On Monday evening, HBCU Gameday reported that Bethune-Cookman will forgo all athletic competitions this academic year. With 2020-21 season slated to be the Wildcats last year of competition in the MEAC, the news presumably put a bow on the program’s 40 years in the conference.
Bethune-Cookman is the first Division I school to completely abandon the season, but it is probably not the last and their decision foreshadows the remaining scheduling uncertainty that dots the college athletics landscape. Just last week during the MEAC Teleconferences, University of Maryland Eastern Shore Women’s Basketball head coach Fred Bachelor announced that the Lady Eagles will not be playing any non-conference games this season. A couple days later, the men announced a similar position.
Bethune-Cookman’s President, Dr. E. LeBrent Chrite, talked about the move in a statement made available by HBCU Gameday.
“The recent spike in COVID-19 positivity rates in the state, across Volusia County and on our campus provides clear and unambiguous evidence, in our view, that now is simply not the time to resume athletic completion”.
Last week, the MEAC announced it would split into two divisions. The North consisted of teams from Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware and the South consisted of the teams from the Carolinas and Florida. This move caused a big discrepancy in scheduling, as schools such as Bethune-Cookman’s rival, Florida A&M, were slated to play each other three or four times during the basketball season, and twice in football. With the Wildcats bowing out, the Southern division schools have to fill two games on their schedules.
This move might also encourage the other two schools in the conference scheduled to play their last years in the league, FAMU and North Carolina A&T, to sit out as well. FAMU is undergoing financial trouble, and has had its past two men’s basketball seasons stripped away due to APR violations.
Other conferences might follow suit as a whole. The Ivy League has stuck to its plan of not playing a non-conference season, and Harvard has sat out as a whole. In the Patriot League, as of now, only Navy and Army are allowed to play out-of-conference games. A league such as the America East, which has schools in major cities that are experiencing outbreaks, might tag along as well.
Programs such as Cal, Marquette, Toledo, and UNC Greensboro have had to shut down activities and quarantine for two weeks due to positive COVID-19 tests. Disruptions and cancelled games with bigger schools like those could have flow down affects, as lower mid-major conferences — like the MEAC — depend on buy games to keep their programs running. The guaranteed money from those games adds substantial boons to budgets.
Per D1 Docket, Bethune-Cookman would’ve got $75,000 from its game at Akron, a potentially larger figure than the program would’ve made even had it been able to have home fans this season. The conversation will always be around how the pandemic affects the bigger programs, but in actuality, it effects the smaller programs arguably more. The Power 5 schools have wiggle room while mid-majors do not.