A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
BASN Exclusive: An Interview With MEAC President Dr. Dennis Thomas
Raleigh, NC – The finals for the men in the prestigious 35th annual Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference is about to begin after the 25th annual women’s final ended earlier and I had the privilege to sit down and talk to the Commissioner of the league Dr. Dennis Thomas.
Thomas, the former AD for Hampton, first became affiliated with the MEAC when he was named head football coach at South Carolina State in 1986. One year later, he guided the Bulldogs to their first winning season in four years.
Before his stint at S.C. State, Thomas was the assistant head football coach and defensive coordinator at Alcorn State from 1985 to 1986. Before that, he was an assistant coach at Northeast Louisiana State after graduating from Alcorn State in 1974.
Dr. Thomas (in his 3rd year as Commissioner) and I sat down and discussed the move to Raleigh after years in Richmond, VA, the goals of the growth and awareness of the league, the entry of Winston Salem State University into the MEAC and other topics that he had comments, thoughts and visions on.
LA Batchelor : “You’ve been a coach at numerous institutions over the years and now you are the Commissioner of this league, do you miss coaching?”
Dr. Thomas : “You always miss the association with young people and other coaches and institutions but it was a career path that I thought I needed to take.”
LA Batchelor : “Talk about the differences, difficulties,similarities as a coach and now as a Commissioner”
Dr. Thomas : “I have a unique perspective. After I graduated from college, (Alcorn State), I went to graduate school and became a graduate assistant in the athletic department and work with the football team. From there I was promoted to asst football coach and asst professor in teaching at the collegiate level. From there I was defensive coordinator and from there to asst head coach. I had my doctrite there and then head coach and then from head coach I became the academic involvement chairperson. I then moved on to the Director of Athletics and from there to the present so I have unique experiences from the ground level right up to the executive level and the differences have been when you are with an institution, you have those alliances and loyalties and you are working to build a program and build a team and everybody is on one accord for that institution but as Commissioner, I have to do whats best for 11 institutions and that gives me an unique perspective for about doing things as a whole body or group of institutions rather than an individual institution.”
LA Batchelor : “What was the reason behind the move to Raleigh after being in Richmond, VA for so many years?”
Dr. Thomas : “We had a bid proposal and we have a committe that is responsible for site of the tournament and then after that the committee makes their site recommadation.”
LA Batchelor : “Was there any negative feedback with the decision of Raleigh(NC) considering almost all the teams in the Conference are not located in NC?”
Dr. Thomas : “Not at all. Not at all. People had the experience in Richmond and we pretty much capped out.”
LA Batchelor : “When you say capped out, what do you mean?”
Dr. Thomas : “In terms of are growth being there. We needed a new venue and Raleigh presented the perfect situation for us.”
LA Batchelor : “What was the thinking behind having the MEAC Tournament the same week as the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament(ACC)?”
Dr. Thomas : “It’s basically when we have the Tournament. We’ve been having the tournament at the same time every year, it just happens that it’s the same time of the ACC Tournament but what you have to understand something that the ACC moves there tournament every year so next year it may not be there on those dates.”
LA Batchelor : “There has been a lot of talk in the area locally about Winston Salem State University leaving the CIAA moving up to Division I and coming over to the MEAC and re-newing that rivalry with NC A&T. How was the move for WSSU actually happen and who initiated it?”
Dr. Thomas : “Winston Salem State made a decision that they wanted to join the MEAC and here we are. We are very happy to have them as a member of our Conference.”
LA Batchelor : “Is the decision a committee decision too?”
Dr. Thomas : “Yes. The membership committee handles that.”
LA Batchelor : “Do you have a maximum size in terms of teams in the MEAC?”
Dr. Thomas : “No. we will see how things pan out. How things fit in the Conference.”
LA Batchelor: “Now that it is 12 teams in the Conference, are you going to re-structure some things?”
Dr. Thomas: “Yes. That’s all been discuss and we are working on that.”
LA Batchelor: ” I wrote an article on the CIAA and their alumni lack of support whether the support is financially or physically attending games. Are you concern about the lack of support in terms of the alumni attending games as appose to the financial part of it?”
Dr. Thomas: “Sure. I think that is an area that I wanted to improve dramatically. I think the people(alumni and MEAC fans) had doubts and were apprehensive because Raleigh(NC) is new and wanted to come out and see what’s going on and after the Tournament, they are going to say I had a good time and word is going to spread about what a terrific Conference and what a terrific Conference Tournament this is.”
LA Batchelor: “Do you know if staticstically the numbers are up?”
Dr. Thomas: ” Oh their is no question the numbers are up! Our numbers are up significantlly and we are very pleased by that. Our numbers are much better than they were last year in Richmond and that’s one of the reasons that we changed venues.”
LA Batchelor: “It almost sounds like their were some friction there in Richmond?”
Dr. Thomas: “No. The city of Richmond did what it was suppose to do. They were fine.”
LA Batchelor: “As you look at this year’s Tournament, it’s been some very competitive basketball. Why does it seem as though other Conference’s get more exposure or people seem to believe that the better basketball is in other Conferences in the country. Why is that especially since some Conferences have less historical significance than the MEAC does?”
Dr. Thomas: “I think that we have to go out and get the exposure for the MEAC and that’s part of what I do. We have to brand our name and if you notice we are doing a pretty good job at it. ESPN did a huge thing with us. Now we are on television not only with football but basketball too. That’s something that never happen before?”
LA Batchelor: “What is your short term goal and long term goal for the Conference?”
Dr. Thomas: “My short term goal is to make us the best that we can be. My long term goal is to brand the Conference name and to get into revenue sharing amongst all the school’s in the Conference.”
LA Batchelor: “Any final word you would like people to know about the Conference?”
Dr. Thomas: “I think that we have 12 truely outstanding academic institutions that are committed to educating our young people and training them into being productive citizens in our society and we are committed to research and service and I would just hope that people will give the MEAC and opportunity especially with all the new changes and growth we have or will have.”
Dr. Thomas is trying to take the MEAC into a positive direction. A place of academic’s first, athletics second. A place where alumni do support their own and where you actually come to the watch young men and women compete not only to win but to battle for school pride and dignity as well as put revenue back into the institutions he serves and represents.
Hopefully under his leadership and guidance, the MEAC will bring years and decades of success.