NORFOLK, VA, – Dr. Dennis E. Thomas, who has completed his 19th year as Commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), announced Tuesday that he is retiring in December, the league announced.
As the longest-tenured Commissioner in the 50-year history of the MEAC, Thomas served in his position with integrity and loyalty, gaining the respect and distinction as one of the leading collegiate athletics administrators in America. The Council of Presidents and Chancellors will conduct a national search for a successor, which will begin immediately. As the MEAC’s third full-time Commissioner, Thomas’s leadership was instrumental in helping the conference ascend to national prominence on the athletic field and in the classroom.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as Commissioner of the MEAC for almost 20 years,” said Thomas. “But first, I must pay homage to my parents, Russell and Marjorie Thomas for setting the direction, expectation and accountability for my brothers, sisters, and myself. Without their guidance, discipline, and unconditional love, I would dare to think the path I would have taken. The accomplishments and recognition achieved by the conference during this time could not have been possible without the incredible support of our member institutions and everyone associated with the MEAC. To the MEAC Staff, thank you for always working to make the MEAC better. By any objective measure, we have achieved that. I’d like to extend a special thank you and recognition to MEAC Chief of Staff, Chief Operating Officer & Senior Woman Administrator Sonja Stills, who has been with me since my first day as Commissioner. She has been loyal, a progressive thinker, student-athlete centric, creative, passionate and a consummate professional and a dear friend. I have no doubt that the MEAC and its member institutions will continue to do great things and I will always cherish the friendships and memories made during my time as Commissioner.”
Statement from Dr. Johnson O. Akinleye, Chair of the MEAC Presidents and Chancellors Council:
“Congratulations to Commissioner Dennis Thomas on his retirement notice. He has served the MEAC for the past 19 years with distinction, dedication, and unyielding commitment. I commend his unparalleled leadership, experience, and innovative stewardship of the MEAC as it enters its 51st year of intercollegiate competition. While Dennis will be sorely missed by the MEAC family of institutions, we wish him Godspeed as he starts his well-earned retirement journey.”
Statement from Dr. Tony Allen, President of Delaware State University:
“Commissioner Thomas is an exceptional administrator, but I am honored to know him too as a good and decent man. We all serve a brand of higher education that prides itself on excellence, access, and opportunity. In the MEAC, our students-athletes are our first fruits and ultimately the enduring evidence of our efforts. Commissioner Thomas is a prime example. From a legendary career on the gridiron to an unprecedented tenure of a bold athletic conference, he has led with distinction and grace and has set a clear example for us all. I’m proud to always call him, Commissioner, brother and friend.”
Statement from Wayne A. I. Frederick, President of Howard University:
“As the world of collegiate athletics has undergone tremendous change, Commissioner Thomas has provided the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with steadfast leadership for almost two decades. On behalf of the entire Howard community, I wish Commissioner Thomas well in his retirement. His guidance and dedication will surely be missed. But thanks to his leadership, the MEAC is well positioned to move forward with strength and to persevere through any challenges it encounters in the future.”
Statement from Dr. David Wilson, President of Morgan State University:
“Commissioner Thomas has served the MEAC extraordinarily well with considerable aplomb, innovation, and with impressive vision, commitment, and dedication for 19 years. His accomplishments are numerous, and he has placed the MEAC in a solid financial position to navigate its path forward during this era of unprecedented change in the NCAA. We wish him continued good health and prosperity during his well-earned retirement.”
Statement from Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston, President of Norfolk State University:
“During the two years I have served as Norfolk State University’s President, I have watched Dr. Thomas work tirelessly to improve thousands of student-athlete successes at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. He has provided opportunities for corporate and external partnerships for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, developed initiatives to increase student-athlete graduation rates, and keep the organization in good financial standing. I congratulate Dr. Thomas on his successful tenure as MEAC Commissioner and I wish him health and happiness as he makes the transition to retirement.”
Statement from Dr. Anthony L. Jenkins, President of Coppin State University:
“Commissioner Thomas has led the MEAC conference with great integrity and vision. We are better because of his leadership. On behalf of the Eagle Nation, thank you, and we wish you an enriched and joyful retirement.”
Statement from Dr. Heidi Anderson, President of University of Maryland Eastern Shore:
“In my short tenure at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, it has been a pleasure working with Commissioner Dennis Thomas. Commissioner Thomas has been a strong voice for the MEAC for 19 years and a great advocate for all of our student athletes, our sports programs and our institutions. We wish him well on his retirement.”
Notable Accomplishments by Thomas and the MEAC During his Tenure as Commissioner:
- Balanced the budget for 19 consecutive years as Commissioner from 2002-2021, bringing financial and management stability to the conference throughout his tenure.
- Implemented the Highest Graduation Success Rate Award for the MEAC, awarding $25,000 to the institution with the highest graduation rate for their athletic program. During the program, $275,000 has been distributed to MEAC institutions.
- Thomas’s mission to increase the conference’s corporate partnerships has led to multi-year partnerships with Russell Athletic Corporation, Coca-Cola, State Farm Insurance, Nike, Wells Fargo, ESPN, Jostens, U.S. Marines, Home Depot, Geico, Colgate Palmolive and the National Football League (NFL). The financial contracts of the corporate partnerships have resulted in over $50 million going to MEAC institutions.
- In 2004, recommended to ESPN to start a postseason bowl game between the MEAC and SWAC Football champions that resulted in the Celebration Bowl. The game debuted in 2015 and is played annually at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and broadcast nationally on ABC. Was also instrumental in the development of the MEAC/SWAC Football Challenge.
- Helped bring ESPN College Football GameDay to Florida A&M University in 2008, the first time the show was broadcast from an HBCU campus.
- Established Student-Athlete Honors for all MEAC Championships to recognize conference student-athletes with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better.
- Established the MEAC Woman of the Year Award in 2005, the MEAC Sportsmanship Award in 2006 and the MEAC Male Student-Athlete of the Year Award in 2012.
- Led the MEAC to become the first NCAA Division I FCS conference to institute instant replay during its televised regular-season football games in 2011.
- Implemented NIKE paid internships for member institutions’ students to gain corporate work experiences.
- Instrumental in the establishment of the NFL Careers in Football Forum held at the Cricket Celebration Bowl for students to gain employment opportunities.
- Established a partnership with the NFL to improve collegiate and MEAC football officiating.
- The MEAC was the first FCS Conference to have a female officiate football games in 2002.
- Implemented the use of the Vokkero System, a hands-free communication system, for football officials in 2013. MEAC was the first FCS Conference to implement the system.
- Purchased the office complex for the MEAC Conference Office Headquarters in 2010. This was the first time the MEAC had owned its own headquarters building without a financial assessment to member institutions.
- For the first time in MEAC history, MEAC Men’s Basketball Teams were part of ESPN’s Bracket Busters event.
- Negotiated the live broadcast of all preliminary games of the MEAC Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments on ESPN3 or FloSports.
- Streamed live for the first time MEAC Men’s & Women’s Track & Field Championship on ESPN3 in 2017, 2018, 2019 & 2021.
- Implemented the Academic Progress Rate Achievement Award for the MEAC, awarding $25,000 to the institution with the highest APR score for their athletic program.
- Established a partnership with the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame events in New York City to recognize the MEAC Football offensive and defensive players of the year (MVP) at the press conference.
- Created the MEAC Digital Network to televise all regular-season and championship events.