In the dead of winter, Syracuse athletic director John Wildhack was thinking about the future and how to have some kind of social impact through sport.
“My thought was, is there any chance for us to schedule our non-conference with a little more focus in some cases? Said Wildhack.
It was February and Wildhack, a former ESPN executive, immediately thought of Dennis Thomas, commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, a group of historically black colleges and universities in Southeast and Central Atlantic. Wildhack pioneered the idea of an alliance with the MEAC that would include athletic competitions, athletic compliance and fundraising seminars, visiting faculty positions and an internship exchange.
Thomas kissed him.
“We both agreed it shouldn’t just be games,” said Thomas, who is retiring at the end of the year but plans to stay involved. “It should be about professional development. It should be about internships. It should be about sharing expertise, all those kinds of things that we think is a great convergence and synergy for our institutions and the University. of Syracuse. “
The deal was announced Thursday. The partnership’s first game features the Syracuse women’s basketball team hosting Morgan State in November. A contract has also been signed for Syracuse to play Morgan State in football in 2029. The goal is to schedule up to 50 competitions involving multiple sports.
“I am delighted that this idea has come true,” said Wildhack. “Sport has always been one of the ways to unify people. In a way, I hope that’s one of the results of that.”
The MEAC was formed in 1970. Schools participating in the conference this year include Delaware State, Morgan State, Howard State, Norfolk State, North Carolina State and the State of South Carolina, as well as the non-footballing members of Maryland Eastern Shore and Coppin State.
“I want our student-athletes who are going to compete with MEAC schools to learn more about these schools, about the HBCUs and the importance they play in higher education,” said Wildhack. “I want this to be part of their experience here in Syracuse.”
The deal comes as HBCUs have seen an influx of former professional athletes into their coaching ranks. “Prime Time” Professional Football Hall of Fame member Deion Sanders is Jackson State’s 54-year-old football coach; former Ohio State star and 1995 Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George is in Tennessee State; and Mo Williams, then NBA All-Star, is entering his second season as a men’s basketball coach at Alabama State.
“I see this as kind of a start to this relationship, and I think it will lead to more areas where we can collaborate,” said Wildhack. “The history of HBCU is a very, very important part of higher education in the United States. We have a long and distinguished history at the university in terms of integration. Hopefully this is an extension of that.”
Syracuse had an array of black soccer players who excelled while also facing the racism rampant in American society. The list includes Wilmeth Sidat-Singh, a quarterback and the school’s first star black athlete in the 1930s; Bernie Custis, who served as the Orange quarterback from 1948 to 1950 and became the first black professional quarterback of the modern era, playing for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League; Jim Brown, considered one of the greatest soccer players of all time, who played in Syracuse in the mid-1950s and was praised for his leadership in the African American community; and former Orange full-back Ernie Davis, the first black player to win the Heisman Trophy (1961).
The history of the university also includes the so-called Syracuse 8, a group of nine players from the football team who boycotted the 1970 season due to a lack of diversity in the coaching staff, slights academic and other forms of discrimination.
Thomas hopes the alliance will provide a model for other schools to consider.
“We think this is justified because we really want to not only make it work, but also have an impact on society,” he said. “We think it could be a model that others could follow.
“Anytime you can broaden your horizon, I think there is some good that could come from it. If you can connect with people you don’t normally come into contact with, I think it creates a better society, better relationships, and I think that opens up a bigger perspective in thinking. We need more of that in the world today. “