FAMU to join Southwestern Athletic Conference in 2021
Rattlers are the third program since 2017 to leave the MEAC
The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference is saying goodbye to another long-term member. After 39 years in the MEAC, Florida A&M University announced it will be joining the Southwestern Athletic Conference, effective the 2021-22 academic year.
FAMU will be the third HBCU (historically black college and university) to leave the MEAC since 2017, following Hampton University and North Carolina A&T State.
FAMU will join the SWAC with 16 Division I sports programs, led by the youngest athletic director in Division I, 31-year-old Kortne Gosha. He was hired in December 2019 as FAMU’s vice president and director of athletics.
As the COVID-19 pandemic affects universities across the country, Gosha said, he was looking for ways to monitor costs and create more efficient travel for FAMU athletics.
“There are a lot of things that we had to address quickly, and so we launched a study, you know, we just looked into this,” Gosha said. “Not necessarily with the appetite to move conferences quickly, but the closer we got to evaluate the situation, it was just clear that the timing was right. Yes, we are in a global pandemic that made the decision challenging, but you know, ultimately myself and the board of trustees wanted to make sure that we positioned ourselves on the flip side of COVID-19 to rebound and be as strong as we possibly could.”
In an interview with WTXL, Gosha said that the Rattlers would save $400,000 just in travel expenses. Instead of extended road trips to many of the MEAC member institutions in the Northeast, this gives FAMU closer proximity to its conference opponents.
“My first priority as athletic director is the student-athlete experience,” Gosha said. “You know, some of the challenges that we faced as an institution with traveling, to having a very large footprint of travel. Being the most southern member of the MEAC, and then having to travel to Dover, Delaware, for some of our nonrevenue-generating sports like baseball, softball and track. I mean, putting kids on a bus for a 17-hour drive one way and then having to compete, jump back on a bus, travel 17 more hours and then expecting them to go back to class, that’s not the student-athlete experience we want our kids to have. We also looked into the financial details and like most historically black colleges and universities, we’ve got to find ways to be efficient with our resources. We just did the math and I mean, geographically, SWAC makes the most sense.”
FAMU football coach Willie Simmons is also excited about the transition and hopes FAMU will be able to add to SWAC’s rich history of black college football.
“Well, when you think of FCS football, in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, there’s a reason they’ve led the nation in attendance 42 of the last 43 years,” he said. “They have tremendous fan following, and some of the most historic football programs in the country. If you look at programs like Grambling State University with Eddie Robinson, and Southern University with Coach Mumford, Alcorn State with coach Marino Casem and, the list goes on and on. SWAC produced tons of NFL players, tons of NFL Hall of Famers and college football Hall of Famers. So, from a traditional standpoint, the SWAC rivals anyone and we feel like our brand here at Florida A&M is the same and so we feel like it’s a perfect marriage.”
FAMU president Larry Robinson said he believes that FAMU’s prominent athletic history will hold up similar to SWAC member institutions.
“Florida A&M’s athletics history dates back to 1887. During the rich athletic tradition of the university, FAMU has won 15 Black College Football National Championships, including last year. Florida A&M also holds the distinction of being the first and only HBCU to win the FCS national championship [formerly NCAA Division I-AA] in 1978. On the hardwood, FAMU men’s basketball has won four conference championships and made three NCAA national tournament appearances, the last being in 2007.”
SWAC commissioner Charles McClelland, who has already made pivotal changes to enhance the conference, believes that the addition of FAMU will only make the conference stronger and more competitive.
“It’s going to give us an opportunity to expand from a media standpoint, from a sponsorship standpoint and also from an overall environment standpoint,” he said. “Florida A&M travels and when our institutions travel to Florida A&M, you know it’s going to be competitive, you know, it’s going to be exciting. So some have said it’s going to be the start of a mega-superblack college conference. I won’t go that far, but I can tell you we’re pretty strong right now and we’re happy and sufficient that Florida A&M has allowed us in with bringing that large and strong of a brand to the already strong brands that we have.”