Goodbye, Hampton

by Donal Ware

And just like that, Hampton University will no longer be in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

With the stroke of a pen and a press conference, Hampton announced on Thursday that it was leaving the MEAC and joining the Big South Conference next season. It wasn’t like the Pirates brought anything to the MEAC.

Oh wait a minute. There were those five MEAC championships in football. There were those six championships in men’s basketball and two NCAA Tournament wins, the biggest coming in 2001 when the Pirates, led by Tarvis Williams, knocked of #2 seed Iowa State. Oh yeah, and there were those nine championships that the women’s basketball program won.

Yeah, Hampton definitely brought something to the table in the way of championships.

The issue isn’t that they are leaving. It’s where they are going to, which is the Big South Conference. Why?

“Athletically, we’re considered MEAC which is not bad but when you look at the RPI, it hurts us,” said Hampton athletics director Eugene Marshall. “We had some good teams that could have gone further, but you can’t beat the number one or number two team.”

The conference only has six football playing schools. Sure, Kennesaw State and Monmouth are currently 9-1. But that’s an anomaly. Coastal Carolina is gone. For years, the Big South didn’t get an automatic berth to the FCS Playoffs. Do they currently with just six teams? The Big South is in fluctuation with Liberty leaving to move to FBS and teams like Campbell and North Alabama coming on in the next few years. How does the fluctuation affect the conference? Hampton could be the most established program from a football standpoint in the Big South.

Hampton cited closer proximity to schools in the Big South as a reason for leaving as well. HU may not be close to Bethune-Cookman, Florida A&M, South Carolina State or Savannah State, but they are in good proximity with the other eight MEAC schools. When the Pirates play at Monmouth they will have to travel six hours, which is about the time it takes to get to South Carolina State.

And about those five MEAC championships in football; the last one came in 2006. Head coach Connell Maynor is doing a solid job of building a program, but the program has not arrived yet. Will it in the Big South? Furthermore, the Big South as a conference doesn’t wow you. It’s a conference with little history and programs that aren’t that well known.

This is not a knock on the Big South, but more of a question as to why Hampton is leaving the MEAC to go to the Big South?

This is clearly a basketball move and Hampton and the Big South help each other. The Big South receives a needed football program with some history of winning championships. Hampton gets its basketball program into a conference that as a much higher RPI and reputation than the MEAC.

At the end of the day however, the Big South, at least for the foreseeable future, will be a one-bid NCAA Tournament league. Just like the MEAC is.

The fact that Hampton is an HBCU joining a non-HBCU conference may be a big deal to some and may be a bigger deal to the older alumni and rightfully so. Hampton’s real tradition is in the CIAA, not the MEAC. The comparison to Tennessee State being in the OVC which is not an HBCU conference is not a good comparison. Hampton is a private school, unlike TSU, where TSU is able to offer an education at a much more affordable price, which does and has opened its school to a more diverse population.

How much did Hampton really bring to the MEAC?  On its way out did it help the conference it joined some 22 years ago, grow? Hampton was one of the founding members of the CIAA, not the MEAC. So its history in the MEAC is not rich at all and is relatively new when comparing to the likes of  Delaware State, Howard, Maryland Eastern Shore, Morgan State, North Carolina A&T, and South Carolina State, all original members when the conference was formed in 1970.

One thing that the Big South has that the MEAC doesn’t have is a digital network. Having ESPN as a partner is great and other FCS conferences wish they could have that type of partnership. But also let this be a lesson to the MEAC that it needs a digital network. ESPN is great. But controlling your own network enhances what you have with ESPN.

Hampton University did what it felt was best for Hampton University. How will this partnership work out with the Big South? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, the MEAC, an established conference in business for almost 50 years, will continue to move on and doesn’t necessarily skip a beat, with now 12 institutions, 10 of which play football. It has survived its share of adversity over the years.

Goodbye Hampton.

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