The Bethune-Cookman Wildcats will join the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) beginning with the 2021-22 season, the league announced Thursday.
“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.”
“We’re extremely excited to welcome Bethune-Cookman University to the Southwestern Athletic Conference,” added 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.”
BCU becomes the second departure from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) in the span of three weeks, following Florida A&M’s exit — also to the SWAC — June 5. These moves — along with those of Hampton and North Carolina A&T in seasons prior — have left the MEAC with a number of questions about its future. BCU, FAMU, and A&T will all depart the league on June 30, 2021, leaving the league with just six football-playing members.
“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.”
The Wildcats joined the MEAC in 1979, but were prior SWAC participants before making the move to the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in 1950. Bethune-Cookman won or shared eight MEAC championships between 1984 and 2015, with 2010 and 2013 yielding Black College Football National Championships under former coach Brian Jenkins. BCU has made five trips to the FCS playoffs — all between 2002 and 2013.
Bethune-Cookman joins Alabama A&M, Alabama State, Alcorn State, Florida A&M, Grambling State, Jackson State, Mississippi Valley State, Prairie View A&M, Southern University, Texas Southern, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff, giving the SWAC 12 member institutions beginning in 2021. The league will establish Western and Eastern divisions, placing six teams in each.