(Compiled from press and news reports)
Does the exit of Hampton University (HU) from the MidEastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) mean the end of the area’s highly anticipated Battle of the Bay between HU and Norfolk State University?
After 22 years in the MEAC, Hampton is leaving to become the first HBCU to play in the Big South Conference which currently is comprised of 10-member predominantly White institutions (Campbell University, Charleston Southern University, Gardner-Webb University, High Point University, Liberty University, Longwood University, Presbyterian College, Radford University, UNC Asheville and Winthrop University, plus football members Kennesaw State University, Monmouth University and the University of North Alabama).
In 1986, Tennessee State, another historically Black college, joined the Ohio Valley Conference of predominantly White institutions.
It has continued to include Black college rivalries as part of their non-conference schedules which has kept alive some traditions and Black college football history.
Last week, Hampton University President Dr. William Harvey announced his school is leaving the MEAC to join the Big South Conference next year.
With the addition of Hampton, the Big South Conference will now have four members based in Virginia (Hampton, Liberty, Longwood, Radford). In addition to the Virginia institutions, the conference membership comes from South Carolina and North Carolina.
In making the announcement, Harvey said the move is not just about athletics but about keeping the student-athletes in a closer geographic area to support higher academics.
“Our student-athletes will spend less time traveling and more time in classes on campus,” Harvey said. “This keeps the proper focus on academics, which is our chief reason for being. The smaller geographic footprint will also reduce travel expenses.”
Hampton officially joins the Big South on July 1, 2018. The MEAC schools are located mostly in North Carolina, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Washington — with two in Florida (Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman).
Author, HBCU historian and Prairie View A&M University administrator Michael Hurd said in Diversity In Education magazine, “It’s sad to see another program leave a traditional HBCU conference, but I understand the cost-cutting, fiscal reasons — reducing travel costs, and academic reasons as well, such as less time away from the classroom.
“Hampton has been a vital member and a force in the MEAC throughout its affiliation with the conference. You’re already seeing HBCUs as system members of state universities, and that presents the challenge of maintaining the sense of Black culture.”
Commissioner Kyle Kallander of the Big South Conference welcomed Hampton and praised the university’s academic and athletics accomplishments.
“We have always been impressed by Hampton’s academics and athletics accomplishments under President Harvey’s visionary leadership,” Kallander said. “We appreciate his interest and support of the Big South and look forward to working with him and the rest of Hampton’s leadership to support our student-athletes.”
Hampton University Athletic Director Eugene Marshall Jr. is quoted in the Virginian-Pilot newspaper as saying HU will maintain its roots, but it was time to move forward to attain its goals.
Joining the Big South is not just about athletics. Marshall echoed Dr. Harvey’s most important reason for joining the Big South.
“This move enables us to better manage class time, reducing lost class time for our athletes, with the goal of high academic achievement at the forefront of HU Athletics,” Marshall said.
“Hampton University is always going to be an HBCU,” Marshall told the newspaper. “That’s not going to change. We’re not (going to stop) competing against our fellow MEAC schools.
“But as we look at the bigger picture, of trying to build the best mid-sized athletic program in the country, you have to take steps.
We’re not leaving. We’re just expanding our reach.”