N.C. A&T’s impending move from the MEAC to the Big South Conference may be the most significant change in the history of Aggies athletics. Here’s a look at some things A&T gains and loses with the move:
Greater conference stability: No school has joined the MEAC since N.C. Central replaced Winston-Salem State in 2010. Hampton (2018), Savannah State (2019) and now N.C. A&T have left the conference since then. VMI (2014, Southern Conference), Coastal Carolina (2016) and Liberty (2017) have left the Big South since 2010, but Coastal and Liberty left so that they could move to FBS in football. Longwood (2012), Hampton (2018) and USC-Upstate (2018) have joined the Big South as all-sports members and Monmouth (2014), Kennesaw State (2015) and North Alabama (2019) have joined as football-only members since 2010.
A gateway league? The Aggies are following Hampton from the MEAC to the Big South. If A&T wants to move to FBS in the future, that’s a path former Big South members Coastal Carolina and Liberty have already taken, so it can be done if the financial commitment is there.
Exposure to a broader audience: A&T competed in the CIAA from 1924 to 1970 and has been a MEAC member since then. Both leagues were made up of HBCUs. The only other HBCU in the Big South is former MEAC and CIAA member Hampton, so 13 new schools will now be seeing the Aggies in at least one sport every year. The move also will mean A&T football games in the New York/New Jersey (Monmouth) and Atlanta (Kennesaw State) markets, where A&T has numerous alums.
Consistent weekly TV exposure: Every Big South Conference football game in 2019 was available to stream on ESPN+, as well as nearly every men’s basketball game this season. Only select MEAC football and men’s and women’s basketball games are streamed. The conferences have similar deals with ESPNU for a limited number of basketball telecasts.
Greater access to the NCAA FCS playoffs: The Celebration Bowl has been good to A&T, but only the FCS playoffs determine an NCAA championship. Since the MEAC began sending its champion to the Celebration Bowl instead of the playoffs in 2015, only one conference team has made the FCS playoffs, and that was A&T in 2016 — the only year it didn’t make the Celebration Bowl. In that same span, seven Big South teams have participated in the playoffs, including two in 2019 (Kennesaw State and Monmouth).
HBCU culture: Aggie Pride will always be a real thing, but the only Big South school that shares the HBCU experience with A&T is Hampton. Everything from The Greatest Homecoming on Earth to the marching bands to the Greek system and traditions won’t be the same with every other school in the Aggies’ new conference.
Rivalries: It’s hard to imagine an A&T football or basketball schedule without N.C. Central or some of the other MEAC schools on it, but it’s a possibility. Hampton has played only one football game and only four men’s basketball games against MEAC schools since leaving the league for the 2018-19 school year.
Celebration Bowl: A&T has played in and won four of five editions of the Celebration Bowl, which matches the MEAC and SWAC champions for the unofficial black college football national championship. The annual game is played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and has provided Aggies’ fans with a true bowl experience and provided A&T football and the university with high-rated national TV exposure on ABC. The Big South has no such bowl tie-in.
National TV exposure: Four MEAC football games in 2019 were shown live on ESPN2, ESPNU or ESPNews, including one A&T game, and five others were shown on a delayed basis on ESPNU. The Big South did not have any football games on those networks and, of course, the Aggies won’t be seen on any Celebration Bowl telecasts on ABC after the 2020 season.
Men’s-women’s basketball doubleheaders: MEAC men’s and women’s basketball teams play their conference games as doubleheaders. That has exposed a strong A&T women’s program to a lot of students and fans who might not otherwise have attended a game. The Big South plays its men’s and women’s games on different days.