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By Michael Coker
Black College Nines

The Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Board of Directors recently announced the addition of Bethune Cookman and Florida A&M Universities as the 11th and 12th members of its conference.

Both Bethune Cookman and Florida A&M will become official full members effective the 2021-2022 season and will be immediately eligible for SWAC titles, awards and honors while continuing its eligibility for NCAA automatic qualification.

The addition of these two outstanding universities will further strengthen the SWAC’s position as the newest pre-eminent NCAA Division I baseball conference for the states in the southwestern and southeastern regions.bcn baseballs on turf

Their membership positions the conference to continue growing and is a unique and exciting opportunity that allows a significant expansion and impact into a stronger Division I baseball conference.

BCU and FAMU are ready for the challenge and the competition of the SWAC. As for the play on the baseball diamond, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) was more of an arms race from a pitching standpoint. A team’s defensive strategy centered around the pitcher being an important element in getting batters out…

The SWAC, on the other hand, plays with an overall offensive and defensive strategy, that revolves around the hitter.

Both Historically Black College and University (HBCU) baseball programs have recorded significant success in the classroom and in competition over the past several years, including team conference championships, record GPA’s, Graduation Success Rates and APR scores. They have garnered national attention with berths in the NCAA Regional Tournaments.

The Rattlers participated in the 2019 regionals. The Wildcats last regional visit included an historic run where they stunned the Florida Gators in their first regional final during the 2017 season defeating the Gators 6-2 to force the second game. BCU lost that game to the eventual national champions.

The addition of these two schools can help the SWAC conference qualify to have more than two teams receiving NCAA automatic qualification for postseason play.

In the history of the NCAA baseball tournament, just two HBCU Baseball conference champions have gotten regional bids. (one from the MEAC and one from the SWAC).

As the SWAC grows into a 12 team field in baseball, the SWAC Council of Presidents and Chancellors should petition the NCAA to allow the regular-season champion and the conference championship winner into the regionals. That would guarantee a third team to the tournament along with the MEAC champion.

With BCU and FAMU’s switch to the SWAC, the conference will remain a member of NCAA Division I and includes Alabama A&M University, Alabama State University, Alcorn State University, University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Grambling State University, Jackson State University, Mississippi Valley State University, Prairie View A&M University, Southern University, and Texas Southern University. The conference sponsors 18 sports overall.

The BCU and FAMU move to the conference is a pivotal step in elevating and expanding SWAC baseball programs. Adding BCU and FAMU keeps the existing rivalries of both schools and the SWAC becomes part of the largest conference in all of NCAA Division I with 12 or more members joining the ranks of the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Pac 12, Big East, and the Sun Belt.

With BCU and FAMU joining, the SWAC could play a 28 to 32 game conference schedule that would run every weekend beginning the second week of February and run through May, culminating in a conference tournament. Teams might play a typical four-game series in three days against each conference member.

In 2020, is it possible we see a round of realignment within the divisions?

Here are a couple of realignment moves that would be fun to see:

Alabama A&M, Alabama State, and Jackson State stay in the East, but Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State move to the West. Bethune Cookman and Florida A&M move into the East to intensify the rivalries and make a path to the SWAC playoff and conference title tougher. It would provide four elite programs in the division that badly needs one besides ASU and JSU…. sorry Alcorn.

So the West would make the most sense. Southern, Texas Southern, Grambling State, Prairie View A&M now adding Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State would be fun to put those two in the same division, but more realistic is Southern, TSU, and Grambling, they could build on recent accomplishments.

The big question mark centers around Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Do they stay in the West or move to the East, assuming the SWAC would want the same number of teams in each division?

BCU and FAMU stretch the conference eastward. They are in Florida, a rich baseball recruiting area. This is addition by subtraction for the SWAC. Two of the weaker teams gone but a more historically and geographically cohesive division is a win-win with expansion.

Bethune Cookman and Florida A&M’s move to the Southwestern Athletic Conference is one that is in the best interest of both. It maintains long-term rivalries and opportunities to generate revenue. The SWAC will be even more exciting to watch.

It is interesting to note that with the addition of BCU and FAMU, the total student enrollment of the SWAC member institutions will increase from 48,029 to 61,823 and lower the total undergraduate population of colleges in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference from 62,374 total to 48,580 undergraduate students. Florida A&M had the second most students in the MEAC with over 10,000 undergraduates. Information was obtained by a table comparing 2018-2019 undergraduate enrollment between the colleges in both conferences.

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