HAMPTON, Va. (March 2, 2018) -- Hampton University is disappointed and perplexed by the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s (MEAC’s) refusal to meet with University officials. Hampton University has repeatedly requested to meet with the MEAC to discuss this matter. Each time the MEAC has refused to meet with Hampton University.
Most importantly, Hampton University has offered another route – a mediator – as the MEAC continues to rebuff any attempt at communicating directly.
“A mediator could help identify the best interests of both parties and focus on reaching an agreement that meets their needs,” Hampton University Senior Vice President Paul C. Harris said. “An experienced mediator understands that sometimes the best outcomes have little to do with bylaws, legal rights, financial interests, or the probable results of a trial.”
In seeking a neutral party, Hampton University wants to address the following issues:
- Hampton University’s withdrawal from the MEAC is the first of its kind for the Conference.
- Hampton University has acted in good faith, orally and in writing, to honor the spirit of the MEAC Constitution and Bylaws regarding football scheduling.
- Hampton University will not allow the MEAC to punish Hampton University’s student-athletes by forcing them to play a “full” MEAC football schedule, while at the same time declaring them ineligible for champions and superlative awards.
- Hampton University’s success has brought millions to the MEAC; the University will leave $520,000 on the table as it exits the MEAC.
- The MEAC has routinely violated its own Constitution and Bylaws.
- Hampton University has proposed mediation to resolve the current impasse.
Hampton University made it clear from the beginning that it desires to withdraw from the MEAC on amicable terms that are fair to both parties, and further expressed its desire to preserve the traditional rivalries held dear by MEAC students, alumni and boosters. Hampton University has made it clear that it is important to the University to withdraw from the MEAC in the right way and on fair terms.
Hampton University values its relationship with the MEAC and believes this assertion is well reflected in its reasonable efforts to find a fair resolution to this matter. Hampton University is proud of its collaboration with other MEAC member institutions which has resulted in positive athletic competition and educational outcomes for students at MEAC institutions.
Even as Hampton University prepares to join the Big South Conference on July 1, 2018, Hampton University is mindful of the values and beliefs it shares with MEAC member institutions in particular and HBCUs in general.
Unfortunately, the MEAC has decided upon a less cooperative and more adversarial approach to resolving differences in this matter.
SPECIFIC RESPONSE TO MEAC’s FEBRUARY 28, 2018 PRESS RELEASE
Hampton University did not meet the MEAC’s July 1, 2017 deadline for withdrawal from the Conference. That fact has never been in dispute.
The issue is how to move forward under the following facts:
Hampton University’s withdrawal from the MEAC is the first of its kind for the Conference.
Hampton University is the first MEAC member institution to withdraw from the MEAC to join another NCAA Division I FCS football-playing conference.
The resignation of membership provision in the MEAC Bylaws is designed for a MEAC member institution that either (a) joins a NCAA Division I FCS conference that does not have a football program, or (b) downgrades to NCAA Division II status. Only two other member institutions have withdrawn from the MEAC since its inception – Winston Salem State University and Savannah State University – and both schools downgraded to NCAA Division II status. The four-year scheduling commitment in the MEAC Constitution and Bylaws explicitly does not apply to schools that do not retain NCAA Division I status after withdrawal from the MEAC. That is why there was “no dispute or friction” when these institutions withdrew from the MEAC.
MEAC PRESS RELEASE MISLEADING STATEMENT #1: “. . . 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.”
The MEAC Bylaws do not address the scenario in which Hampton University finds itself – a MEAC member institution (that retains NCAA Division I FCS football status) withdrawing from the MEAC to join another NCAA Division I FCS football conference. The MEAC Bylaw pertaining to resignation of membership creates a conundrum because it is impossible for Hampton University to both “withdraw from the Conference one year after said request is filed in the Conference Office by July 1” and “fulfill conference scheduling commitments for four (4) seasons after providing formal written notice.” It cannot be that Hampton University is allowed to withdraw from the conference, on one the hand, andrequired to fulfill four-years of conference football commitments, on the other hand. Contrary to the statement in the MEAC press release, four years of football scheduling obligations is not a “consequence” for missing the July 1 deadline. Rather, it is requirement that applies even when timely notification of withdrawal is provided. As such, the July 1 deadline is totally irrelevant to future scheduling obligations.
