Friday, November 17, 2017

Hampton Joins The Big South: It Was Time To Move On

Yesterday it was announced that my beloved alma mater Hampton University was leaving the MEAC and will be joining the Big South conference beginning July 1, 2018. It was not surprising that the announcement was met with mixed emotions. My freshman year at Hampton in 1995 was Hampton’s first season in the MEAC. President Dr. William Harvey made it known then and repeated yesterday that Hampton’s goal was to be the best midsize athletic program in the country. In order to reach that goal it was inevitable that leaving the MEAC was necessary to achieve it.

It wasn’t a matter IF Hampton would leave the MEAC, just when would they be presented with the opportunity. There are mixed emotions from excitement to asking why, tradition, sellouts, it won’t be the same, etc. This is about growth. It may sound harsh and bias, but Hampton’s overall profile had overgrown the MEAC.
Hampton upsets Iowa State in 2001 NCAA Basketball Tourmanet

Hampton shares common goals in other areas with other MEAC institutions. But in terms of the direction of their athletic departments it’s different. Other HBCUs 'are in a similar position and could follow in the coming years. A move under these circumstances has never happened for a HBCU.

Most HBCUs' (Historically Black College and Universities) don’t share the same aspirations for their athletic departments. The focus is on academics and finances. President Harvey’s approach has been to achieve success academically, financially, and athletically. In 2001 #15 seed Hampton upset #2 Iowa State in the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The image of head coach Steve Merfeld being lifted in the air after the victory is the moment that has been played over and over again the last 16 plus years. The following season Hampton returned to the to the tournament and battled a very talented Connecticut team. The men’s and women’s basketball teams have made a combined 16 appearances in the NCAA Tournament since 1999. Those moments were not fleeting for the university. They were used as momentum to build the national profile of Hampton and improve the other sports but in the athletic department.

The last few years there has been a lot of movement within college athletics of conference realignment. The trickle-down has finally impacted HBCUs’. Initially they will be some bumps with an increase in the level of competition. Hampton will be positioned to recruit better athletes, be a member of a conference with a television deal, visiting teams will bring more fans to games. I have confidence Hampton will adjust and be successful.