The MEAC issued an official statement after the Orange Blossom Classic press conference comment from Jackson State University head coach Deion Sanders.
Coach Sanders expressed his thoughts regarding creating a probable super-conference if the SWAC and MEAC would merge.
HBCU Gameday's Steven J. Gaither reported Sanders said, "We love it. The more the merrier. The president of the SWAC, he’s been doing a phenomenal job. And I like what he’s doing. I love his vision. I love what he is thinking. Personally, I wish the MEAC would fold up like a tent and just come on so we could really do this thing like the SEC. That’s my hope. That’s my dream. I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen no time expeditiously."
Today, the MEAC released an official response to Sanders' statement. A source confirmed it was due to the merger comments.
The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) has just completed a successful 50th anniversary recognizing our former student-athletes and coaches and the impact they have made in their communities and the professional ranks. The conference’s membership has a rich history of academic and athletic excellence and is committed to its long-term sustainability. The MEAC has strong national leadership in its presidents and chancellors and is aware and involved in the current issues facing the NCAA. We wish Coach Sanders, his student-athletes, and his program well this season. The MEAC will have no further comment on this matter.
THE DEION SANDERS EFFECT
The resurgence in HBCU football's popularity has created a buzz with networks, sponsors, and increased donations for once struggling programs. I call it the "Deion Sanders Effect."
As an analyst for the NFL Network, Sanders was the first prominent NFL player to "call out" the NFL's executives, coaches, and scouting departments for poorly covering and scouting HBCU talent. Sanders was the first to announce his intentions to create an HBCU Combine publicly.
When Jackson State University was seeking a head coach for its football program, Deion Sanders was the best fit at an important time for HBCUs and the black experience in America. Everything converged at the right moment in time for Sanders.
He sought an opportunity to become a head coach in college football when he interviewed for the Florida State University vacancy. Sanders left the NFL Network, Jackson State reached out to him, and he became the school's head coach.
At the same time in America, the Black Lives Movement was fighting for social justice against the police brutality and injustice within America's court systems. After several untimely deaths at the hands of police, George Floyd's death became the catalyst for many minorities demanding change.
Deion Sanders entered the chaos by demanding fair representation for HBCU student-athletes with NFL-level talent and the powers-that-be inside the NFL corporate offices. Several coaches and general managers inside the 32 franchises took notes - most likely because it was a Hall of Famer speaking out and catching them off-guard.
The COVID-19 pandemic shut down football for most HBCU programs. Hiring Sanders to coach in the Spring 2021 session caught the attention of the Disney-owned network, ESPN. After broadcasting Jackson State's first game and recognizing a noticeable jump in viewership, ESPN followed JSU throughout the remainder of the Spring season. Why? More viewers, more sponsors, more money from what wasn't a new audience, but rather an ignored and untapped audience of HBCU sports enthusiasts.
Last weekend's MEAC/SWAC Challenge proved ESPN was right to capitalize on the HBCU re-engagement with fans. Over 1 million tuned into the NCCU 23-14 upset over Alcorn State.
Why? Credit Deion Sanders. Also, the credit could be bestowed upon Jackson State University leaders for having the foresight in hiring Sanders.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR THE SWAC and MEAC?
The SWAC, MEAC, SIAC, and CIAA cannot thrive solely off these early numbers, but they must look ahead and compete against larger NCAA Division 1 schools.
This past week, I interviewed NFL vice president of business and strategy within football operations, Natara Holloway. Holloway shared that the NFL x HBCU Open House was for the four principal HBCU conference commissioners to attend and become acquainted with the NFL initiatives and partnerships that can benefit the conferences.
Growth is necessary, or the HBCU programs will succumb to the same fate of their teams in the 90s, 2000s, and 2011s - a lack of interest, finances, and resources.
Coach Prime may not be too "far-fetched" in his vision.
Can the SWAC and MEAC for a Super-Conference like the SEC? Better yet, can they win against the more prominent and well-funded division 1 players?
We shall see.