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Bethune-Cookman To Join The SWAC In 2021

By Wildcats Will Leave The MEAC After 40 Years

By Bethune-Cookman Athletics

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The Bethune-Cookman University Board of Trustees has unanimously approved an invitation to accept membership into the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) effective July 1, 2021. The Wildcats, members of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) since 1979, will remain members of the MEAC for the 2020 season and begin play as a full member of the SWAC in 2021. The move was approved by SWAC membership on Tuesday, June 23rd, and a formal offer was then extended to the university by SWAC Commissioner Charles McClelland. The recommendation was made to the Board of Trustees via a special committee led by President E. LaBrent Chrite, Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Lynn W. Thompson and other integral stakeholders from the university community including members of the Executive Leadership team. 

“Bethune-Cookman’s move to the Southwestern Athletic Conference is one that is clearly in the best interest of the University, particularly during this major shift in higher education and intercollegiate athletics,” said President Dr. E. LaBrent Chrite. “We believe this is a logical next step in the evolution of our University.  Moreover, it reflects our commitment to strengthening the University’s long-term competitiveness and viability, while providing the best possible experience for our student-athletes.   

The addition of B-CU and the Wildcat Nation to the SWAC also opens up the very lucrative central and south Florida media and tourist market to the fanbase of the historic conference and its member institutions. 

“We’re extremely excited to welcome Bethune-Cookman University to the Southwestern Athletic Conference,” said SWAC Commissioner Dr. Charles McClelland. “The Wildcats undoubtedly align with our core principles and strategic plan; and they also align with our overall vision and forward movement within our strategic plan. The addition also brings to our league an institution with academic prowess, a world-renowned marching band, along with an enthusiastic base of alumni, fans and supporters. Bethune-Cookman’s alliance with the Southwestern Athletic Conference from a competitive standpoint strengthens us in all of the sports in which the Wildcats compete. Many of our member institutions have competed against B-CU for decades and will now have the opportunity to do so on a yearly basis. Bethune-Cookman’s addition to the Southwestern Athletic Conference ultimately puts us in a great position to expand our brand in a manner that will bring a high level of value to our league and membership.”

The Wildcats now must turn their attention to implementing a smooth transition from a conference it helped make great over the past four decades.  

“Obviously, it is a disappointment to lose a long-standing member, however, institutions do what is in the best interest of their institutions,” said MEAC Commissioner Dr. Dennis E. Thomas. “I wish President Dr. E. LaBrent Chrite, Lynn Thompson and their institution the absolute best.”

“For 40 years Bethune-Cookman University’s brand has been synonymous with the MEAC. I want to thank Commissioner Dennis Thomas and the entire MEAC family because it has provided a treasure chest of unforgettable moments, invaluable relationships and life changing championships for our student-athletes, as they represented our university and the MEAC across the nation,” said Lynn W. Thompson, Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics, ” We were charged by our Board of Trustees to study the changing landscape, analyze the data and prevailing trends and make a recommendation that would position our program and our University on a trajectory for long-term success. Joining the SWAC gives us the opportunity and momentum to align with a new set of great universities who share our same mission, vision and history and we will need the entire Wildcat Nation to join us on this exciting journey.”

The SWAC, founded in 1920, is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama and includes Alabama A&M, Alabama State, Alcorn State, Grambling State, Jackson State, Mississippi Valley State, Prairie View A&M, Southern University, Texas Southern and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. With the addition of Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M in 2021 the conference will grow to a 12-team league with six teams in the Eastern and Western Divisions, respectively.

About B-CU

Founded in 1904 by Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, Bethune-Cookman University today sustains her legacy of faith, scholarship, and service through its relationship with the United Methodist Church and its commitment to academic excellence and civic engagement. B-CU offers 36 undergraduate and eight graduate degrees on its main campus. Located in Daytona Beach, B-CU is one of three private, historically black colleges in the state of Florida. The institution boasts a diverse and international faculty and student body of nearly 3,000. For more information, visit www.cookman.edu

For complete information on Wildcat Athletics, visit www.BCUathletics.com

Historical Information on Bethune-Cookman University Athletics 

Bethune-Cookman’s athletic history can be traced as far back as the 1910s, when the Jacksonville-based Cookman Institute baseball team produced Negro League All-Star Dick Lundy. Cookman Institute merged with Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute in 1923, with the institution’s first football game recorded that year.

