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Thomas: The MEAC Is Making Strides On And Off The Field
By Tony McClean
Updated: March 17, 2007
Speaking after last Saturday’s basketball championship games at the RBC Center, Thomas added that the tournament, in its second year in Raleigh, grew about 30 percent — from 22,508 to 30,452 — in total attendance from last year.
“Our goal has been to keep building every year here in Raleigh”, Thomas said. “We’ve been able to achieve that this year. We’re definitely pleased with the increase and we’re looking to improve on that as well”.
There are those that think despite the increased attendance, the MEAC Tournament will always play second fiddle to Carolina hoop fans because of the previous success that was enjoyed by the CIAA during their celebrated run in Raleigh.
However, Commissioner Thomas disagrees with that thinking. “There’s a marketplace out there for the both of us”, he added. “It’s obvious to me that we both can succeed. Leon Kerry (CIAA Commisioner) has done a phenomenal job with his tournament and we plan on doing the same here”.
During the 2006 football season, the MEAC’s attendance figures put them ranked fourth overall amongst Division I-AA schools. With the addition of former CIAA school and possible inclusion of another former CIAA institution, the speculation is that the MEAC will be able to expand its fan base.
Winston-Salem State University, a longtime CIAA institution, which this past season played as an independent Division I school, is expected to join the MEAC in July and would be eligible to participate in football and in the basketball tournament in 2010.
Another former CIAA school, North Carolina Central, is in the process of going into Division I and has put in a application to join the MEAC. The thought is that addition of both schools eventually would give the MEAC a dramatic increase in exposure and overall attendance in football and basketball.
However, Thomas didn’t want to focus on the speculation as of yet. “I’m not going to get into that kind of talk as of yet”, said Thomas. “All I can say for now is that, we have a process that Winston-Salem is going through and if all works out they will be able to join soon.”
“Central is also another outstanding academic institution as well. We’ll just see what happens. But, I’m not going to get into ‘a done deal’ … in or not.”
Thomas also added the decision whether or not to extend the MEAC’s contract with Raleigh will be made closer to the time of next year’s tournament.
“I can definitely say that Raleigh has been very hospitable,” said Thomas, who helped engineer the MEAC’s move to Raleigh from Richmond, Va. “It’s been the very best we have been exposed to anywhere.”