GREENSBORO — N.C. A&T trustees have approved the university's move to a new athletics conference.
Trustees voted this morning to leave the MEAC, the conference it helped start in 1971, on June 30, 2021. A&T will join the Big South Conference the next day.
“We have been looking carefully at our opportunities in athletics for five years and more intensively over the past year," A&T Chancellor Harold Martin said in a statement released by the Big South Conference.
"We’re pleased to have brought that process to fruition and excited to be ushering in a new alliance with the Big South," he added. "This move makes great sense for our student-athletes, for our fans and for our bottom line. We will always have a place in our hearts for the MEAC, and we look forward to what the new conference will make possible for the Aggies.”
University leaders said today that A&T is switching conferences largely to help student-athletes by significantly reducing time spent traveling to games. Though the Big South's three football-only schools are in Alabama, Georgia and New Jersey, the conference's 11 current full-time members are all located in the Carolinas and Virginia.
A&T student-athletes travel an average of 330 miles to conference contests in the MEAC, which stretches from Delaware to Florida. A&T said the distance between Greensboro and the Big South's full-time members averages about 150 miles.
The vote was not unanimous. The lone no vote came from retired judge and A&T graduate Paul Jones, who said he's concerned that A&T alumni might not support the school's teams because A&T will no longer share a conference with its traditional rivals.
A&T leaders said they plan to continue playing its traditional rivals — N.C. Central and other historically black colleges and universities — in football and other sports.
A&T held a press conference this morning to announce the move.
In a statement, W. Taylor Reveley IV, president of Longwood University and the Big South Conference, called A&T "a perfect fit for the Big South" because of "its location, its proud history and academic reputation, its loyal base of alumni and other supporters, and its commitment to excellence."
“At a time of real flux and dispersion in college athletics, the Big South is strengthening its identity across our home region of Virginia and the Carolinas," Reveley added. "Today’s announcement will nurture new and existing rivalries that will benefit fans and student-athletes. And it brings into our family another great institution, while making all of our member institutions stronger, too.”
Here are several other points that trustees discussed at today's meeting:
• An 11-member committee that included four trustees, alumni, sports boosters and Board of Visitors members formed after the trustees' retreat in July to talk about the possibility of switching conferences. This group was led by Timothy King, a retired Dow Chemical executive and a past chairman of the Board of Trustees.
• The committee examined eight conferences and got invitations from two: the Big South and the Atlantic Sun, which has no North Carolina members and doesn't play football. King said A&T considered the Southern Conference, whose members include UNCG, but the university did not ask to become a Southern member and was not invited to join.
• A&T said it intends to keep its women's bowling team in the MEAC. All other Aggie teams will join the Big South in 2021.
• With nearly 13,000 students, A&T is larger than any of the other full-time Big South members. Among the football-only members, only Kennesaw State University in Georgia, with about 35,000 students, is larger.
• A&T leaders said the Big South move is lateral from a financial perspective: A&T's annual athletics budget is about $13 million, and other Big South schools spend roughly the same amount. From a competition standpoint, A&T leaders said the university will be stepping up in several sports. They said the new conference will give A&T more visibility: Big South champions get automatic bids to NCAA tournaments in all sports, and the league has a broadcast and streaming deal with ESPN that runs through 2025.
• A&T will be the second school to leave the MEAC for the Big South. Hampton University in Virginia joined the Big South in 2018.