Flashback: A brief look at when historically black universities in the MEAC and SWAC transitioned to NCAA Division I

Flashback: A brief look at when historically black universities in the MEAC and SWAC transitioned to NCAA Division I

This is a brief look back at the history of when MEAC and SWAC universities transitioned to NCAA Division I as reported in the newspapers.

First, a brief look at the NCAA and the histories of the MEAC and SWAC.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is a member-led organization dedicated to the well-being and lifelong success of college athletes and regulates athletics in 1,117 American colleges and universities. Today, nearly half a million college athletes make up the 19,750 teams that send more than 52,500 participants to compete each year in the NCAA’s 90 championships in 24 sports across 3 divisions.

The NCAA has 2 Division I conferences that were founded by historically black colleges and universities: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC). Both the MEAC and SWAC compete in football as Division I FCS. The 2 Division II historically founded black conferences are the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) and the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA).

Among the three NCAA divisions, Division I schools generally have the biggest student bodies, manage the largest athletics budgets and offer the most generous number of scholarships. Schools who are members of Division I commit to maintaining a high academic standard for student-athletes in addition to a wide range of opportunities for athletics participation.

With nearly 350 colleges and universities in its membership, Division I schools field more than 6,000 athletic teams, providing opportunities for more than 170,000 student-athletes to compete in NCAA sports each year.

Division I is subdivided based on football sponsorship. Schools that participate in bowl games belong to the Football Bowl Subdivision or FBS formerly known as Division I-A. Those that participate in the NCAA-run football championship belong to the Football Championship Subdivision or FCS formerly known as Division I-AA. A third group doesn’t sponsor football at all. The subdivisions apply only to football; all other sports are considered simply Division I.

Division I has 9,895 students athletes in 351 colleges and universities.
Multiyear, cost-of-attendance athletics scholarships available
58 percent of athletes receive athletics aid

Division II has 2,514 student athletes in 308 colleges and universities.
Partial athletics scholarship
59 percent of athletes receive athletics aid

Division III has 1,736 student athletes in 443 colleges and universities.
No athletics scholarships
80 percent of athletes receive non-athletics aid

MEAC Brief History
In 1969, a bold ad hoc group of innovators long associated with intercollegiate athletics met in Durham, North Carolina to discuss the feasibility of organizing a new conference. From these discussions, they formed a steering and planning committee to fully investigate the idea, presented a detailed report with recommendations to interested collegiate institutions, and constructed a workshop to outline proposals.

After selecting a proposal and adopting a program, seven institutions (Delaware State University, Howard University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Morgan State University, North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina Central University and South Carolina State University) agreed to become the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). Their major objective was to establish, organize and supervise an intercollegiate athletic program among a compact group of education institutions of high academic standards with a sound philosophy of co-curricular activities. The conference agreed to seek NCAA Division I status for its sports.

The conference’s first expansion occurred in October 1979, when Bethune-Cookman University and Florida A&M University were voted into the MEAC as new members. Original members Morgan State University, North Carolina Central University and Maryland Eastern Shore withdrew from the conference at the end of the 1979-1980 fiscal year; Maryland Eastern Shore was readmitted in 1981 and Morgan State returned in 1984. Florida A&M opted to resign in 1984, but rejoined the conference in 1986. Coppin State University was granted admittance in 1985, becoming the 9th member institution although it does not offer football.

The MEAC expanded again in the 1990s with the inclusion of Hampton University (1995) and Norfolk State University (1997).

In 2004, Florida A&M University became the only historically black college or university playing at football’s highest level NCAA Division I-A, now known as Division I FBS.

The New York Times reported on OCT. 9, 2004:
The rise from Division I-AA, happened on a track so fast it could have been wind aided, was stopped just as abruptly when the university’s president decided the resources of Florida A&M trailed its ambition. The athletic director who hatched the I-A dream resigned last spring. On Sept. 28, Fred Gainous, the university president who approved and then delayed the upgrade, effectively lost his job. The mishandling of football is one of the primary reasons for his dismissal.

As fallout from the aborted upgrade continued, the football team played out a seemingly lost season. It went back at I-AA, playing without a conference affiliation. Over the summer, Florida A&M admitted breaking NCAA eligibility rules, which depleted the number of scholarships available. Further hurting the team, the jump to I-A and back down caused 20 transfer students to be declared ineligible to play this year.

Such ambition was welcomed by at least half the alumni. Florida A&M was founded more than 100 years ago. Through decades of segregation, while being chronically underfunded, Florida A&M produced generations of surgeons, political leaders and other professionals. Athletically, Florida A&M harnessed the state’s black high schools to establish a football dynasty and won 12 historically black-college national championships. Then the Rattlers won the inaugural I-AA title in 1978.

But desegregation gradually diluted their success. Large, previously white-only universities like Florida State and Florida tapped the black talent pool to become national powers. Florida A&M, with its small stadium and aging facilities, was left behind.

The MEAC stripped Florida A&M of 11 conference titles, including 2 in football, punishing the Rattlers for 196 NCAA rule violations.
Florida A&M was allowed back into the MEAC in 2005, the last chapter in FAMU’s aborted jump to Division I-A.

The conference grew once again in 2007, adding Winston-Salem State University. Winston-Salem State, a MEAC provisional member, did not meet the qualifications for Division I and withdrew from the conference following the 2009-2010 academic and athletic season to return to the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA).

