BIRMINGHAM, Ala.- The Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) has announced the addition Bethune-Cookman University as a full member effective with the 2021-22 academic year. The decision was reached during the executive meeting of the SWAC Council of Presidents and Chancellors.
“We’re extremely excited to welcome Bethune-Cookman University to the Southwestern Athletic Conference,” said SWAC Commissioner Dr. Charles McClelland. “The Wildcats undoubtedly align with our core principles and strategic plan; and they also align with our overall vision and forward movement within our strategic plan. The addition also brings to our league an institution with academic prowess, a world-renowned marching band, along with an enthusiastic base of alumni, fans and supporters.”
The Wildcats sponsor 17 varsity sports at the Division I level, with all 17 of those sports sponsored by the Southwestern Athletic Conference: football, 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, baseball, softball, men’s and women’s golf, women’s volleyball and women’s bowling.
“Bethune-Cookman’s alliance with the Southwestern Athletic Conference from a competitive standpoint made perfect sense and strengthens us in all of the sports in which the Wildcats sponsor,” said McClelland. “Many of our member institutions have competed against BCU for decades and will now have that opportunity on a yearly basis. Bethune-Cookman’s addition to the Southwestern Athletic Conference ultimately puts us in a great position to expand our brand in a manner that will bring a high level of value to our league and membership.”
Bethune-Cookman’s athletic history can be traced as far back as the 1910s, when the Jacksonville-based Cookman Institute baseball team produced Negro League All-Star Dick Lundy. Cookman Institute merged with Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute in 1923, with the institution’s first football game recorded that year.
Bethune-Cookman was a member of the Southeastern Athletic Conference before joining the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in 1950 and then the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in 1979. As it blazes a new path as a member of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, it brings a history of established athletic relationships with several SWAC members.
Those include rivalries with Alabama A&M and Alabama State from the Division II days in the SIAC Conference and longtime matchups with Grambling State, Jackson State, Southern University and Mississippi Valley State, that date back over forty-five years – the early days in college football.
B-CU Athletics has become widely known for its comprehensive success. To date, B-CU has won 64 MEAC team championships including winning the MEAC’s Talmadge Hill Men’s All Sports Championship in four of the past six seasons and finishing in the top three in the women’s race. During the same time span, B-CU Football also became known as one of the top programs in America in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Recently STATS Perform recognized Wildcat Football as one of the most successful HBCU programs of the past 10 years with 80 total victories, including two FBS road wins, and a win total which ranked overall at eighth nationally among all FCS institutions and first among Division I HBCUs. The ‘Cats have won four Black College Football National Championships, the last in 2013, and made four FCS playoff appearances. The Wildcats have also won three MEAC/SWAC Football Challenges while members of the MEAC.
Other athletic highlights include the baseball team’s 16 NCAA Regional appearances, including taking eventual national champion Florida to a deciding seventh game in the 2017 Gainesville Regional, becoming the only HBCU to ever reach an NCAA Division I Regional Baseball Final. Another historic HBCU milestone was earned when the 2005 BCU softball team became the first HBCU to win an NCAA regional championship by winning the Gainesville Regional for a berth in the Super Regionals at Texas; they have gone on to earn a total of 11 NCAA Regional Championship appearances.
B-CU Bowling became the first HBCU to earn an NCAA Bowling Tournament Appearance in 2005, finishing fourth. Wildcat Ronnie Ash won the 2009 NCAA 60 meters indoor and 110 men’s hurdles outdoor national championship and the 2019 women’s basketball team earned their first NCAA tournament appearance and third consecutive MEAC Basketball crown.
The Wildcat track program also won three straight MEAC Men’s Outdoor crowns in the past five seasons. On the links The Wildcats captured a record seventh-straight—and 15th overall—Women’s crown in collegiate golf’s most culturally significant Championship in 2019. Meanwhile, the Men’s team notched their third-consecutive PGA Minority Collegiate Championship and 10th title overall in the same year.
In terms of leadership, the Wildcat Athletics seasoned management team ranks among the best in the nation. Bethune-Cookman’s Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics, Lynn W. Thompson, the longest tenured and one of the most celebrated athletic directors in the nation, was named a NACDA 2019-20 Under Armour AD of the Year. Thompson also previously made history by becoming the first African-American to serve as Chair of the NCAA Baseball Rules Committee.
Management team members, Senior Associate Directors of Athletics Sandra Booker and Reginald Thomas, have each become nationally respected athletic administrators with Booker serving previously on the NCAA Women’s Basketball Committee and Thomas completing the prestigious NCAA Charles Whitcomb Leadership Institute. Senior Associate Director of Athletics Robert “Tony” O’Neal currently serves as the Chair of the NCAA Division I Bowling Committee and was recently named the new Director of Athletics at Claflin University.
Notable B-CU athletic alumni total over 40 NFL players including: Hall of Famer Larry Little, Pro Bowlers: Nick Collins (Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame), Eric Weems (Atlanta Falcons), Jack “Cy” McClairen (Pittsburgh Steelers), Lee Williams (San Diego Chargers), Rashean Mathis (Jacksonville Jaguars), the 2002 NCAA Buck Buchanan Award winner for FCS Defensive Player of The Year; 1973 AFC Rookie of the Year Charles “Boobie” Clark
Olympians: Ronnie Ash, Joel Redhead and Eric Cray
NABC Hall of Fame College Basketball Coaches: John Chaney, Head Coach, Temple University
NBA Officials: Eric Lewis
Major League Baseball Players: Stanley Jefferson Mark Woodyard, Hiram Burgos, Peter O’Brien, Montana Durapau
With the addition of Bethune-Cookman, the Southwestern Athletic Conference will now have three members based in Mississippi (Alcorn State, Jackson State, Mississippi Valley State), two in Alabama (Alabama A&M, Alabama State), two in Louisiana (Grambling State, Southern), two in Texas (Prairie View A&M, Texas Southern), one in Arkansas (Arkansas-Pine Bluff), and two in Florida (Florida A&M, Bethune-Cookman). The league will begin exploring adjustments to future scheduling and championship formats with Bethune Cookman’s addition in the 2021-22 academic year.