MEAC PRESS RELEASE MISLEADING STATEMENT #2: Among the “consequences” [for missing the July 1 deadline], “Hampton must play a full MEAC football schedule for the 2019, 2020 and 2021 seasons unless their scheduled MEAC opponents agree not to play.”
Even if Hampton University had filed notification of withdrawal prior to July 1, it would still be obligated under the MEAC Bylaws to play four seasons of MEAC football after its withdrawal from the conference.
Hampton University has acted in good faith, orally and in writing, to honor the spirit of the MEAC Constitution and Bylaws regarding football scheduling.
In a letter to the MEAC Executive Committee, dated December 4, 2017, Hampton University President William R. Harvey proposed the following:
- Hampton University will compete in a full MEAC football schedule in 2018 and remain eligible for the Celebration Bowl in 2018.
- Hampton University will explore opportunities to play three or four football games against MEAC opponents in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022. (One year more than the MEAC requires.)
In the same letter, Hampton University went even further to preserve the traditional rivalries in other sports by offering to explore opportunities to play four games against MEAC opponents in Women’s Volleyball, Men’s Basketball, Women’s Basketball, and Women’s Softball in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022. The MEAC rejected each of these proposals.
MEAC PRESS RELEASE MISLEADING STATEMENT #3: “In response to the recent press release from Hampton University, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference offers the following facts to set the record straight regarding the University’s pending departure from the conference.”
Rather, than “set the record straight” the MEAC press release distorts the record by omitting Hampton’s proposal to continue playing MEAC opponents in football and other sports well into the future – even beyond the four-year scheduling commitment in the MEAC Constitution and Bylaws.
As of the date of this press release, four MEAC member institutions show availability for games versus Hampton University in 2018, as follows:
- Norfolk State University (in Hampton) – September 22, 2018
- Florida A&M University (in Tallahassee, FL) – October 20,2018
- South Carolina State University (in Hampton) – November 10, 2018
- Delaware State University (in Dover, DE) – November 17, 2018
The above dates match open dates on Hampton University’s football schedule and Hampton has told the MEAC its willingness to play these games as non-conference opponents, per the MEAC’s instruction.
However, 6 out of 8 MEAC member institutions have refused to play Hampton as a non-conference opponent in the 2018 football season; two other member institutions have not responded to Hampton’s scheduling requests.
Not a single MEAC member institution has agreed to play Hampton as a non-conference opponent in 2018.
Below are the responses from the 8 MEAC member institutions to Hampton’s attempt to “play a full 2018 football schedule against MEAC teams as a non-conference institution,” as specifically instructed by the MEAC:
- Howard University – No Response (contacted via email on February 8, 2018)
- Delaware State University – No (in writing, on February 9, 2018)
- South Carolina State University – No (in writing, on February 8, 2018; replaced Hampton on its schedule with NSU)
- FAMU – No (in writing, on February 8, 2018)
- Norfolk State University – No (orally, on February 10, 2018; replaced Hampton on its schedule with SCSU)
- Savannah State University – No Response (contacted via email on February 8, 2018)
- Bethune-Cookman University – No (orally, on February 7, 2018)
- North Carolina Central University – No (in writing, on February 7, 2018)
Hampton also contacted North Carolina A&T University via email, although Hampton was not scheduled to play North Carolina A&T in the 2018 football season. North Carolina A&T also said no (in writing, on February 8, 2018), but did express interest in playing Hampton as a non-conference opponent in 2019 and 2020.
Hampton University will not allow the MEAC to punish Hampton University’s student-athletes by forcing them to play a “full” MEAC football schedule, while at the same time declaring them ineligible for champions and superlative awards.
Hampton University seeks conference membership from a perspective of integrating its academic and character-building mission with athletic affiliations. We seek conference membership to advance our academic mission, to generate unique opportunities for students and faculty, and to serve the common good by sharing experiences and expertise, and to collaborate on innovative programs. Conference membership is not all about athletics.
Hampton University will not be a member of any conference that does not share these ideals. Requiring Hampton University student-athletes to play football in the MEAC (and exposing them to bodily harm) while at the same time denying them eligibility for MEAC championships or superlatives is unduly harsh, excessively punitive, and grossly unfair to Hampton University students.
Hampton University’s success in athletics has brought millions to the MEAC; the University will leave $520,000 on the table as it exits the MEAC.
