The State of The MEAC: Collapse or Grow, the Time is Now

It’s July now, which means that with everything that has shaken this year into chaos, we get to add one more to the list. All of the planned changes made by schools and conferences now take effect.

Among those was the conference hit hardest by such chaos, the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference. They have now officially lost Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman to the Southwest Athletic Conference, as well as NC A&T to the Big South.

This of course comes on the heels of Hampton heading to the Big South and Savannah State dropping to Division II in recent off-seasons past.

The MEAC in Turmoil: Big Brands and Long Trips

Among the reasons for BCU and FAMU’s departure were travel costs. FAMU estimated that a move to the SWAC would cut travel costs by 30%. On top of this, FAMU’s brand power itself became too big for the MEAC. The Board of Trustees report found that FAMU’s brand presence generates three times more views than any other MEAC school.

The SWAC and its smaller geographical footprint was a logical attraction for both schools, but FAMU realized the MEAC was going nowhere fast, especially with the loss of 4-time Celebration Bowl champ, NC A&T leaving. The SWAC, with the traditions of legends like Eddie Robinson, Steve McNair, Walter Payton, and Jerry Rice was best for the exposure of the program.

Where Does Everyone Go If the MEAC Collapses?

This slew of moves leaves the conference with eight members, and only six football schools, putting the MEAC’s stability in question. Other conferences stand to benefit, with several mid-majors in the conference’s footprint. Here is what might make sense for the MEAC’s remaining members if the conference fully dissolved.

Patriot League for Football/NEC for Olympic Sports: Howard

Howard would be a natural fit for the academically-focused Patriot League, with its prestige as not only one of the country’s prominent private HBCUs, but its standing in general among US universities. The Patriot League would greatly benefit from adding another football member, as their total is only seven at the moment.

The Bison are also in the league’s footprint with Georgetown already in DC as a football member, and American University and Loyola in DC and Maryland in Olympic Sports.

Adding Howard might be awkward for Olympic sports, as it would put the conference at 11 schools, but it is doable, with the AAC currently at 11 schools.

All this becomes complicated now with Howard parking six of their Olympic Sports in the NEC. That soon may become a permanent home for the rest of their Olympic Sports. In the event that happens, the Patriot League still stands to benefit from Howard being a football only member, as the NEC may become crowded if Delaware State and Morgan State defect. 

America East: Maryland-Eastern Shore and Coppin State

The America East recently added NJIT and the fall of the MEAC could keep their expansion momentum going. The Olympic sports conference sits at ten members and these two non-football schools would be great fits.

Not only would they would give NJIT and UMBC travel partners, but they would give the conference an opportunity to create divisions. This is especially important, as even though the conference is not as spread out as others, there’s that awkward trip from Baltimore to Orono, Maine.

North South
New Hampshire Hartford
Maine Stony Brook
Vermont NJIT
Albany Coppin State
Binghamton Maryland-Eastern Shore
Umass-Lowell UMBC

Northeast Conference: Delaware State and Morgan State

The Northeast Conference is hurting a bit, but not as much as the MEAC, after losing Robert Morris to the Horizon League in Olympic Sports and the Big South in Football.

This departure puts them at ten members in Olympic sports and eight in football. Adding Delaware State and Morgan State has a similar effect as Coppin State and UMES’s move to America East, giving the conference an opportunity to create divisions. Additionally, Delaware State had already considered a move to the NEC very recently.

Both schools are within the league’s footprint and would give Mount St. Mary’s a pair of travel partners. Potential divisions could look like this:

North South
Merrimack Delaware State
Bryant Morgan State
Central Connecticut State Mount Saint Mary’s
Sacred Heart Farleigh Dickinson
Long Island Wagner
St. Francis (NY) St. Francis (PA)
  Howard

Howard would obviously join the South division if they became a full member, but things will be uneven at 13, which is a minor inconvenience at most. For Football, the divisions would be mostly the same with Duquesne, a football-only member, going to the south.

Big South (Football-Only) & Atlantic Sun (Olympic Sports): Norfolk State, NC Central, and South Carolina State

As mentioned earlier, the Big South poached the MEAC of two of their schools already, and they could be prime for more. The Big South currently has three football-only schools, Kennesaw State, Monmouth, and North Alabama.

The addition of Norfolk State, North Carolina Central, and South Carolina State, would bring the conference to twelve football schools, which could allow them to create divisions.

Norfolk State, North Carolina Central, and South Carolina State could easily find a home in the Atlantic Sun. The conference would welcome the stability as they have lost three schools since 2015.

