Story courtesy: SWAC Media Relations
The Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) has announced the addition Bethune-Cookman University as a full member effective with the 2021-22 academic year. The decision was reached during the executive meeting of the SWAC Council of Presidents and Chancellors.
“Bethune-Cookman’s move to the Southwestern Athletic Conference is one that is clearly in the best interest of the University, particularly during this major shift in higher education and intercollegiate athletics,” said President Dr. E. LaBrent Chrite. “We believe this is a logical next step in the evolution of our University. Moreover, it reflects our commitment to strengthening the University’s long-term competitiveness and viability, while providing the best possible experience for our student-athletes.”
“We’re extremely excited to welcome Bethune-Cookman University to the Southwestern Athletic Conference,” said SWAC Commissioner Dr. Charles McClelland. “The Wildcats undoubtedly align with our core principles and strategic plan; and they also align with our overall vision and forward movement within our strategic plan. The addition also brings to our league an institution with academic prowess, a world-renowned marching band, along with an enthusiastic base of alumni, fans and supporters.”
The Wildcats sponsor 17 varsity sports at the Division I level, with all 17 of those sports sponsored by the Southwestern Athletic Conference: football, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s track & field, baseball, softball, men’s and women’s golf, women’s volleyball and women’s bowling.
“Bethune-Cookman’s alliance with the Southwestern Athletic Conference from a competitive standpoint made perfect sense and strengthens us in all of the sports in which the Wildcats sponsor,” said McClelland. “Many of our member institutions have competed against BCU for decades and will now have that opportunity on a yearly basis. Bethune-Cookman’s addition to the Southwestern Athletic Conference ultimately puts us in a great position to expand our brand in a manner that will bring a high level of value to our league and membership.”
Bethune-Cookman’s athletic history can be traced as far back as the 1910s, when the Jacksonville-based Cookman Institute baseball team produced Negro League All-Star Dick Lundy. Cookman Institute merged with Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute in 1923, with the institution’s first football game recorded that year.
Bethune-Cookman was a member of the Southeastern Athletic Conference before joining the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in 1950 and then the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in 1979. As it blazes a new path as a member of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, it brings a history of established athletic relationships with several SWAC members.
Those include rivalries with Alabama A&M and Alabama State from the Division II days in the SIAC Conference and longtime matchups with Grambling State, Jackson State, Southern University and Mississippi Valley State, that date back over forty-five years – the early days in college football.
B-CU Athletics has become widely known for its comprehensive success. To date, B-CU has won 64 MEAC team championships including winning the MEAC’s Talmadge Hill Men’s All Sports Championship in four of the past six seasons and finishing in the top three in the women’s race. During the same time span, B-CU Football also became known as one of the top programs in America in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Recently STATS Perform recognized Wildcat Football as one of the most successful HBCU programs of the past 10 years with 80 total victories, including two FBS road wins, and a win total which ranked overall at eighth nationally among all FCS institutions and first among Division I HBCUs. The ‘Cats have won four Black College Football National Championships, the last in 2013, and made four FCS playoff appearances. The Wildcats have also won three MEAC/SWAC Football Challenges while members of the MEAC.
Other athletic highlights include the baseball team’s 16 NCAA Regional appearances, including taking eventual national champion Florida to a deciding seventh game in the 2017 Gainesville Regional, becoming the only HBCU to ever reach an NCAA Division I Regional Baseball Final. Another historic HBCU milestone was earned when the 2005 BCU softball team became the first HBCU to win an NCAA regional championship by winning the Gainesville Regional for a berth in the Super Regionals at Texas; they have gone on to earn a total of 11 NCAA Regional Championship appearances.