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The Virginian — Pilot (Norfolk, VA.)
MEAC officials confirmed Wednesday they have levied penalties against Hampton University for its plan to leave the league — and that the move is justified.
They say the penalties were invoked because Hampton announced four months after the July 1 league deadline that it was joining the Big South Conference. Announcing so long after the deadline forced the league to scramble to plan for Hampton's withdrawal, officials said.
"There is and can be no dispute Hampton is aware of the proper way to make the withdrawal," league officials said in the release. "There is and can be no dispute that other schools have withdrawn from the MEAC — in accordance with the Constitution and Bylaws of the conference — with no dispute or friction because they followed the rules."
MEAC commissioner Dennis Thomas declined comment last week after Hampton blasted the league for what it called vindictive sanctions in a four-page news release. Although Thomas wasn't available for comment Wednesday, the league finally responded with a release which, while more conciliatory than Hampton's, confirmed the gist of penalties that have been imposed.
Both Hampton and the MEAC acknowledge the Pirates missed the annual July 1 deadline by which a school must tell the league it is leaving.
By missing the deadline, league officials say bylaws require Hampton to play a full, eight-game schedule against MEAC teams this fall as a non-conference member. The Pirates would not be eligible for the league title or a bid to the Celebration Bowl, which goes to the MEAC champ.
Presumably, Hampton would be eligible for the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs as an at-large team. But neither their players nor coaches would be eligible for all-conference honors.
The MEAC says Hampton must also play full league football schedules in 2019, 2020 and 2021, as well. Hampton officials said that's impossible because by 2019, they plan to be playing a Big South football schedule.
Hampton would also not be eligible for any MEAC revenue distribution after its departure from the league on June 30, and must pay a penalty to the league. The MEAC release did not specify the amount of the penalty, but Hampton officials said they were being fined $250,000.
MEAC officials say they respect Hampton's right to change leagues, "but we also expect Hampton to honor its obligations to MEAC and member institutions under MEAC's legally binding Constitution and Bylaws ... ," MEAC officials said in the release.
Savannah State is withdrawing from the MEAC to drop down to Division II, but won't do so until after the 2018-19 athletic season.
Hampton officials said the $250,000 fine is not mentioned in the bylaws and that it's their understanding the MEAC is telling schools not to schedule the Pirates in football, which they say could lead to legal action.
The MEAC acknowledged a report in The Virginian-Pilot last week that indicated Hampton isn't currently set to play a MEAC football schedule in 2018. The Pilot reported that Hampton and eight schools in the MEAC are scrambling to fill open dates. Hampton officials acknowledged in a subsequent press release they are having difficulty filling their schedule. A spokesman for Hampton did not immediately return an email on Wednesday.
"We want everyone to know the MEAC has no animosity toward Hampton University, our long-time conference member institution, and that we wish them the best," MEAC officials said in the release.
"However, the MEAC has an obligation to enforce the conference rules that have been designed to protect the best interests of our member institutions, student-athletes, coaches and staff who attend and support our institutions."
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