Saturday, October 23, 2021

MEAC Wrestling Making A Comeback?

 In the announcement of Morgan State wrestling being restored 25 years after being discontinued, Flowrestling wrote in a recent article, "Over the course of the next five years, HBCUW will launch wrestling programs and begin endowments at six HBCUs."  This could mean an assortment of schools in an assortment of places, but it's not a stretch to think that it could mean teams in the MEAC. 

What does this mean for NCAA Division I wrestling?  Well, for one, it would mark the first time in the history of NCAA DI wrestling where wrestling was restored at a Conference where it had been previously dropped. Over the years we've seen a lot of conferences, regionals and qualifiers dismember, but we've never seen one reinstate.  ECWA (Eastern Collegiate Wrestling Association), CAA (Colonial Athletic Association), ER (Eastern Regional), WR/WWC (Western Regional/Western Wrestling Conference) & EWL (Eastern Wrestling League) are all conferences/regionals/qualifiers that I have seen discontinue during my lifetime.  MEAC wrestling began in the 1971-1972 season, having their final tournament in the 1994-1995 year, accumulating 23 tournaments.   

Now what many are not aware of is that while the MEAC is NCAA Division I today, during the time it had wrestling, it was NCAA Division II.   

Today the MEAC is made up of eight teams, with Morgan State having already restored its program, that leaves six more teams, with one being the odd man out.  At this point I'm going to guess the school not looking at getting a wrestling program would be North Carolina Central for the simple fact that they have never had a varsity wrestling program.  All of the other programs currently in the MEAC at one time had wrestling.  

Not going to inundate you a million facts about each program, but I do want to give a quick rundown of each program. 

Morgan State 

Morgan State was a powerhouse in NCAA Division II wrestling.  Along with winning 13 MEAC titles, they also won 3 CIAA titles.   At the Division II level they had 14 wrestlers earn 27 All American honors, including 4 individual titles.  Keep in mind that this was during the days where DII champs and DII runner-ups and occasionally NCAA DII 3rd place finishers were invited to the DI championships.  Morgan State had 19 wrestlers earn 33 NCAA DI qualifications, 4 of which earned DI All American status.  Not bad for a team that was only an official DI program its last two years competition.  For the record Morgan State also produced one NAIA All American and one Midlands Place-winner.   At the DII level, Morgan State placed in the top 10 at the NCAA tournament 5 times, with a high of 4th place in 1984.  

South Carolina State 

The Bulldog wrestling program remains a bit of a mystery for me.  I've found pictures and information on head coaches over the years, but one thing completely dumbfounds me. They did very well at the MEAC tournament in 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1982, but I cannot find any information about their wrestlers competing in the NCAA Division II tournament.   According to sources I have found, the program was discontinued after the 1987-1988 season.  While I've found a lot of information on a lot of programs we no longer have, still have quite a few question marks regarding SCSU wrestling.  

Norfolk State 

Norfolk State was another program that was very respectable at the NCAA DII level.  Winners of a CIAA title in 1977, they had 10 wrestlers earn 13 All American honors before being discontinued after the 1997-1998 season. What killed Spartan wrestling?  The dismemberment of the MEAC hurt a lot, but it was the move up to NCAA Division I that really hurt the program.  

The community of Norfolk needs a major college wrestling program again.  10 minutes to the south in Chesapeake you have Great Bridge High School one of the most storied and successful high school wrestling programs not only in Virginia, but in the entire United States.  They may not be the perennial powerhouse they once were, but they could still use a place close to home to compete at.  Old Dominion dropping wrestling was an absolute travesty.  Norfolk State restoring their program would be a very positive thing for the community, the school and the sport. 

Maryland Eastern Shore 

UMES wrestling was short lived being discontinued after the 1988-1989 season, but they were around long enough to produce an NAIA All American.  Wrestling would be a great addition to the athletics at UMES. They recently added a women's beach volleyball team, which now has women's sports outnumber men's 10 to 6.   Adding both men's and women's wrestling programs would put the numbers at 11 to 7.  


