About six years after it was originally expected, Hampton University officially joined the Colonial Athletic Association this afternoon. The move puts the Pirates outside of the HBCU universe for the second time in four years, after leaving the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference for the Big South in 2018.
Hampton’s move drops the hammer on the MEAC in several ways. First, it all but dashes any hope that the Pirates will soon find their way back to the conference whose profiled it helped to build in the mid-1990s and early 2000s with multiple titles in football and men’s and women’s basketball. But it deepens the gash of historically Black conferences all around the country growing while the MEAC faces waves of questions about its future.
This week, the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference announced the addition of new teams in Oakwood University and Wiley College, and the return of Southern University at New Orleans. These moves come less than a year after Florida A&M University and Bethune-Cookman University defected to the Southwestern Athletic Conference, depleting the MEAC of its biggest football rivalry, its two best marching bands and two of its largest national fan bases.
The two HBCU Division II conferences are growing as well. The Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) has added new schools and a new sport in recent years while maintaining its spot as a magnet for corporate support and fan attendance. The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference will bring the best college basketball tournament in the country to Baltimore next month, bringing its star power and recruitment capacity to a region rich with basketball talent and the high school level.
So far, the MEAC’s biggest headlines have been hiring the assistant commissioner as its permanent leader, the improbable wooing of two Division II teams in Kentucky State University and Virginia State University, and overtures with cash-strapped and geographically-too-far Chicago State University.
None of those headlines inspire confidence in MEAC fans about the prospects of growth or even maintaining its current brand. There are real possibilities that Howard University, Norfolk State University, and North Carolina Central University could find new conference homes and effectively end the conference.
What’s next for the MEAC? Hopefully, something big and something very soon to happen for its sake.