The SWAC has been among many conferences across the college athletic landscape at the forefront of league realignment.
One year ago, the SWAC welcomed Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M from the MEAC to expand the conference to a 12-team league.
With conversations about the future of HBCU conferences in terms of how schools can best position themselves to both elevate their collective brands and acquire lucrative financial opportunities, it is possible the SWAC could further expand its footprint?
At the moment, explained SWAC Commissioner Charles McClelland, not yet.
“You know, we’ve said this time and time again that we do not want to be reactionary,” said McClelland said at Thursday’s SWAC football media day. “We want to be on the forefront. As a commissioner of any Division I conference, it’s our responsibility to ensure that our schools are comfortable with what we’re doing and that we’re bringing in the revenue to distribute. We had our largest distribution on record this year for our schools.”
McClelland, who was recently named head of the Division I men’s basketball committee, said the SWAC is anticipating “unprecedented growth” that projects conference revenue to reach FBS levels by 2030 due to increase exposure and investment in HBCU athletics.
“So the strength of our league and the growth of our league has really put us in a unique and unprecedented position where we’re now distributing money back to our schools,” he said. “We’re getting unprecedented exposure, and that puts you right in that sweet spot of where you want to be on conference expansion.”
Considering its position, McClelland cautioned that the SWAC would not consider expanding for the sake of it despite whatever overtures from HBCU stakeholders to add other Black colleges.
“We’re not going to expand campus just for the sake of expanding,” he said. “If we bring in someone it’s got to be someone that fits our academic profile and brings value to our conference. “I’ve seen and heard talk about an HBCU super conference. First of all, let me say we already view ourselves as a super conference.”
The commissioner also broached the subject of the possibility that the SWAC could one day collectively transition to the FBS.
While the current NCAA bylaws don’t allow for an FCS conference to move into the FBS, McClelland indicated that the SWAC was “hoping that there is a path forward” to consider a move, which has been part of the league’s 10 to 15-year strategic plan.
“So through this new NCAA restructuring, we are hoping that there is going to be a path forward,” he said. “And I said this before, and I’ll be extremely clear on it, (is) to keep our schools together. And once we get to a certain point, if it is beneficial for us to move together, I will say unequivocally yes.”
McClelland went on to explain that mulling an FBS move in the future is “on our list.”
“We have a tradition that has lasted 101 years,” he said. “And when you really look at our model we’re not an AQ for the FCS playoffs. We’re (in the) Celebration Bowl. So we are kind of already in that FBS model where we play a competitive schedule and we look to get to the Celebration Bowl … but there is a lot that has to be done for an FCS conference to move up to an FBS conference.”