One of the latest buzzes in HBCU sports was confirmed as true on June 5 as the Tallahassee school’s board of trustees voted unanimously for Florida A&M to move to the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC). Florida A&M will officially depart from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and join the SWAC on July 1, 2021. Florida A&M Football Head Coach Willie Simmons spoke on how his athletes reacted and will adjust to the big shift.
“It was mixed emotions. Obviously they have been hearing rumors for awhile now…Once it became official I think it started to grow towards excitement. They all remember the crowd that we had this year playing Southern, they remember the crowd we had the year before playing Jackson State. They are familiar with the type of fan following that SWAC has and think they are looking forward to playing in front of those natural rivalries that we built over years.” FAMU Head Coach Willie Simmons explained.
The FAMU Rattlers finished the 2019 season 1st in the MEAC with a 9-2 overall record and 7-1 conference record. The Rattlers would have gone to compete in the Celebration Bowl, the unofficial HBCU Championship, but were restricted from participating in the postseason due to a self-proposed ban tied to infractions in the athletic program. ‘
“We’re looking forward to being able to win an outright championship. Obviously last year we didn’t have that opportunity because of the ban. Now that that is lifted, we feel like we can go out and prove on the field that we’re the best team in the conference and the best team in black college football.” Simmons boasted.
Simmons is also confident that FAMU will instantly gain fan support in the SWAC once the team makes their move to a conference with the competition in closer proximity to their home field.
“Outside of the financial gains that we will be able to make, it’s the opportunity for our fans to not only travel to closer venues to watch us play, but also to have larger crowds that brag. I think that is one of the immediate effects that we will have with the proximity of schools in the conference…The SWAC has led the nation in attendance 42 out 43 years for a reason. They travel well and they show up to their football games.I’m looking forward to adding our fan following, which rivals anyone in the country to a conference that is already known for having big attendances.” He explained.
Florida A&M is the second team to leave the MEAC this year after their rivals, North Carolina A&T, announced its departure from the conference in February. There are a lot of unanswered questions for not only the MEAC, but every black college football program trying to navigate their way through the pandemic.
“All preliminary talks so far have been us playing this fall. I think the two conferences have made decisions to play this fall. There are some teams in other conferences who will have to make some tough decisions if they are not allowed to play. At this point, everything I have seen is moving towards us being able to play for a season this fall.” Simmons concluded.