Bethune-Cookman was a member of the Southeastern Athletic Conference before joining the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in 1950 and then the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in 1979.  As it blazes a new path as a member of the Southwestern Athletic Conference it brings a history of established athletic relationships with several SWAC members. Those include rivalries with Alabama A&M and Alabama State from the Division II days in the SIAC Conference and longtime matchups with Grambling State, Jackson State, Southern University and Mississippi Valley State that date back over forty-five years [to the early days in college football].

B-CU Athletics has become widely known for its comprehensive success. To date, B-CU has won 64 MEAC team championships including winning the MEAC’s Talmadge Hill Men’s All Sports Championship in four of the past six seasons and finishing in the top three in the women’s race. During the same time span, B-CU Football also became known as one of the top programs in America in the Football Championship Subdivision. Recently STATS Perform recognized Wildcat Football as one of the most successful HBCU programs of the past 10 years with 80 total victories, including two FBS road wins, and a win total which ranked overall at eighth nationally among all FCS institutions and first among Division I HBCUs. The ‘Cats have won four Black College Football National Championships, the last in 2013, and made four FCS playoff appearances. The Wildcats have also won three MEAC/SWAC Football Championships while members of the MEAC.

Other athletic highlights include the baseball team’s 16 NCAA Regional appearances, including taking eventual national champion Florida to a deciding seventh game in the 2017 Gainesville Regional, becoming the only HBCU to ever reach an NCAA Division I Regional Baseball Final. Another historic HBCU milestone was earned when the 2005 BCU softball team became the first HBCU to win an NCAA regional championship by winning the Gainesville Regional for a berth in the Super Regionals at Texas; they have gone on to earn a total of 11 NCAA Regional Championship appearances. BCU Bowling became the first HBCU to earn an NCAA Bowling Tournament Appearance in 2005, finishing fourth. Wildcat Ronnie Ash won the 2009 NCAA 60 meters indoor and 110 men’s hurdles outdoor national championship and the 2019 women’s basketball team earned their first NCAA tournament appearance and third consecutive MEAC Basketball crown. The Wildcat track program also won three straight MEAC Men’s Outdoor crowns in the past five seasons. On the links The Wildcats captured a record seventh-straight—and 15th overall—Women’s crown in collegiate golf’s most culturally significant Championship in 2019. Meanwhile, the Men’s team notched their third-consecutive PGA Minority Collegiate Championship and 10th title overall in the same year.

In terms of leadership, the Wildcat Athletics seasoned management team ranks among the best in the nation. Bethune-Cookman’s Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics, Lynn W. Thompson, the longest tenured and one of the most celebrated athletic directors in the nation, was named a NACDA 2019-20 Under Armour AD of the Year. Thompson also previously made history by becoming the first African-American to serve as Chair of the NCAA Baseball Rules Committee. Management team members Senior Associate Directors of Athletics Sandra Booker and Reginald L. Thomas have each become nationally respected athletic administrators with Booker serving previously on the NCAA Women’s Basketball Committee and Thomas completing the prestigious NCAA Charles Whitcomb Leadership Institute. Senior Associate Director of Athletics. Tony O’Neal currently serves as the Chair of the NCAA Division I Bowling Committee. and has recently been named the new Director of Athletics at Claflin University. 

Notable B-CU athletic alumni total over 40 NFL players including:  NFL Hall of Famer Larry Little NFL Pro-Bowlers- Nick Collins (Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame), Eric Weems (Atlanta Falcons), Jack “Cy” McClairen (Pittsburgh Steelers), Lee Williams (San Diego Chargers), Rashean Mathis (Jacksonville Jaguars), the 2002 NCAA Buck Buchanan Award winner for FCS Defensive Player of The Year;1973 AFC Rookie of the Year Charles “Boobie” Clark
Olympians: Ronnie Ash, Joel Redhead and Eric Cray 
NABC Hall of Fame College Basketball Coaches: John Chaney, Head Coach, Temple University
NBA Officials: Eric Lewis
Major League Baseball Players: Stanley Jefferson Mark Woodyard, Hiram Burgos, Peter O’Brien, Montana Durapau