By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer
There will be no HBCU sports during the fall of 2020 in the DMV.
Once the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) made the official announcement to cancel their sports, Howard University and Morgan State joined Bowie State on the sidelines thanks to the ongoing struggles HBCUs are facing while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Now three of the four Black College conferences have chosen to forgo athletics this year.
This was just another in a series of blows affecting the MEAC, who was planning to celebrate it’s 50th anniversary with the kickoff of the college football season. Now their season has been sacked as the conference makes plans for a new era without four significant programs to begin during the 2021-2022 season. However, the conference is exploring the possibility of playing its fall sports schedule during the spring of 2021.
“The health and safety of our student-athletes continue to be our number one priority,” said Howard University President and Chair of MEAC Council of Presidents and Chancellors, Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick in the official MEAC announcement. “We have made the decision to suspend all sports competitions after careful review of the current conditions and consideration of the potential exposure that regular travel to competitions may cause and ongoing extensive physical contact.”
However, when the MEAC returns to full competition it remains to be seen whether it would still be a sanctioned NCAA Division I conference. If another football playing institution decides to leave it would no longer comply with the association’s bylaws forcing them into competing at the Division II level. Howard and Morgan have been linked to conversations with the Patriot League and the Northeastern Conference (NEC) respectively as each of the six remaining football schools continue exploring the prospects of playing in another FCS conference in their region.
“There’s no doubt, the MEAC is at a crossroad,” longtime Morgan Stste broadcaster Lamont Germany told the AFRO. “They’ve got to get the number of schools up to stay compliant with the [NCAA Division I by-laws] but nobody knows where the other schools would come from unless it’s a Division I or II P.W.I. (predominantly white institution) who can afford to move up or is looking to move to a closer geographic conference to their footprint.”
Morgan will lose a $450,000 payday after the cancellation of their game against B1G opponent Northwestern which was scheduled for November 14. The B1G conference – where the University of Maryland is a member – has decided it would play a conference only schedule if there is a season meaning that Morgan was going to be on the outside looking in.
Over the last 18 months the MEAC has lost four of its signature football programs to other conferences. After Hampton departed to compete in the Big South, North Carolina A&T followed and this was to be their final year. Meanwhile, Florida A&M and Bethune Cookman recently announced they would be leaving the MEAC to compete in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) starting with the 2021-2022 season as well.
“Part of our responsibility is to ensure the mental and physical health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and staff,” said MEAC Commissioner Dr. Dennis Thomas in his statement. “It is imperative that everyone recognize that is our first and foremost responsibility.”
By taking their passionate southern football fan bases to the nation’s Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) leader in attendance for nearly three decades – the SWAC has become the HBCU’s power conference already boasting traditional powers such Grambling, Southern, and Jackson State.