Rumors began to swirl that Bethune-Cookman Wildcats may consider leaving the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) when rival Florida A&M did. It took a few more weeks, but the university officially announced the move on Thursday. The Wildcats become the latest athletics program to jump for another league, adding more uncertainty as to the future of the MEAC.
Bethune-Cookman Wildcats Joining SWAC
The Bethune-Cookman Wildcats added to the exodus of teams from the MEAC. The University formally accepted its SWAC membership, which will begin in 2021-22. The approval was unanimous from the board of trustees, leaving the MEAC after 40 years.
The official release from the university has high praise for the move from University President Dr. E. LaBrent Chrite.
“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. This is a logical next step in the evolution of the University,” Chrite said.
This move was recommended by a special committee comprised of key University leaders. The committee’s report is not as public as the one from Florida A&M’s move, but finances have to be a major factor. Bethune-Cookman faced similar travel issues as their in-state rivals as a MEAC member. Playing in a league that is regionally based in the Southeast makes sense. Furthermore, as pointed out by the Florida A&M document, the SWAC seems to be an attractive partner for other lucrative financial incentives. This includes revenue sharing from items such as television and media deals.
Impact on the SWAC
The SWAC could not be in a more favorable position at this point. The league has pried away two longstanding members of the MEAC and expanded to 12 teams beginning in 2021. This gives the conference the option to split into divisions, which would potentially further ease travel burdens, saving schools a little more money.
Commissioner Dr. Charles McClelland was thrilled with the annoucement.
“The Wildcats…align with our overall vision and forward movement with our strategic plan. 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,” McClelland said.
The league now has members that stretch from Texas to the east coast of Florida. The addition of both FAMU and B-CU have opened the Florida market to the conference. Furthermore, the brand of the SWAC will certainly increase. The schools bring a natural rivalry and a historic tradition that will only add to the ones that already existed.
Impact on the MEAC
Hampton. North Carolina A&T. Florida A&M. Bethune-Cookman. Savannah State who moved back to Division II. The question becomes whether more schools will be added to the list of former members. Losing five institutions in two years is not a good look. It is even worse when two of them bolt for your rival league. The bottom line is that the MEAC is left with eight members, six of which support football. That is easily the least amount of teams in any league in Division I basketball.
The MEAC is at a crossroads. Many of the schools leaving are citing directly or indirectly financial reasons for their shifts. The COVID-19 pandemic has only furthered many schools to reevaluate conference membership to save money. While things seem bleak, the official statement from the league remains optimistic.
“As with many challenges intercollegiate athletics faces, it also provides opportunities for new conference expansion. The MEAC has been a transformative and dynamic conference in its nearly 50 years, and we look forward to an even brighter future.”
The league will need to back up that statement. The remaining eight teams (Coppin St., Delaware St., Howard, UMES, Morgan St., Norfolk St., North Carolina Central, and South Carolina St.) remain close to each other geographically. However, would it make sense for those institutions to start exploring their options as well? The MEAC will have to prove to remaining schools that they are making their league attractive for new members. They also have to prove that they can make it financially feasible for a school to join or move up from Division II. Otherwise, there may soon be only 31 Division I conferences in basketball.