HBCU team opt-outs continue

LUT WILLIAMS BCSP Editor

Coach Kenny Blakeney

The raging COVID-19 pandemic has caused another three teams – all in the Mid Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) – to opt out of competition this spring, while one other from the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) is unofficially considering the same.

South Carolina State women’s basketball, Norfolk State football and Howard men’s basketball are the MEAC teams that have decided to opt out. All three announcements were made over the past week.

A report also came out last week that SWAC East Division gridiron kingpin and two-time defending champion Alcorn State was opting out of the spring football schedule but that report has not been confirmed by the school or the league office.

Howard Men’s Basketball

After not hitting the court since Dec. 18 because of ongoing positive COVID-19 positive tests, Howard decided Monday (Feb. 8) to cancel the remainder of its 2020-21 men’s basketball season.

The decision brings to a sad close a much anticipated season for the Bison (1-4, 0-0 MEAC) that included the debut of much ballyhooed 5-star freshman recruit Makur Maker. As it stands, Maker played in just two games and averaged 24.0 minutes, 11.5 points and 6.0 rebounds before going out with an injured groin.

The Bison had played just five games with its sole win coming Dec. 18 vs. former MEAC member Hampton.

“We had several team members test positive in January and were forced to place the program on hold, cancel several games and finally cancel our season,” said second-year head coach Kenny Blakeney. “It was and remains the right thing for us to do.”

For now, Howard’s departure leaves the conference with just seven teams competing for men’s basketball honors – Morgan State, Coppin State and Norfolk State in the North and North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central, South Carolina State and Florida A&M in the South. Howard says it will maintain the current competition schedules for all other varsity sports programs.

Norfolk State Football

The announcement by Norfolk State came on Monday (Feb. 8), less than two weeks before the Spartans were to open the spring football season on Sat., Feb. 20 at South Carolina State.

The decision leaves the MEAC with just six teams competing for its football championship. Before its decision, Norfolk State had been shifted to the Southern Division to join South Carolina State and North Carolina A&T.

Originally the MEAC’s Southern Division for football this spring was to include North Carolina Central, Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M along with NC A&T and SC State. NCCU, B-CU and FAMU opted out earlier. Now only SC State and NC A&T are left in the South.

Norfolk State, originally in the Northern Division, was shifted to the Southern Division following NC Central’s decision a week ago to opt out. The Northern Division now is comprised of just Howard, Delaware State and Morgan State.

As it has been for the other opt-outs, Norfolk State said its decision was due to “concerns about the health and well-being of its student-athletes.”

Norfolk State said it will move forward with a traditional spring practice campaign next month to prepare for the 2021 fall football season.

“We are disappointed that we will not be able to compete this spring,” said NSU Athletics Director Melody Webb. “Football is a high impact sport that creates numerous challenges in carrying out a season during this pandemic. After careful consideration with members of our coaching staff, University administration and medical personnel, the health, safety and well being of our football student-athletes prevailed as the number one factor in this decision.”

The release included similar statements from head football coach Latrell Scott and school President Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston.

SC State Women’s Basketball

The decision to cancel the rest of the Lady Bulldogs’ basketball season was made last Wednesday (Feb. 3) leaving the MEAC with seven women’s teams competing for conference honors – three in the Southern Division and four in the North.

SCSU was 1-9 overall and had an 0-2 record in Southern Division MEAC play. SCSU had not played since a 53-43 non-conference loss to Western Carolina on Jan. 26.

“As a team we have made a very difficult decision to cancel the remainder of our women’s basketball season due to safety concerns,” said Director of Athletics Stacy L. Danley in the press release.

The school’s announcement said the decision was made after the team was plagued with injuries, leaving the Lady Bulldogs’ player roster depleted. Head coach Audra Smith had been able to suit only seven players before postponing their first two games in February. The diminished player headcount made it challenging for coaches to continue to practice and compete at a high level.

The announcement said SC State will maintain the current competition schedule for all other varsity sport programs.

Alcorn State Football

Reporter John Brice of Football Scoop, a website reportedly frequented by high school and college coaches, reported last week (Feb. 2) sources confirming that Alcorn State was opting out of the spring 2021 SWAC football schedule.

Several other outlets picked up the story but neither the school nor the SWAC has come out with any official word.

The story on Football Scoop said Alcorn State was among several football programs in the SWAC “battling the spread of the pandemic” including Jackson State, who announced in late January that it was pausing football activities because of COVID-19 and contact tracing.