The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) begins its 48th year of intercollegiate competition with the 2017-18 academic school year. Located in Norfolk, Va., the MEAC is made up of 13 outstanding historically black institutions across the Atlantic coastline: Bethune-Cookman University, Coppin State University, Delaware State University, Florida A&M University, Hampton University, Howard University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Morgan State University, Norfolk State University, North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina Central University, Savannah State University and South Carolina State University.
The MEAC sponsors 15 Division I (FCS) sports with automatic qualifying bids for NCAA postseason competition in baseball, bowling, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s track & field, softball, volleyball and men’s golf. The MEAC’s football champion is pitted against the champion of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) in the Celebration Bowl, which debuted in December 2015.
MEAC student-athletes excel on and off the field, and several have been recognized on ESPN the Magazine/CoSIDA Academic All-America and All-District teams. The conference sponsors All-Academic teams in each of its sports and awards two post-graduate scholarships of $5,000 each annually to one male and one female student-athlete who have excelled academically and athletically and are in their final season of intercollegiate athletics eligibility and competition under MEAC and NCAA regulations.
In 1969, a bold ad hoc group of innovators long associated with intercollegiate athletics met in Durham, N.C. to discuss the feasibility of organizing a new conference. From these discussions, they formed a steering and planning committee to fully investigate the idea, presented a detailed report with recommendations to interested collegiate institutions, and constructed a workshop to outline proposals.
After selecting a proposal and adopting a program, seven institutions (Delaware State College, Howard University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Morgan State University, North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina Central University and South Carolina State College) agreed to become the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Their major objective was to establish, organize and supervise an intercollegiate athletic program among a compact group of education institutions of high academic standards with a sound philosophy of co-curricular activities. The conference agreed to seek Division I status for its sports.
The conference was confirmed in 1970, kicking off its first season of competition in football in 1971.
In 1978, the MEAC reached a milestone when it selected Kenneth A. Free to be its first full-time commissioner. Free served the conference for 18 years before stepping down in May 1996. In July 1996, Charles S. Harris was named commissioner, and he served in that capacity until April 2002. On Sept. 1, 2002, Dr. Dennis E. Thomas was named commissioner and has served in the position for 15 years.
The conference’s first expansion occurred in October 1979, when Bethune-Cookman College and Florida A&M University were voted into the MEAC as new members. Original members Morgan State, North Carolina Central and Maryland Eastern Shore withdrew from the conference at the end of the 1979-80 fiscal year; Maryland Eastern Shore was readmitted in 1981 and Morgan State returned in 1984. Florida A&M opted to resign in 1984, but rejoined the conference in 1986. Coppin State College was granted admittance in 1985, becoming the ninth member institution.
The MEAC expanded again in the 1990s with the inclusion of Hampton University (1995) and Norfolk State University (1997). The conference grew once again in 2007, adding Winston-Salem State University. Winston-Salem State, a MEAC provisional member, did not meet the qualifications for Division I and withdrew from the conference following the 2009-10 academic and athletic season.
On July 1, 2010, the MEAC made its most recent expansion with the admittance of North Carolina Central and Savannah State University. On Sept. 10, 2014, the MEAC admitted Augusta University (formerly Georgia Regents University) as an associate member for men’s golf.
On June 8, 1980, the MEAC was classified as a Division I conference by the NCAA; prior to that year, the conference had operated on the Division II level. The month after achieving Division I status, the MEAC received automatic qualification to the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. Currently, the conference has automatic qualifying bids for NCAA postseason play in baseball (since 1994), men’s basketball (since 1981), women’s basketball (since 1982), men’s golf (since 2014), softball (since 1995), men’s and women’s tennis (since 1998) and volleyball (since 1994).
The MEAC declares champions in eight men’s sports – baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, indoor track & field, outdoor track & field and tennis – and eight women’s sports – basketball, bowling, cross country, indoor track & field, outdoor track & field, softball, tennis and volleyball.