Winners of six CIAA team titles, Howard produced 9 wrestlers who earned 12 NCAA Division I qualifications.  Led by Wade Hughes, a coach that was determined to turn the program into a winning one, the program was discontinued after the 2001-2002 season. Ironically enough in a year of producing one of their only two-time Eastern Regional champions. Why did Howard wrestling end?  More or less because athletic director Norrell Thomas didn't want it, stating that wrestling (along with baseball) took up too much space on campus, overcrowding what could be more space for the other athletics on campus.    

At the time of discontinuation, Howard was beginning to slowly but surely come into their own with Hughes leading the way.  Being in the Eastern Regional wasn't helping matters. At the time while their would occasionally be a runner-up awarded a Wildcard entry into the NCAA tournament, you almost had to win a title in order to qualify.    Today with the new qualification system, we'd see more wrestlers from such a qualifier make it through to the championships.  Thomas stated, "a lack of success" in justification for dropping the program.   Of course he turned a blind eye to the reasons (many of which he himself was responsible for) why  Howard struggled, but if indeed Howard is one of the programs that Flowrestling meant in the above statement, that wouldn't be a problem anymore would it?   

With American right there in Washington D.C. and nearby George Mason, scheduling would not be a program at all for the Bison.  It makes sense to restore the program. 

Delaware State 

There is no varsity college wrestling in the state of Delaware.  None, zero, nada.  When Delaware State dropped wrestling after the 2008-2009 season, college wrestling left the state.  Now, no one is going to pretend that Delaware produces an enormous amount of high school talent.  Nevertheless they do from time to time.  It'd be nice if those kids had a place to wrestle at home, if they so chose to.  During the time Delaware State had wrestling they had 9 wrestlers earn 11 NCAA qualifications.   Again a program hampered by being in the Eastern Regional, the new qualification system in the MEAC conference would help to alleviate those issues.  College wrestling, especially NCAA DI wrestling in a state that currently has none, would be huge for Delaware as well as the sport of wrestling. 

Coppin State 

A 15-20 minute drive across town for Morgan State, a restoration of wrestling at Coppin State makes a lot of sense.  From what I have been able to gather on the history of the program, it was around for a period of 10-15 years.  During that time the Eagles produced 9 NCAA DI qualifiers.  

Wrestling making a comeback as an official sport of the MEAC would be huge.  College wrestling back in the state of Delaware? Huge.  A major college wrestling program back in an area that has produced some of the best high school wrestlers in the history of this country? Huge.  Now, don't get me wrong, I more than welcome wrestling getting started at North Carolina Central too. I'm simply guessing that of the 7/8 teams in the MEAC, it is the 1/8 not currently being considered. 

If indeed this IS what is within our future, what else could this mean for the sport of wrestling? 

Well, maybe this is a utopian idea at the moment, but perhaps wrestling being reinstated in the CIAA?  The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, a DII conference at one time did sponsor wrestling.  Many of the schools in the CIAA at one time had wrestling.  These include....

Elizabeth City State 
Lincoln (PA) 
Virginia State 
Winston Salem State 

All of which would be great additions back into NCAA Division II wrestling.   

As of right now, Morgan State, Allen University & Arkansas Baptist are the only HBCU schools to offer varsity wrestling.   Of all of the many HBCU schools that offer varsity athletics, at the present time, only three of them have varsity wrestling. 

UPDATE: We actually have four.  I was just reminded that Bluefield State recently added varsity wrestling as well.  

It's obvious that is going to change in the years to come. Morgan State restoring their program is only the beginning.  Not sure if the programs I mentioned ARE going to be the six new programs we see in the next five years or not.  Nevertheless if they are or if they are not, we are still going to have six programs in five years that we do not have today.    

With women's wrestling sanctioned at the varsity level and the commitment of the HBCUW, along with the NWCA and the likes of Mike Moyer, I think collegiate wrestling's future is brighter than it has ever been before. 

Everyone and their dog keeps on talking about restoration of wrestling in the SEC.  I wrote an article on SEC wrestling back in September of 2017 and four years later it is still one of my most popular articles.  The idea of the SEC ever sponsoring wrestling again is absolutely insane, but you know what?  I never thought the MEAC would sponsor wrestling again either.  Now I do.  

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