The 22-year-old marriage between the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and Hampton University is ending and the divorce proceeding seems be a nasty one.
Last November, Hampton University announced that it was joining the Big South Conference and ending its relationship with the 13-member MEAC, one of the oldest HBCU sports leagues in the nation.
For the first time in sports leagues history, HU its will not be part of a Black conference. HU was with the CIAA before it moved to the MEAC 22 years ago. It is the first HBCU to join the Big South Conference which has mostly historically White colleges.
The dispute comes at a time when Hampton Men’s team has earned the top seed in the MEAC Basketball Tournament which began Monday March 5 and runs through March 10 at the SCOPE Arena. This could be HU’s last appearance at the MEAC Tourney before moving to Big South.
But not if MEAC has the final say.
According to MEAC, Hampton’s departure is not sanctioned by its bylaws because it failed to notify the league before July 1, 2017 of intentions to leave the league, a fact that HU admits was a mistake.
On February 5, MEAC officials issued a stiff statement seeking to “set the record” straight on its position relative to HU’s exodus from the league.
“The MEAC is a proud conference comprising 13 outstanding institutions of higher learning. While we are disappointed that Hampton University wishes to join another conference, the MEAC respects its right to do so and wishes Hampton well in its transition.
“We respect Hampton’s right to act on what it perceives as its own best interest, but we also expect Hampton to honor its obligations to MEAC and member institutions under MEAC’s legally binding Constitution and Bylaws – which Hampton has failed to do.
“The thread that binds our member institutions is the Constitution and Bylaws, and every school agrees to follow these dictates when they join the MEAC. As a MEAC member for 22 years, Hampton is fully aware of our Constitution and Bylaws, and the authority spelled out within those documents.
“There is and can be no dispute Hampton is aware of the proper way to make the withdrawal. There is and can be no dispute that other schools have withdrawn from the MEAC– in accordance with the Constitution and Bylaws of the conference – with no dispute or friction because they followed the rules.
Hampton, however, has admitted it missed the July 1, 2017 deadline for any institution to withdraw from the conference as of June 30, 2018, as Hampton has indicated it plans to do. Hampton announced this decision on Nov. 16, 2017 – more than four months after the deadline.
“Hampton’s failure to meet the deadline and plan to withdraw in June has resulted in consequences as prescribed in our Bylaws. Among the consequences:
Hampton must play a full 2018 football schedule against MEAC teams as a non-conference institution. (As of July 1, 2018, Hampton has declared itself a Big South Conference institution);
“As a non-conference institution, Hampton would not be eligible for Conference championships, MEAC postseason games and accolades;
“Hampton must play a full MEAC football schedule for the 2019, 2020 and 2021 seasons unless their scheduled MEAC opponents agree not to play; Hampton is not eligible for any MEAC revenue distribution after their departure from the conference on June 30, 2018; Hampton must pay a penalty, which our Bylaws give the Conference the authority to assess when member institutions fail to follow MEAC policies.”
Hampton immediately responded the following day with a stinging four-page news statement, calling the MEAC’s actions “unreasonable demands” and “vindictive.”
The MEAC sanctions were issued after HU said that it would not be playing any sports against league schools in 2018, in accordance with its by-laws.
MEAC officials said they especially were alarmed since HU’s annual “Battle of the Bay” is one of the most well-attended games with Norfolk State University (NSU), a MEAC school which does have HU on its football schedule.
In its February 20 Statement, HU officials accused MEAC officials of refusing to discuss its exit from the league in face-to-face meetings.
HU said MEAC officials have refused to allow the school to play a MEAC football schedule this fall and is fining the school unjustly.
“Hampton University has made repeated requests to meet with” MEAC executives, including Commissioner Dennis Thomas, “to work out the terms and conditions of Hampton University’s withdrawal from the conference. Inexplicably, the MEAC steadfastly has refused to meet,” the release said.
Hampton Senior Vice President, Paul C. Harris, according to the Newport News Daily Press, said the school believes the MEAC office instructed league schools not to schedule the HU Pirates in non-conference games.
He also told the Daily Press the MEAC is attempting to “impede” and “penalize” Hampton for its decision to leave. “If it’s true, those efforts obviously are not without legal risk. A court might see that as unreasonable restraints on trade and anti-competitive activities.”
Reached at the MEAC’s Norfolk headquarters, according to the Daily Press, MEAC Commissioner Thomas said, “I have not had an opportunity to review the document, but once I have, I’m sure the MEAC will have an appropriate response.”
On February 23, Hampton officials indicated they may want to end the dispute by proposing the two sides enlist the services of a mediator.
Dated Feb. 23 to the MEAC, an HU official said a mediator could be approved by both parties and all costs split 50-50.
“A mediator could help identify the best interests of both parties and focus on reaching an agreement that meets their needs,” HU Senior Vice President Paul C. Harris said. “An experienced mediator understands that sometimes the best outcomes have little to do with bylaws, legal rights, financial interests, or the probable results of a trial.
“Rather, they listen and try to discern the important, underlying issues with an appreciation for the unique perspectives of each party … Particularly in disputes involving any kind of separation, where the emotions of the parties are running high, mediation is often a reasonable and sound option.”
In a recent response to HU’s contention, MEAC officials say other schools have exited the conference “with no dispute or friction because they followed the rules.”
Hampton has countered that the only schools to leave the MEAC have been Winston-Salem State (in 2010) and Savannah State (effective 2019). Both moved down to Division II.
HU argued the bylaw that requires four more seasons of football “is designed for a MEAC member institution that either joins an NCAA Division I … conference that does not have a football program, or downgrades to NCAA Division II status.”
By Leonard E. Colvin