NC A&T leaves Big South for Colonial Athletic Association – The Undefeated

GREENSBORO, NC – North Carolina A&T State is following Hampton University in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) as of July 2022 in most sports, after an NC A&T board voted Friday during its meeting.

The vote followed a unanimous vote by the Board’s Executive Committee, which heard Thursday evening a recommendation from athletic director Earl Hilton, whose presentation indicated that NC A&T is more CAA compliant, both sporting than academic, than with the Big South Conference. , which the Aggies joined in 2021.

“The Colonial Athletic Association is consistent with our academic and athletic aspirations,” Hilton told The Undefeated after the meeting. “The Colonial already has four R1 establishments [Research 1] status, and we are moving in that direction, in this community of R1 universities.

The R1 designation is the most elite category for research-oriented institutions – considered to have “doctoral/very high research activity” and represents less than 4% of public and private universities.

NC A&T, currently classified as an R2 university, is considered to have “higher research activity” and aspires to be the nation’s first historically black college and university (HBCU) with an R1 rating.

The Aggies would join the CAA in all sports in 2022 except football, which would join the CAA in 2023. Bowling will remain in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). Slides presented to the committee showed NC A&T playing in a CAA South Division that includes Charleston, Elon, UNC Wilmington, William & Mary, Hampton, Towson and associate member Richmond.

The northern division would include Delaware, Drexel, Hofstra, Northeastern, Stony Brook and Monmouth. Charleston, Wilmington, Drexel, Hofstra and Northeastern do not play football. CAA is also considering adding Bryant University in Rhode Island for football, which would visit NC A&T in 2022 under current plans.

NC A&T Chancellor Harold L. Martin told the board that joining CAA was “the right thing to do” for the university and its student-athletes.

“We take athletics very seriously as we continually seek to position our university competitively,” Martin said.

Martin said CAA was the conference of choice at NC A&T two years ago when the Aggies were considering leaving the MEAC, but distance from some schools made it not feasible at that time.

“With Colonial Athletic’s expansion plans, creating a southern division…so I think that’s indeed the right move for our university and for our student-athletes,” he said.

Martin and Hilton acknowledged that the move to CAA would prompt NC A&T to upgrade its sports facilities, including football, basketball and baseball venues.

In an interview with The Undefeated, Hilton said he made his decision after discussions that included Aggies Hall of Famers, a former official and a panel of more than a dozen student-athlete leaders.

Hilton said about 75% to 80% of those consulted thought going to CAA was the best decision.

Hilton said the process was more transparent than when the university decided to leave MEAC for the Deep South in 2020.

The remaining 20-25% had serious reservations, the most important of which was the possibility of NC A&T losing its ties and traditions with other HBCUs. Some of the dissidents also questioned why NC A&T couldn’t stay in the MEAC.

It was also a concern that NC A&T and Hampton students told The Undefeated more than two weeks ago. Hampton announced on January 25 that he would be leaving the Deep South, which he joined in 2018, to join CAA from July 2022.

Hilton stressed that NC A&T will continue to play with other HBCUs and has made a 10-year commitment to play in North Carolina’s MEAC football center, and is also looking for a long-term relationship to play in the school. in basketball.

The Aggies are also committed to continuing to play Norfolk State and South Carolina State in athletic competitions, he said.

Conference realignments have upended plans to play Hampton for the 2022 homecoming because the Pirates are playing a CAA schedule and opted out of playing NC A&T, which will remain in the Deep South for 2022.

Hilton said NC A&T didn’t want to jeopardize the Deep South’s automatic NCAA FCS playoff bid. The exodus from Hampton, Kennesaw State, North Alabama and Monmouth left the Deep South with just five footballing members, the minimum required to secure automatic bidding.

Hilton acknowledged that he had discussions with MEAC Commissioner Sonja Stills and considered an MEAC proposal, but that the Aggies were more CAA compliant.

“We are confident North Carolina A&T State University has made the right choice for them at this time. We wish them luck,” Stills said. “The MEAC Board of General Managers reaffirms its commitment to a stable and viable Division I athletic conference, including the current ‘Elite Eight,’ and the MEAC keeps its options open with respect to membership expansion.”

Stills, in an earlier interview with The Undefeated, said she thought the MEAC was in a good place.

“I see MEAC thriving, moving forward,” Stills said. “I don’t see us having to assimilate to have a strong sports program.

“We’re just as strong and competitive as before, and I think for us to continue to maintain the legacy, the culture that we have…we can still give our fans the great competitive games that we’ve always given without feeling as if we were to assimilate into the predominantly white conferences.

Stills said she believes there is a market for the current four HBCU conferences – Division I MEAC and Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) and Division II Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association and Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association.

Indeed, with Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders as head coach, Jackson State University has been the catalyst for a renaissance in HBCU athletics, bringing millions of dollars to the university and community and becoming the cornerstone of a new agreement with the SWAC in Birmingham, Alabama.

The deal prompted Jackson State to end its long-standing Southern Heritage Classic tradition in Memphis, Tennessee, usually in mid-September, to play three SWAC games in Birmingham over the next three years.

The opening in Memphis sparked talk of NC A&T playing in the game in Memphis. Hilton told The Undefeated he had been contacted by the Southern Heritage Classic and planned to return the phone call.

Such a pairing would be for the 2023 Southern Heritage game, as Jackson State announced Monday that it will play in the classic for the last time in 2022.

Before the full board votes on Friday, Hilton gave a recap of his 40-minute presentation from Thursday night, including showing a series of slides illustrating that academically and athletically, NC A&T is more aligned. with the CAA than with the Big South.

The stability of having 13 or 14 football schools and more promising media markets were also among the main selling points.

Retired Chuck Coffin (Class of 1976), who recently moved to the Greensboro area, said he hopes the new league could mean more fans coming to games.

“The reality is there are only a few HBCUs we’ve played that bring us fans,” said Coffin, a former football player and basketball season ticket holder.

Coffin added that being in the MEAC “hasn’t been great from an income standpoint…My gut reaction is that I wouldn’t see myself coming back to the MEAC, not after a year.”

Randall Ponder (Class of 1984), a former Aggies football player who is often one of the legions of alumni attending sporting events, said it hurt him when the Aggies left the MEAC, but he understood that NC A&T had to be progressive.

“The only reason I would want them to attend the MEAC would be for purely selfish reasons – because of the Aggie-Eagle Classic and the Celebration Bowl,” said Ponder, who lives in the Atlanta area. “But the reality is you have to pay bills and you have to keep moving forward.

“I went through my period of mourning, when they announced they were leaving (the MEAC),” Ponder added. “But that’s what I think is best versus what our leaders think is best. You will never satisfy everyone. … It’s not like we’re not an HBCU yet; it’s just that our traditions have changed. You cannot stay the same and improve.

David Squires is an educator and digital journalist who lives in the Charlotte area and teaches journalism at NC A&T State University in Greensboro. He covered HBCU sports for several decades, first with the St. Petersburg Times and later as the original magazine editor and BVQ. He has also worked in news and sports in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Fort Worth and Hampton Roads. His passion is college basketball, and he’s a die-hard Tar Heel – born and bred.

Andrew B. Reiter