Hampton University is officially changing athletic conferences, again. After a few weeks of speculation, the Pirates are leaving the Big South Conference to join the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) on July 1 of this year.
Officials within Hampton Athletics said the move has been a goal of Hampton President Dr. William Harvey for more than three decades. Hampton will become the first HBCU to ever join the CAA.
“The move to the Colonial Athletic Association is the next step in the evolution of Hampton University athletics,” Dr. Harvey said in a story reported by Yahoo. “Several institutions in the CAA are located in our geographical footprint, which means that our student-athletes will continue to spend less time traveling and more time in classes on campus.”
This is Hampton’s second time moving conferences in the last four years. The school decided to leave the MEAC, a conference composed of HBCUs, to go to the Big South in 2018. The decision to leave the MEAC came with a ton of scrutiny from many in the HBCU community. Many felt that the University made the wrong by leaving the collection of HBCU schools and depriving their fan base of traditional HBCU rivalries.
Hampton will now be in a conference with schools such as William & Mary, College of Charleston, Towson, and Elon. Dr. Harvey, who will be retiring this year after 44 years at the helm of the university, says that this move keeps things in the proper perspective for Hampton and their student-athletes.
“This move continues to keep the proper focus on academics, which is our reason for being,” said Harvey “The conference’s geographical footprint, as well as the occasional contests against institutions in the northeast, will reduce travel expenses while allowing for competition in several of the nation’s top media markets.”
While the travel costs may decrease for Hampton, time will tell if their fan base will adjust to watching the Pirates take on CAA opponents. HBCU sports fans are a very niche audience and many of them want to see their institutions battle with one another in their own community. That’s the main reason why HBCUs outside of the MEAC, SWAC, CIAA, and SIAC tend to be forgotten about during the season.
“Being an HBCU is a badge of honor,” Hampton Athletic Director Eugene Marshall Jr. said in the Yahoo story. “ I think for many years, some people associated HBCUs in an unfavorable light, but, what they’re finding out with all the focus on HBCUs, is that we have some of the brightest students and student-athletes in this country.
“Like Monmouth and Stony Brook, which are public schools (Hampton is a private school) everybody has a chance to better ourselves and I think we did. Under Dr. Harvey’s leadership, we mapped out a plan (to join the CAA) and I’m ecstatic about it because there are a lot of similar academic schools, and we have strong alumni bases where (almost all) CAA schools are located,” Marshall continued.
“We love that William & Mary and Richmond are close, because we’ve (long) been rivals with them academically and athletically. I think it’s a natural rivalry and we play them in different sports, anyway. I like it and I think it’s going to be a windfall because we’ll have more people at games.”
It’ll be interesting to see how this move impacts North Carolina A&T which recently joined the Big South conference after officially leaving the MEAC in July of 2021. The Big South has seen multiple schools leave in the last few months and could prompt A&T officials to start looking at their options again.
Hampton, Tennessee State, and North Carolina A&T remain the only division one HBCUs that don’t play in the MEAC or SWAC.