As a result of the Hampton’s Men’s Basketball first-round NCAA Tournament win in 2015, Hampton’s share of the revenue distribution from the MEAC is $130,000 per year, which it is due to receive in each of the next four years. Hampton has agreed to leave all of this on the table when it exits the MEAC.
Hampton’s position is that $520,000 more than compensates the MEAC for any damages as a result of Hampton’s departure. However, the MEAC is seeking to impose an additional financial penalty of $250,000 for missing the July 1 deadline. The MEAC Bylaws “Financial Penalties” Appendix sets the penalty for “Being found guilty of a violation of Conference rules and/or regulations by Commissioner and/or Executive Committee” at “up to $5,000.” The $250,000 penalty that the MEAC is trying to impose on Hampton University bears no relation to actual damages, if any, to the MEAC as a result of late notification of withdrawal. The MEAC has not made any credible effort to estimate what, if any, reasonable damages the conference has incurred as a result of late notification. This makes the $250,000 penalty stand out as arbitrary, capricious and punitive in nature. Punitive damages for breach of contract are unenforceable as a matter of law.
The MEAC has routinely violated its own Constitution and Bylaws.
Hampton University repeatedly has emphasized that the MEAC Bylaws are a legal document and constitute a binding agreement between the MEAC and member institutions. Any fair and reasonable interpretation of the Bylaws leads to the inevitable conclusion that they constitute a bilateral agreement, where the obligations and rights of both parties – the MEAC and Hampton University – must be equally respected and enforced. This is especially important when terms and conditions of the agreement are in dispute.
The MEAC has routinely violated its own Bylaws (with impunity) in its rush to punish Hampton University for its decision to withdraw from the conference. Unlike Hampton, however, the MEAC refuses to acknowledge its missteps. The Commissioner and Executive Committee have failed to make decisions they should have made and the MEAC has denied Hampton University a proper, fair and impartial appeal to which it is entitled. These missteps constitute a detrimental violation of Hampton University’s rights and exhibit a flagrant disregard of MEAC Bylaws.
Hampton University has proposed mediation to resolve the current impasse.
Against this backdrop, in a letter dated February 23, 2018, Hampton University implored the MEAC to seriously consider mediation to resolve the current impasse, noting there is no provision in the MEAC Constitution and Bylaws that precludes or otherwise prevents the MEAC from pursuing mediation.
Harris outlined in the letter how the mediation process might unfold:
- The parties agree that the mediator must be agreed to by both parties and that the role mediator is to suggest options in order to help move the parties towards agreement. The parties will expect the mediator to think about the context in which the dispute must be resolved, including relevant time frames.
- Once the above is agreed by both parties, each party would then compile a list of potential mediators and share the list with the other party.
- The parties will agree preliminarily on a mediator and ask the mediator for an introductory or orientation session after which the parties decide whether they wish to continue with said mediator. (The parties will share the cost, if any, of the introductory or orientation session.)
- The parties will work together to understand mediator’s fee structure.
- All costs will be split 50/50 between the parties.
- The parties agree on a mediator and establish a date for mediation.
- The mediator and the parties sign a written confidentiality agreement, including what the parties may say regarding the mediation during and after the mediation.
- The parties will require the mediator to prepare a written confidential agreement or memorandum, if the parties reach a resolution.
- The MEAC Commissioner, in coordination with Hampton University and the mediator, is responsible for arranging meeting times and neutral locations, preparing and disseminating agendas, etc.
“A mediator could help identify the best interests of both parties and focus on reaching an agreement that meets their needs,” according to Hampton University Senior Vice President Paul C. Harris. “An experienced mediator understands that sometimes the best outcomes have little to do with bylaws, legal rights, financial interests, or the probable results of a trial. Rather, they listen and try to discern the important, underlying issues with an appreciation for the unique perspectives of each party and the wherewithal to help the participants realistically identify their best interests.
“Particularly in disputes involving any kind of separation, where the emotions of the parties are running high, mediation is often a reasonable and sound option,” Harris said.
All options remain on the table.
The MEAC continues to decline Hampton University’s requests to meet and discuss a withdrawal agreement. Hampton University stands by its previous statement and its original proposal to the MEAC. Hampton University is actively weighing all options to protect its rights under the MEAC Constitution and Bylaws and Virginia law.