Like the other conferences mentioned before, the ASUN could split into divisions, as the conference has four schools in Florida. The Divisions could look like this:

Atlantic Sun

North South
Norfolk State Florida Gulf Coast
Liberty Jacksonville
Bellarmine Stetson
Lipscomb North Florida
North Carolina Central North Alabama
South Carolina State Kennesaw State

Big South Football Divisions:

North South
Norfolk State South Carolina State
Monmouth Charleston Southern
Robert Morris Gardner-Webb
Hampton Campbell
North Carolina Central North Alabama
NC A&T Kennesaw State

Wild Card: NC Central to Big South for Football, and Southern Conference or CAA for Olympic sports

This one is more unlikely than the other scenarios, but makes sense to a degree. LeVelle Moton’s Eagles are the class of the MEAC in basketball, making the Big Dance four times since 2014, and an NIT in 2015. They would have made a fifth NCAA Tournament this season if not for the COVID-19 outbreak.

The CAA and Southern Conference could add NCCU in Olympic sports to aid their men’s basketball profile. The Southern could benefit greatly from another strong team, as in the past two seasons, Furman and UNC-Greensboro have been on the outside of the bubble.

However, this move is unlikely as neither conference would be willing to not only take the risk, or make their conference uneven for this sake.

How The MEAC Can Expand?:

The obvious (though debatably effective) antidote to such poaching by other conferences would be for the MEAC to expand beyond their current eight Olympic-sports members and six football members.

The conference’s football outlook appears to be in the most danger, especially with the conference’s spot in the Celebration Bowl in jeopardy. A surprise school could emerge to improve their football profile significantly. That school is the Monmouth Hawks.

On a Jersey Island

Monmouth’s football program currently resides in the Big South, with their other sports calling the MAAC home. While the Big South is a good conference, having two of their eight schools qualify for the FCS playoffs, it is hardly a good geographical fit for the Hawks, unsurprising for a school from New Jersey in a conference called the Big South.

The Hawks’ closest football opponents in the Big South are newcomers Robert Morris and Hampton, each around 390 miles away from the school. Additionally, Monmouth regularly makes trips to Charleston, North Alabama, and Kennesaw State. Time will tell how much the program can maintain such travel costs, especially after the financial impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.

A move to the MEAC benefits the Hawks greatly, with three schools within a 220 mile radius in Howard, Delaware State, and Morgan State. The longest trip for the Hawks would be to South Carolina State, which is only 684 miles away. This pales in comparison to their longest trip in the Big South, a 980 mile trip to North Alabama.

In the Hawks, the MEAC gets a quality program that went 11-3 with a playoff win over Holy Cross, and a foot in the New York City market.

Of course, with adding the Hawks, the awkward situation of the Celebration Bowl comes up. Does the conference allow a primarily white institution to play for the HBCU national title?

The MEAC could make a clause to allow champions to forgo the bowl for the FCS playoffs to avoid this. However, this could dilute the bowl’s quality. Who knows, Monmouth could jump at the chance to play on ABC in front of a national championship audience.

The MEAC needs to think outside of the box to maintain its stability. One result of this could be the addition of primarily white institutions to the HBCU’s conference. Luckily, the COVID-19 outbreak and the Big South’s own expansion puts Monmouth in a bind, where the two could be a good match for one another.

Another surprise candidate is New Haven. Late last year, the Chargers were looking into a potential Division 1 move. While no suitors emerged, the MEAC can be the first.

The geography works against the Chargers to some degree, but trips to schools in Delaware and Maryland, and potentially to Monmouth are cost-effective.

The Chargers are a football school, so they provide stability on that front. The MEAC can continue to build on their NYC presence if they add Monmouth and New Haven as a package.

The Division II Route

If Monmouth chooses not to budge, or New Haven isn’t it, the MEAC could choose to bring up a Division II school. This happened before with Winston-Salem State, but the Rams’ tenure in the conference was short and ill-fated.

Possible targets could include the SIAC and CIAA, Division II’s two HBCU conferences, but both are more stable than the MEAC, with the SIAC sitting at 14 in Olympic sports (11 for football) and the CIAA at 13 (12}.

While the stability is there, the costs of moving to Division 1 and staying there are too much for the risk for many of the programs in these conferences even without the COVID-19 outbreak.

Consider the opposite, though. The MEAC dissolves altogether with their members being split into either the CIAA or SIAC. This is a very realistic possibility, as more defections puts their NCAA qualifying status for Olympic Sports at risk.

This makes sense for many of the MEAC’s remaining membership, as many continue to struggle to keep up with their D1 budgets. 

In the end, the MEAC is in trouble and the worst seems yet to come, with so many logical possibilities for other conferences to increase their strength and stability by finishing off the MEAC.

The time to act is now, as the MEAC is as vulnerable as any Division 1 conference aside from the WAC, with a legitimate possibility of extinction. Their best chance at survival might be a drop to Division II to compete with both their financial and athletic peers.

Winston-Salem State and Savannah State already made the move. Is it too crazy to imagine other schools in the MEAC becoming more realistic with themselves?

 

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