Any ideas of a possible merger between the two largest HBCU athletic conferences in the country were shot down with a one-word answer during MEAC football media day.
Sonja Stills, less than a year on the job as league commissioner, dismissed the notion that MEAC and SWAC could consolidate to form a so-called super conference as part of radical realignment.
“Yeah, no,” Stills said when asked on Friday whether she or conference leaders were considering creating a partnership with the SWAC, a conference that bloated to 12 schools after taking on ex-MEAC members Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M in 2021.
Conversations about an HBCU super conference have intensified — online and even publicly among well-known Black college coaches — after the likes of North Carolina A&T, Hampton Savannah State and the two Florida-based schools left the conference within the last half-decade.
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Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders suggested that MEAC and SWAC merger.
“I’m thinking about SWAC and I’m thinking about MEAC, and I’m just trying to figure out why “SMAC” — SMAC, that’s my business — why SWAC and MEAC hadn’t married,” Sanders told HBCU GameDay at SWAC football media day.
Former Morgan State coach Tyrone Wheatley agreed with the vision, saying that “it’s a great idea” when asked about it last season by HBCU Sports.
But Stills, who said she’s spent quite a bit of time during her young tenure dispelling rumors of possible defections, explained the remaining members of the MEAC are committed to staying in the conference as part of the so-called “Elite Eight.”
“With expansion, the conference has consistently gone through realignment in our history and will continue to do so,” she said. “We have the commitment of the eight institutions — the Elite Eight institutions that made the commitment publicly.
Howard, at one point, was being courted by the Colonial Athletic Association before the school eventually decided to rebuff an offer to exit the MEAC.
Stills said it will take time for the MEAC to rebuild what it once had and will now focus on exploring options while also strengthening the six football-playing schools and the eight institutions overall.
“Despite what they say on the blogs, we’re going to get there and it is going to take some time. What we need to do is concentrate on the foundation and strengthen the Elite Eight,” she said. “We don’t want to be grabbing institutions just to get numbers. We want to make sure they align with our mission, align with us athletically and most importantly align with us academically. We want to be thoughtful with how we do this.”
Added Stills: “What’s good for the MEAC is good for the SWAC and what’s good for the SWAC is what’s good for MEAC. And we’re going to work together to ensure we continue the HBCU culture.”
For now, I can say that I’m a bit alright with the MEAC and the SWAC not merging. At least both conferences would like somehow progress on their own terms. At least the SWAC has gone to 12. But let’s hope that the MEAC doesn’t get themselves shot on the foot if they abundantly and genuinely want to stay at 8 member schools, without even an attempt to re-add members to get back to that number amount the conference lost in the past 5 years; or else otherwise these schools would look to find other regional conferences (whether the NEC or the Big South, whos memberships have like a 50% of them sponsoring football).