MEAC Commissioner: Norfolk is the Right Place for the Tournament

The Virginian-Pilot yesterday last week reported on final stats for the MEAC men’s basketball championship game - just over 7,100 paid seats of the Norfolk Scope’s 9,100-seat  capacity. Despite a tournament missing the defending champion Norfolk State Spartans and Hampton Pirates, and the first year was a great success according to MEAC Commissioner Dennis Thomas.

“Norfolk is the right place, and Scope is the right venue, and by that, I mean the right-sized venue.

We don’t need a 15,000-seat arena. We need about 9,000 seats. I’m very pleased.”

Norfolk is one of the most tourism friendly sites to host the tournament in years and has the potential to sell out the Scope Wednesday through Saturday if the conference partners with the right kind of events and groups. A concert with Aretha Franklin was a great attempt, but until the MEAC starts thinking Chris Brown and 2 Chainz on Thursday and Friday night, there will be no reason for younger MEAC fans to road trip and take over the city ala’ CIAA Week in Charlotte.

There are lessons the MEAC can take from the CIAA’s failure to create and promote their own events in the host city. The MEAC would enjoy an endless latitude to hold its same symposiums, community service initiatives and presentations, in addition to throwing its own official parties, step shows and alumni reunions in the areas hotels. The more events the conference controls, the more money, branding and goodwill they will reap from an age-diverse fan base.

The tournament is a good fit for the MEAC so long as Hampton and Norfolk State are competitive, but to reach its full potential, the MEAC will have to work over the next two years on its social brand to ensure that 9,100 seats soon becomes far too few.

MEAC Basketball Tournament – Where’s a Good Ref Conspiracy When You Need One?

Morgan State University defeated Savannah State University 64-61 in overtime last night in the MEAC men’s basketball tournament, firmly securing a guaranteed 16th seed for the conference in the national tournament, regardless of which team finishes as the champion. The Bears, the MEAC’s fifth place team heading into the tournament holds the highest remaining seed left in the tournament, as the top four seeds – Norfolk State, North Carolina Central, Hampton and Savannah State – were each bounced within a 48-hour period.

Without suggesting that the MEAC could or should have engineered a better outcome for its best programs to survive and advance, there’s a feeling that a poor call or two in favor of Norfolk State or NCCU not only would have made for a better tournament, but a better opportunity at national exposure for the MEAC in the big dance?

Sure, there are matters of integrity, sportsmanship and the right for chemistry and talent to meet at a head in the biggest of moments. But if they do not find a way to become more appealing and relevant to a wider fan base and prospective athletes, Division I black college sports are hurtling towards an unceremonious end.

Norfolk State, last year’s MEAC champion earned the third national tournament 2-15 upset in the conference’s history last year. That momentum propelled the Spartans into the national spotlight as a black college team with the coaching, potential and budget to emerge as a legitimate top-25 team.

Then they were out of the MEAC basketball tournament, losing their first game in conference play this season, practically in a home game against Bethune-Cookman.

North Carolina Central, in just its second year of competition in the MEAC, emerged as one of the conference’s best programs under nationally-regarded head coach LeVelle Moton. At one point, this year, some considered NCCU as the ‘Black Duke.’

Then they lost, in anti-Duke fashion, to rival North Carolina A&T in the their first game.

There is fair game, and then there is a business. The top seeds in the MEAC tournament being eliminated may be fair and compelling to MEAC basketball fans, but in the eyes of national pundits and bracket watchers, this year’s MEAC champ will be little more than the beneficiary Norfolk State’s and North Carolina Central’s choke jobs. More than that, they will be the source of why people think the national tournament system is broken, and why conference realignment is necessary to make power conferences more powerful.

Short of moving to Division II or creating its own athletic association with the SWAC, CIAA and SIAC, the MEAC must choose between being a platform for school pride, or a thriving sports business model. If it wishes to simply survive, we should all keep calm and carry on with the distinct brand of HBCU March Madness.

But if it wants to thrive, I’m sure fans can quickly forget a bogus foul or three-second call if it means better representation in the national tournament.

Twitter Reacts to Bethune-Cookman Upset of Norfolk State in MEAC Tournament

More details coming later from reporting news outlets, but the headline you need to know is that Norfolk State University, the top seed in the men’s MEAC Basketball Tournament and only undefeated team in conference play this year, was defeated by Bethune-Cookman University 70-68 in overtime this afternoon in the Norfolk Scope.

Questions loom about what this means for the tournament’s attendance, the conference’s seeding in the national tournament, and North Carolina Central University emerging as the new favorite to win the tournament in just its second year of MEAC membership. But for now, let us hearken to the voices of HBCU Twitter.

