Commissioner Dennis E. Thomas
Dr. Dennis Thomas entered his 15th year as Commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) on September 1, 2016.
A revolutionary, Commissioner Thomas led the MEAC to become the first Division I FCS conference to institute instant replay during its televised regular season football games in 2011. In 2010, Commissioner Thomas realized one of his goals with the purchasing of the conference's first building. The official headquarters, located in Norfolk, Virginia, marks the first time a FCS conference has owned its headquartered property.
Thomas' mission to increase the conference's corporate resources has led to multi-year partnerships with Russell Athletic Corporation, Coca-Cola, State Farm Insurance, Nike, Wells Fargo, ESPN, Jostens, United States Marines, Home Depot, Colgate Palmolive and the National Football League (NFL). Thomas was instrumental in forging a partnership with the NFL to improve officiating and provide access for MEAC officials to advance to the next level. In May of 2016, Thomas also helped broker an off-the field partnership between the NFL and MEAC to boost opportunities for non-playing careers in pro football.
Thomas also played an important role in the development of the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl, pitting the champions of the MEAC and SWAC together in a bowl game. Currently played at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga., the MEAC won the inaugural 2015 contest as North Carolina A&T defeated Alcorn State 41-34 in front of over 35,000 fans and a national TV audience on ABC. Out of 40-plus NCAA Football Postseason Bowl games, the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl is only one of five bowl games to secure an over-the-air television slot as it will broadcast on ABC again on Dec. 17, 2016. Beginning in 2017, the bowl will shift venues as the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Downtown Atlanta will serve as the new home.
Under his guidance, Commissioner Thomas has been a proponent of MEAC student-athletes being strong on the field as well as in the classroom. His vision to reward academic excellence was implemented with the start of the Highest Graduation Award for member institutions with the best graduation rate for the academic year. The institution that achieves the honor is awarded $25,000. In addition, each year the MEAC recognizes the Commissioner All-Academic team that highlights student-athletes who achieve a 3.0 or better grade point average for the academic year.
In 2006, Thomas implemented the MEAC Woman of the Year honor. The award celebrates the achievements of female senior student-athletes who have excelled in academics, athletics, community service and leadership. In 2012, the MEAC introduced and recognized the MEAC Man of the Year award in collaboration with the Woman's top honor.
He has also raised the profile of the MEAC’s annual postseason football awards as the conference recently partnered with the prestigious National Football Foundation (NFF) & College Hall of Fame to reveal the league’s offensive and defensive players of the year as part of the festivities surrounding the annual NFF Annual Awards Dinner in New York City.
Commissioner Thomas proved instrumental in negotiating a bowl-like football game experience with ESPN for conference football playing institutions. In 2005, the MEAC/SWAC Challenge arose and provided MEAC institutions with a cross-conference game with the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) featuring national television exposure and financial guarantees. Thomas negotiated an extension to this contract with ESPN in 2011. The MEAC has continued the contest and boasts a winning record of 9-2.
Further solidifying the MEAC’s brand to a national audience, Thomas has generated additional national exposure for the annual MEAC Basketball Tournament through an ESPN partnership which broadcasted the preliminary round contests on ESPN3 and the championship games on ESPN2 and ESPNU. The MEAC’s Olympic sports have also received national exposure throughout Thomas’ tenure as ESPNU has televised several regular season baseball and softball contests. In the winter of 2017, the MEAC Indoor Track & Field Championship was shown live across the nation on Cox Communications’ YurView Network and ESPN3 for the first time.
Thomas brought a wealth of collegiate administrative and higher education experience to the MEAC. Prior to becoming Commissioner, Thomas served as Director of Athletics at Hampton University (Va.). In his twelve (12) years of service Hampton excelled on and off the field of competition. In addition to guiding Hampton from the NCAA Division II to Division I, Thomas demonstrated a strong commitment to student-athletes during his tenure by developing the athletic academic support unit to increase graduation rates.
Under his leadership, Hampton won 17 Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) Division II championships from 1990-1995 and 11 MEAC Championships from 1996-2002. Hampton was awarded the MEAC's top honors with the 1999 Talmadge L. Hill All-Sports Award and the 2002 Mary McLeod Bethune Women's All-Sports Award symbolizing the overall strength of the athletics program.
Thomas' term at Hampton also marked the Pirates men's basketball teams' remarkable win over Iowa State University, 58-57, in the first round of the 2001 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
Thomas served as the Head Football Coach at South Carolina State University from 1986-1988 and compiled a record of 15-18.
His leadership and managerial skills among national organizations has not gone unnoticed. Thomas was awarded the National Association of Collegiate Director of Athletics (NACDA) Athletic Director of the Year Award for the Southeast Region (I-AA/AAA) in 2002. In 2001, he served as Chair of the NCAA Division I-AA (now FCS) Football Committee. He also served on the NCAA Division I Football Issues Committee and is a former board of director member of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame.
Thomas has served as a member of the NCAA Division I Leadership Council, the NCAA I-FCS Governance Committee and chaired the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions and the NLI Policy and Review Committee. Thomas has also served as the chair of the NCAA Division I-AA (FCS) Commissioner Association and served on the NACDA Executive Committee. Currently, Thomas serves on the board of directors for the Advocates for Athletic Equity (AAE) and the Walter Byers Scholarship Committee.
For his years and dedication and service to Hampton University and its athletic programs, Thomas was inducted into the institution’s inaugural Athletic Hall of Fame Class in 2009. Thomas has also been enshrined in the Alcorn State University (Miss.) Hall of Fame (2010) and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Hall of Fame (2003).
The Heidelberg, Miss., native was a three-year letterman in football and track and field in high school, and at the age of 16 he embarked upon a collegiate career that is still in the SWAC's record books. In 1973, he made history as the first and only offensive lineman to be named the conferences’ Offensive Player of the Year. He finished his collegiate career as a three-year letterman at Alcorn State, a two-time Pittsburgh Courier First Team All-American, First Team Black Mutual Sports Network All-American, and the Outstanding College Athlete of America (1974). While at Alcorn State, Thomas coached and played under the legendary coach Marino "The Godfather" Casem. During his playing and coaching tenure at Alcorn State, the Braves won SWAC Football Championships in 1970 (as a player), 1976, 1979, and 1984 (as a coach).
In 1978, the state legislative of Mississippi proclaimed April 8 as the Dennis and Johnny (brother) Day in the state for their achievements in scholarship, athletics, and leadership.
Thomas earned his bachelor's degree from Alcorn State University. He earned his master's from the University of Louisiana at Monroe and his doctorate from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He is also a proud lifetime member of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.