On July 1, 2010, the MEAC made its most recent expansion with the admittance of founding member North Carolina Central University returning and the addition of Savannah State University. On Sept. 10, 2014, the MEAC admitted Augusta University (formerly Georgia Regents University) as an associate member for men’s golf. In June of 2018, the MEAC admitted the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) and Monmouth as associate members for women’s bowling.

On December 7, 2017 Savannah State University announced intentions to pursue return membership in the Division II Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC), pending NCAA approval. SSU’s application to begin the official transition to NCAA Division II was to be submitted by February 1, 2018.

Hampton University resigned from the conference on June 30, 2018 to join the Big South Conference.

On June 8, 1980, the MEAC was classified as a Division I conference by the NCAA; prior to that year, the conference had operated on the Division II level. The month after achieving Division I status, the MEAC received automatic qualification to the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. Currently, the conference has automatic qualifying bids for NCAA postseason play in baseball (since 1994), men’s basketball (since 1981), women’s basketball (since 1982), men’s golf (since 2014), softball (since 1995), men’s and women’s tennis (since 1998) and volleyball (since 1994).

The MEAC is the only Division I conference that contains private historically black universities: Howard, Bethune-Cookman and formerly Hampton who has departed the conference.

Delaware State University 1970
Howard University 1970
Morgan State University 1970, 1984
North Carolina A&T State University 1970
North Carolina Central University 1970, 2010
South Carolina State University 1970
University of Maryland Eastern Shore 1970, 1981
Bethune–Cookman University 1979
Florida A&M University 1979, 1986, 2015
Coppin State University Baltimore 1985
Norfolk State University 1997

Hampton University 1991 to 2018
Winston-Salem State University 2007 to 2010
Savannah State University 2010 (leaving conference)

SWAC Brief History
In 1920, eight men representing six colleges from the state of Texas met to discuss collegiate athletics and the many challenges that face their respective institutions. By the time the session in Houston had concluded, they had founded an athletic league that has slowly became one of the leading sports associations in the world of collegiate athletics, the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

The founding fathers of the original “Super Six” were C.H. Fuller of Bishop College, Red Randolph and C.H. Patterson of Paul Quinn, E.G. Evans, H.J. Evans and H.J. Starns of Prairie View A&M, D.C. Fuller of Texas College and G. Whitte Jordan of Wiley College.

The smaller private colleges slowly departed the SWAC and the larger public historically black colleges began to join the SWAC.  Today, there are no private colleges or universities who are full members of the SWAC.

Membership Timeline
Bishop College 1920-1956
Paul Quinn College 1920-1929
Samuel Huston College (now Huston Tillotson)1920-59
Texas College 1920-1968
Wiley College 1920-1968
Prairie View A&M University 1920-present
Langston University 1931-1957
Arkansas AM&N University 1936-1970
Southern University 1934-present
Texas Southern University 1954-present
Grambling State University 1958-present
Jackson State University 1958-present
Alcorn State University 1962-present
Mississippi Valley State University 1968-present
Alabama State University 1982-present
University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff 1997-present
Alabama A&M University 1999-present
Click on images below to enlarge for better viewing. Click your return arrow to return to this topic.

1970 planning for the MEAC begins

1970 MEAC formed and looks for a commissioner 

1970 South Carolina State University leaves the SIAC for the newly formed MEAC

1971 MEAC plans for television broadcast of games

1971 MEAC Football Schedule

1971 MEAC Basketball Championship Tournament to be held at Durham at Duke University

1972 MEAC and SWAC football championship in Durham

Click images to enlarge for better viewing. Click your return arrow to return to this topic.

1976 Morgan State University and NCCU vote to move to NCAA Division I

1976 MEAC votes to moved to NCAA Division I

1976 MEAC and SWAC plan to join NCAA Division I

1977 NCAA votes on Division I and SWAC members are accepted to Division I

1977 Review of historically black college sports

1977 SWAC having major challenges to operate


1977 SWAC having major challenges to operate


1977 SWAC member Grambling State University moving to Division I

1978 NCAA vote to establish a super division for football programs

1978 NCAA votes to to have sub-divisions I-A and I-AA

1978 SWAC moving to NCAA Division I

1978 Members of the SWAC accepted to NCAA Division I

1978 Florida A&M not admitted into NCAA Division I

1978 Florida A&M University appeals to join NCAA Division I

1978 HBCU football review

1978 SWAC women’s sports added to constitution and move to Division I planned

1978 Florida A&M University competes for NCAA Division I-AA Championship

1978 Florida A&M wins NCAA Division I-AA Championship

1979 Florida A&M in transition to join NCAA Division I

1979 MEAC founding member NCCU decides against Division I transition

1979 MEAC and SWAC discuss merger and invites Florida A&M

1979 MEAC and SWAC discuss merging conferences

1979 MEAC and SWAC vote against merging conferences

1979 Bethune-Cookman plans to join the MEAC final season in the SIAC

1982 Alabama State University moves to NCAA Division I SWAC

1994 Hampton University joins the MEAC

1994 Norfolk State University plans to joins the MEAC

2005 founding member North Carolina Central University returns to the MEAC


This is how “Historically Black Colleges and Universities” (HBCUs) became the “branding”

United States: Integration at historically black colleges and universities

Remember Yesteryear: A historical look back to when Morgan State University transitioned from private to public -Maryland’s largest HBCU

Historical Flashback: Creating the University of North Carolina system and the state’s public HBCUs

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