Carolina A&T (headed to the Big South Conference) leaving the conference, along with the two Florida programs, on June 30, 2021. The three schools will follow the path of Hampton, which fled the MEAC for the Big South in 2017.
Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M joined the MEAC at the same time when it expanded in 1979, with FAMU briefly leaving the league for two seasons from 1984-86 before rejoining the conference in 1987.
The two schools meet each year in the Florida Classic, a football rivalry series that began in 1925.
“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 Bethune-Cookman 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 long-term competitiveness and viability, while providing the best possible experience for our student-athletes."
The SWAC will move to 12 member colleges, which will allow the league to maintain divisional play in all sports.
The MEAC, meanwhile, will be down to just six football schools (Norfolk State, Morgan State, NC Central, Delaware State, Howard, and SC State), provided that no other MEAC school decides to announce a move prior to July 1. Delaware State University, the conference’s northern-most member, has been discussing changing conferences for multiple months, per board of trustee notes made available to the public by the school.
Full-time MEAC members Coppin State and Maryland Eastern Shore don't have football teams in their programs.
“Obviously, it is a disappointment to lose a long-standing member; However, institutions do what is in the best interest of their institutions,” MEAC commissioner Dr. Dennis E. Thomas said. “I wish president Dr. E. LaBrent Chrite, Lynn Thompson and their institution the absolute best.”
The SWAC’s headquarters are based in Alabama and most of its schools are within comfortable driving distance of Tallahassee (FAMU) and Daytona Beach (B-CU). The MEAC, which has its headquarters in Virginia, has schools in the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic regions, with FAMU and B-CU as the only member schools in Florida.
A move to SWAC should supply a boost in home attendance at football games.
The MEAC averaged 9,782 fans per home game last season, according to the latest attendance figures from the NCAA, while the SWAC has consistently led all FCS conferences in attendance with the league averaging 15,266 fans per game in 2019-20.
Bethune-Cookman averaged 6,660 fans through three home games at Daytona Stadium in 2019-20. The Wildcats had their home opener against Southeastern Louisiana canceled due to Hurricane Dorian.
Florida A&M averaged 16,537 fans through six home games at Bragg Memorial Stadium in 2019.
HBCUgameday.com and the Orlando Sentinel contributed to this story.
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