Game 082:(8) Bethune-Cookman 76, (9) North Carolina A&T 62 MEAC First Round Tuesday, March 8, 2005 Arthur Ashe Center - Richmond, VA
"Games held at home of higher seed."
For a mid-major conference, it's the ultimate surrender. Many leagues in the lower third of the scale have gone this way, choosing to hold tournament games instead of a central location. The Northeast Conference and Patriot League are the most recent casualties, reverting to campus-site tournaments this season after years of staging neutral-site events. It's a money issue, mostly - the rent, administrative and hospitality bills add up to a lot of dough, and it's a tough economy. Is it really worth it just to get everybody in one place for a couple of days? Was this trip really necessary?
A campus-site tourney will never, ever happen in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, not in a million years. The MEAC's early-March gathering is a joyous annual festival, not only an opportunity to crown men's and women's basketball champions. It's an entire week of committee meetings, receptions, job fairs and shows. In recent years, there's been a live broadcast of the Tom Joyner Morning Show on Friday. There's the MEAC cheer squad championship, and a local version of "MEAC Showtime At The Apollo." And this year, after the title games have concluded at the Richmond Coliseum on Saturday, they'll roll back the court so that Earth, Wind & Fire can put on a big concert.
There's no chance the MEAC will end these tradition, just so Coppin State can get an extra home game or two, or so ESPN can get a more visually appealing title game show with an extra-raucous home crowd.
The MEAC tournament is not just about basketball, but hoops gives an excuse for everyone to get together for a week, to rekindle acquaintances and friendships. Everywhere you look in the stands, you can see pairs of people wearing different schools' sweatshirts sit close, laughing loud and just plain catching up. They're not bemoaning the conference's low RPI, you can be sure about that.
It's also a great opportunity to hear some great bands - with historically black college conferences, band competitions are usually just as heated as the athletics - it's a far, far cry from the slick shooth-jazz bands from historically white colleges. Outfits from the MEAC, SWAC and CIAA are fiery, loud and fun. When a timeout comes, you'll see a lot of folks stop talking, crane their necks, and listen to the music. When play resumes, they go back to asking about the wife and family.
And there wasn't really a lot to dissect about this particular game, a matchup between tourney eight-seed Bethune-Cookman College and 9 North Carolina A&T, with a chance to be crushed by one-seed Delaware State on the line. It played out more like a typical two-seven game, with the higher seed running away early and taking a second-half catnap to rest up for Round 2. And, to their credit, the lowly Aggies didn't stop fighting - up to the final possession, they were pressing and finding open shooters and trying desperately to overcome their talent deficiencies with heart.
North Carolina A&T hasn't received a single mention on this site since early December, when they shocked an eventually-discredited High Point squad. Their season was typified more by their guarantee game losses at schools like Texas A&M and Wake Forest, and their rare distinction as one of only a pair of teams to lose to the 2-25 Campbell Fightin' Camels. They finished their season on Monday with a 6-23 record, an slight improvement over last year's 3-25 disaster.
They might not have much of a basketball team, but in the band competition A&T was a walkover winner. BCC didn't send any brass or woodwinds or drums, giving the Blue and Gold Marching Machine the floor during every timeout. They were good and loud and strong all afternoon, with decent choreography, and didn't fall back on any slow songs to catch their collective breath like some lesser bands would.
Now granted, afficionados of HBCU schools would say that NCA&TSU's band isn't even close to being the best band in the MEAC. To many without dogs in the fight, Florida A&M and Hampton are the traditional standard-setters in this league. And because they're judged more on their skill in navigating football fields, cramming a subset of a full band into one section of a basketball arena is tantamount to caging tigers.
Nevertheless, I'd like to invite you to spend five minutes of your life with North Carolina A&T's Blue and Gold Marching Machine. If you follow one of the power-conference teams that A&T lost a guarantee game to last December, you'll undoubtedly agree - the marching band from the ninth best team in the MEAC could kick your marching band's sorry asses.
100GP COUNTDOWN WATCH: Your humble narrator would like to issue the following self-referential proclamation: he has now equalled his personal one-season record of 82 college basketball games attended (set last year) with 27 days remaining in the season. Thank you.