MEAC Misfired in Winston-Salem, But Wait and See on Norfolk

Virginian-Pilot columnist Rich Radford today dispatched his latest from Winston-Salem, NC and the MEAC Basketball Tournament. His aim: how much of a better fit the MEAC tournament would be in Norfolk, a partnership the city and the conference will kick-off in 2013.

Just think if the MEAC was playing at 8,500-seat Scope this week: Tonight’s men’s semifinals would have Hampton in the 6 o’clock game, followed by Norfolk State in the nightcap.

The joint would be sold out. There would be ticket scalpers looming on street corners, something the MEAC never had to worry about during its stay at the west end of Tobacco Road.

That’s true, given the outcome of this year’s games. But if Savannah State had advanced as many expected of the MEAC regular season champs, would the tournament be better suited in Georgia?

The thrust of his column is spot on; the MEAC is better suited in a city with broader tourism appeal and local ties to MEAC member schools. But Radford also takes shots at the city of Winston-Salem, and draws unreasonable comparisons to the older, geographically centralized CIAA and its basketball tournament. And for the cherry on top, quotes MEAC Commissioner Dennis Thomas saying that North Carolina A&T bears some responsibility for the tournament’s lowly attendance numbers by not showing up in greater numbers.

There are multiple levels to the frailty of Radford’s arguments. Most MEAC insiders and supporters recognize the epic fail of the tournament’s spin in Winston-Salem, but give a pass to the conference which tried to capitalize on the presence of would’ve been member Winston-Salem State, newly-added North Carolina Central and MEAC old guard North Carolina A&T when it moved to the city in 2009.  The same are also clear on the shortcomings of the latest relocation to the Scope.

What Winston lacks in night life, the Scope lacks in appeal as a facility.  It’s last major renovations were a new roof in the late 80’s and an audio/visual upgrade four years ago. Northerners from Dover, Baltimore and Washington may enjoy the travel distance to the tournament, but aren’t clamoring for the less-than-glitzy confines of the 44-year-old Scope. And our family south of North Carolina aren’t thrilled by the northern migration of the tournament, either.

And that’s nothing to speak of what really drives a tournament’s success – the likelihood of victory of the teams playing in it. Of the top six seeds in this year’s MEAC Tournament, only one is from Virginia (Norfolk State). The others? Georgia, Florida, Delaware, North Carolina and Maryland.

Any combination outside Norfolk State, Hampton, Coppin State, Morgan State or Howard in the conference semis could make for as many empty bleachers in the Scope next year as the lack of an NC team has dwindled attendance in Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum this year and years past.

There are benefits to the MEAC Tournament returning to Norfolk in 2013, the specific benefit of being down the street from Radford’s place of employment likely being the least of them. But like any other tournament, there will be drawbacks to long-term agreements with any one arena and host city.

Couching criticism of the MEAC conference tournament with perfect hindsight three years after a well-intentioned misfire doesn’t make Norfolk the MEAC’s basketball Shangri-La. It just makes for another suitable distraction on how long it will be until the MEAC arrives in Washington D.C., its ideal place for alumni presence, marketability and growth.

Late Jumper Sends Bethune-Cookman Into MEAC Basketball Tournament Semis

Garrius Holloman and Stanley Elliott extended their Bethune-Cookman playing career at least one more night with dramatic plays in the Wildcats’ 60-59 instant classic victory over North Carolina Central in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinals Thursday at Joel Coliseum.

Holloman, a senior, drained a jumper with 5.7 seconds remaining to move the Wildcats (17-16) into the semifinals against Hampton Friday at 6 p.m.

“We ran the exact same play on the possession before and I drove the lane rather than take the shot,” Holloman said. “[B-CU Coach Gravelle Craig] told me I should have taken that shot and I asked him to give it to me again and that gave me a lot of confidence.”

Read the full story at:
A G-Thing: Holloman’s Jumper Sends B-CU Into MEAC Semifinals – Bethune-Cookman Official Athletic Site

Reports: Norfolk to Host MEAC Basketball Tournament Through 2015

The Virginian-Pilot is today reporting that the City of Norfolk and the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference have agreed to a three-year deal to host the conference men’s and women’s basketball tournament.

Norfolk has been a consistent player for the tournament since last hosting it in 1997, and says that the MEAC will bump tourism revenues and raise the city’s profile.

The tournament has not attracted large crowds in recent years, but Norfolk officials have contended that moving the tournament to Scope could change that – noting that two league members are in Hampton Roads and seven others are within a 4-1/2-hour drive of Norfolk.

This year’s tournaments will be played from March 5-10 in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The city bid unsuccessfully for the tournament four years ago, when MEAC officials announced it would move from Raleigh, N.C., to Winston-Salem. Norfolk also bid for the tournament while it was in Richmond, from 1998 through 2005, and when it moved from Richmond to Raleigh in 2006. (The Virginian-Pilot)

Officials are expected to announce the agreement this Thursday.