The MEAC initiated cross country in 1980, and North Carolina A&T State earned the inaugural men’s crown. The first women’s cross country championship took place a year later, with Howard winning the first of its seven titles. Indoor track & field was also added in 1981, with South Carolina State winning the men’s title and Howard taking the women’s crown.
Tennis and golf returned as MEAC-sponsored sports in 1981 after a five-year hiatus. South Carolina State won all seven of the conference’s golf championships from 1972-83 before the sport was discontinued following the 1983 championship.
In wrestling, Morgan State won 13 of 24 conference championships before the sport was discontinued in 1995.
Baseball, which began in 1972, was discontinued following the 1977 season. It was brought back as a MEAC-governed sport, along with women’s volleyball, in 1983. Women’s softball became a MEAC-sanctioned sport in 1992.
Bowling was officially sanctioned as a MEAC sport in 1999. The MEAC was the first conference to secure NCAA sanctioning for women’s bowling by adopting the club sport prior to the 1996-97 school year.
Men’s golf returned as a MEAC-sponsored sport in 2014, with six teams participating in the conference championship. Bethune-Cookman was crowned the 2014 champion; the Wildcats also won the 2014 PGA Minority Collegiate Championship. Associate member Augusta University earned its first MEAC golf title in 2015, the institution’s first year of conference competition, before repeating in both 2016 and 2017.
The MEAC has enjoyed tremendous athletic success over the years. In 2008, Maryland Eastern Shore defeated Arkansas State 4-2 to win the NCAA Women’s Bowling National Championship, a first for both the conference and the institution. With the victory, Lady Hawks head coach Sharon Brummell became the first female head coach to win an NCAA bowling title. The Lady Hawks repeated the feat in 2011, winning the school’s second NCAA bowling title; during that same season, Maryland Eastern Shore won the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) Intercollegiate Team Championship (ITC), becoming the first team to win two national championships in the same year.
In 2012, Maryland Eastern Shore captured its third NCAA bowling championship in five years with a 4-2 win over Fairleigh Dickinson. The Lady Hawks became the second team in NCAA bowling history to win three championships and the first to make four appearances in the championship finale.
In men’s basketball, Maryland Eastern Shore became the first historically black college/university (HBCU) to participate in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT), doing so in 1974. The Hawks defeated Manhattan 84-81 in the first round before falling to Jacksonville in the second round. Before the Jacksonville loss, the Hawks had the nation’s best record at 27-1. That same year, Morgan State won the NCAA College Division II National Championship and junior center Marvin “The Human Eraser” Webster was named the Division II Player of the Year.
Howard became the first school to play in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championships in 1981, taking on Wyoming and falling 78-43 in the first round.
Coppin State, Hampton and Norfolk State have each made history in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament with first-round victories. Coppin State, the No. 15 seed, defeated No. 2 seed South Carolina in 1997, before Hampton repeated the No. 15-over-No. 2 upset feat in 2001 against Iowa State. Both victories have been ranked among ESPN SportsCenter’s top 10 greatest tournament upsets. In 2012, Norfolk State became the fifth team in NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament history (and the third MEAC team) to upset a No. 2 seed; the Spartans upended Missouri in the round of 64 that year.
In 2015, Hampton defeated Manhattan in the first round of the NCAA Div. I Men’s Basketball Tournament and advanced to face top-ranked Kentucky in the second round.
In women’s basketball, South Carolina State won the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) Division II National Championship in 1979. In 1982, Howard became the first MEAC school to play in the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament. In 1983, South Carolina State won the MEAC’s automatic NCAA bid and became the first conference team, male or female, to win an opening-round game in the NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament.
In 2010, North Carolina A&T State defeated Wake Forest and Charlotte before falling to Miami in the third round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT). The Lady Aggies became the first MEAC team – and first HBCU – to win two consecutive basketball games in a national postseason tournament.
