Is A&T leaving the MEAC a good thing for HBCUs?

Is A&T  leaving the  MEAC a good thing  for HBCUs?
February 20
03:00 2020

It is no longer just a rumor; North Carolina A&T State University is officially leaving the MEAC to join the Big South after the 2020-21 school year. The board of trustees voted 12-1 to make the move to the Big South.

As one of the charter members of the MEAC in 1970, it is hard to believe that the conference will no longer include A&T. Many have questioned whether it was a good or bad move.

I wavered back and forth for several days, wondering if this was a good thing, not only for A&T, but also for HBCUs in general. As an A&T graduate, I think my initial apprehension was because of the tradition and rivalries that will be lost because of the move. Once I spoke to several individuals, watched the press conference, and thought objectively about the move, I felt it was a good thing for A&T.

Reduced travel seems to be one of biggest benefits of the move to the Big South. With the majority of the conference’s fulltime members in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, travel will be reduced by a third, according to reports. A&T’s travel budget last year was $1.4 million, so saving on travel would be very appealing to Aggie officials.

With the athletic success that A&T has been afforded the last few years, it made sense for them to make the jump while the iron is hot, so to speak. Couple that with the fact that several HBCUs are in financial jeopardy or at risk of losing accreditation, it seemed like a no-brainer, but where does that leave everyone else?

A&T is the largest HBCU in the country and had become the crown jewel of the MEAC in several aspects. Losing one of the top schools in the conference cannot bode well for the rest of the MEAC or any HBCU conference, whether it be the CIAA, SWAC or SIAC.

A&T is following in the steps of Hampton University, who left the MEAC after the 2017-18 school year. I don’t think this move will signal a mass exodus from HBCU conferences, but I can see other schools like Florida A&M or North Carolina Central making a similar move in the next few years. The question I still have is, if more schools continue to leave, will it ruin the conference for the schools that remain?

The thing that has bothered me the most is whether I should be more concerned with the interest of the school or the interest of the MEAC? At first glance, leaving the MEAC seems to be a great move for A&T, but not a good one for the conference. HBCUs were created to give an opportunity to students of color who were not permitted to attend Predominately White Institutions (PWI). I am torn between being more concerned with one or concern for the whole.

The biggest hurdle moving forward for the Aggies will probably be perception. As an HBCU in a PWI athletic conference, how does A&T maintain their tradition? The rivalries that will no longer take place on the football field or basketball court will be lost. Many fans are wondering, will the stadium still be packed to capacity for a matchup with Gardner-Webb or North Alabama, as it did for Central, FAMU or Howard? That question remains to be answered.

A&T has 17 men’s and women’s sports teams. All of them, except the women’s bowling team, will make the move to the Big South. With enrollment pushing 13,000, the move to the Big South will more than likely continue to attract students at an accelerated pace. Only time will tell if this was a good move for the school.

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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