MEAC cancels football; Only three to play

LUT WILLIAMS BCSP Editor

MULTIPLE FACTORS: In a zoom call last Thursday, North Carolina A&T Athletics Director Earl Hilton delineated a number of factors that prompted the decision to not play football this spring. Video / Photo by Steven Gaither

The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed more HBCU football scalps.

Morgan State of the Mid Eastern Athletic Conference and Alcorn State of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (see related story) both opted out over the past week citing health and safety concerns caused by the pandemic.

But there’s a little backstory to both those decisions.

Morgan State was apparently part of the reason, but not the only one, that the MEAC suspended its entire 2021 spring football championship season on Thursday (Feb. 11), just nine days before it was to kickoff on Saturday Feb. 20.

And, let’s just say, the Alcorn State decision is being questioned from several sides.

The MEAC Backtrack

The MEAC had announced way back in the fall (October) of 2020 that it would delay football until the spring of 2021 because of the pandemic.

But when, in the last two weeks North Carolina Central and Norfolk State became the third and fourth of nine members of the conference to opt out of a spring 2021 football season, it became clear that the league was on the edge of cancelling the whole shebang.

So, last Thursday (Feb. 11), when Morgan State announced that it was joining Bethune Cookman, Florida A&M, NCCU and NSU on the sidelines because of health and safety issues, that’s exactly what happened.

Morgan State’s decision appears to have prompted North Carolina A&T Athletics Director Earl Hilton to hold a hastily-called zoom conference call midday Thursday to announce that the Aggies too were not going to play but not particularly because of COVID-19 issues.

In the zoom call, Hilton painstakingly explained his rationale. The Aggies, he said, have been preparing for the season since last summer, and in effect, had been practicing for “a little over seven months.”

He also cited financial concerns saying the cancellation in the fall was a “$300,000 hit” to the Aggies’ athletic budget that had thankfully been absorbed.

Finally, he said, “It started with a six game (spring) schedule, then went to a four game schedule and then it went this week to a three-game schedule. And I just got to a point where I had to make the decision about their (student/athletes’) physical welfare, their mental and emotional state and the benefits to the institution.”

“I just can’t see my way forward,” Hilton said.

So, by the time the release came from the MEAC Thursday afternoon citing that “six of the nine football-playing institutions opted out of the spring 2021 season,” there was no mention of the decisions by Morgan State and NC A&T though obviously they were part of the six that had decided not to play.

According to the MEAC release, conference policy states if 50% or more institutions cannot participate in any championship, the championship for that sport will be suspended. That threshold was apparently crossed when Morgan State became the fifth program of nine to opt out.

The MEAC’s release also said that those programs that have not opted out – Delaware State, Howard and South Carolina State – could make their own decisions about playing based on “what is best for their student-athletes and university community.”

“With Howard University and South Carolina State University as conference opponents, and our game with the University of Delaware, we are looking at a three to five game season beginning in late February or early March, and ending in April,” said Delaware State University Athletics Director, Dr. David S. Gines on a release posted at 6:09 p.m. last Thursday. The schedule on Delaware State’s athletic website has the Hornets playing home and away games vs.  Howard and South Carolina State before finishing with a home date vs. Delaware on April 10.

Last Wednesday evening, Howard Athletics Director Kery Davis also announced that it would go forward with a “spring 2021 non-conference schedule” with “an undecided amount of games” that would include dates vs. Delaware State and South Carolina State. An approved schedule will be released at a later date. That final schedule had not been released by press time.

South Carolina State Athletics Director Stacy Danley also announced late Wednesday that it was moving ahead to “compete this spring in all of our remaining sports including football.”

Head football coach Buddy Pough had announced his intention to seek more games even before the MEAC announced its decision. That schedule is expected to be finalized this week.