Hampton earned a No. 13 seed for the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament in 2011, at the time the best seed for a MEAC school in the 64-team format (in effect since 1994), and faced No. 4 seed Kentucky in the first round. The Lady Pirates, who in 2014 became the first MEAC women’s program to win five consecutive conference tournament championships, earned a No. 12 seed that season, taking on Michigan State in the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament.
In football, the MEAC was instrumental in constructing the Freedom Bowl All-Star Classic, the Heritage Bowl and the Gold Bowl. Prior to Division I competition, the MEAC competed in the Gold Bowl, held in Richmond, Va., which matched the MEAC champion against the champion of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA). South Carolina State represented the MEAC in 1976 and 1979, winning both outings over Winston-Salem State and Norfolk State, respectively. In addition to the 1976 and 1979 crowns, South Carolina State won MEAC football titles in 1974-78, 1980-83, 1994, 2004, 2008 and 2009. The Bulldogs were also named co-champions along with Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M in 2010. During the 1981 and 1982 seasons, South Carolina State reached the second round of the NCAA Div. I-AA championships.
In 2015, the MEAC combined with the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) for the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl in Atlanta, Ga. North Carolina A&T State defeated Alcorn State in the inaugural Celebration Bowl to determine the Black College National Champion in a game pitting the MEAC and SWAC champions. North Carolina Central represented the MEAC in the 2016 Celebration Bowl, taking on Grambling State.
In 2003, Florida A&M became the first MEAC school to win a volleyball match in the NCAA Championships with a first-round victory over Winthrop. In 2004, the Lady Rattlers became the first HBCU to rank in the Top 25 of the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) national poll.
On the track, Hampton’s Francena McCorory set an American record in the 400m dash with a time of 50.54 and defended her indoor national title at the 2010 NCAA Indoor Championships. McCorory was named the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Division I National Athlete of the Year for the 2010 indoor track & field season. For her collegiate career, McCorory won three NCAA championships.
In outdoor track & field, North Carolina Central won the first three MEAC titles. In addition, the quartet of Melvin Bassett, Robert Ouko, Julius Sang and Larry Black set the world record in the sprint medley relay with a time of 38.19 in the 1972 Olympics. The Eagles finished fourth in the 1974 NCAA Division I Men’s Outdoor Track & Field Championship. Women began outdoor track & field competition in the MEAC in 1980 – and in 1982, South Carolina State won the AIAW Division II Outdoor Track & Field National Championship.
The MEAC has showcased over 30 athletes in the Olympics over the years, and 13 of them have earned medals during the Summer Games.
South Carolina State, at No. 72, became the first MEAC women’s tennis team to finish the season ranked in the 2005 Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Division I final poll. In 2012, South Carolina State’s Maria Craciun became the first tennis player in school and MEAC history to receive a berth to the NCAA Individual Singles Championship.
In softball, Bethune-Cookman earned the MEAC’s first-ever at-large bid to the NCAA Softball Championship in 2005. The Lady Wildcats defeated Florida, Central Florida and South Florida in the Florida Regional to become the first MEAC program to win an NCAA Division I Softball Regional. Bethune-Cookman ended the 2005 season with the conference’s first-ever national ranking, reaching No. 18 in the season’s final NFCA/USA Today Coaches poll and No. 23 in the USA Softball/ESPN.com poll.
Florida A&M was the first MEAC baseball team to advance to NCAA postseason play in 1994. The Rattlers took on Southeastern Louisiana in a best-of-three play-in series, falling 11-10 and 8-7 in two games. During the 2002 season, Bethune-Cookman advanced to the Gainesville Regional and became the first MEAC team to win in the NCAA Tournament with a 7-4 victory over Florida International. This past season, the Wildcats became the first MEAC school to advance to a regional final, winning three games in the Gainesville Regional – including a 6-2 win over national No. 3 seed Florida.