Norfolk State-NC A&T & The CAA-MEAC HBCU Debate

Norfolk State and NC A&T represent two schools alike in philosophy but in different worlds. A loss by the Aggies could have fans questioning CAA life

NC A&T has won 7 straight against Norfolk State
Source: Jason Hirschfeld / The Virginian-Pilot

From 2015 to 2019, North Carolina A&T and Norfolk State were beacons of consistency, but in different ways. North Carolina A&T represented the MEAC in four of the first five Celebration Bowls and earned an FCS Playoff bid in the year they did not make the Celebration Bowl.

Norfolk State notched five consecutive seven-loss seasons, including four straight 4-7 seasons from 2015-2018, which is incredibly impressive in an odd way.

In that span, North Carolina A&T defeated the Spartans every year. The Aggies have not lost to the Spartans since 2011, extending a seven-game winning streak last season.

This week, that streak is in jeopardy. NC A&T is an uncharacteristic 0-3. While Norfolk State lost to Division II Virginia State in Week One, a non-conference win over Towson last week gives them a better CAA record than NC A&T. Yet, there is more to this game than a team breaking a losing streak to a one-time power in this conference. Other news, both within their conference and among prominent alumni lingers.

Earlier this month, Delaware expressed displeasure with the CAA’s recent additions to the conference, going as far as to declare they were open to an FBS move. Furthermore, Aggie great Jah-Maine Martin voiced the concerns of many, critiquing NC A&T’s move to the CAA.

Now, the CAA is in its most tenuous situation in recent memory, with the possibility of losing a flagship program with a football lineage rooted in the old Yankee Conference. North Carolina A&T represents this new era of the CAA, but they are also adjusting to a new world with infrequent encounters with HBCU counterparts on the gridiron. One that has longtime followers of the program feeling something is missing.

Norfolk State represents the “old world” the Aggies resided in. The Spartans are one of eight schools, one of six with football programs, that decided to stay in the Brave New World of a MEAC without the Florida schools, Hampton, and NC A&T.

Could it be that the MEAC’s football-playing schools are in a better place than the CAA’s HBCUs? Sure, the MEAC does not have the lucrative “eight-figure contract” of the CAA. Nevertheless, they have the exposure the CAA lacks. MEAC teams will appear on ABC twice this year and likely every year after this. Despite being arguably the second-best FCS conference, the CAA’s games lack strong viewership on Flosports.

The MEAC has nationally televised weeknight games, while the CAA does not. The MEAC has the Celebration Bowl to look forward to. CAA schools navigate a string of low viewership playoff games for a chance at a national title.

Most importantly, the MEAC has like-minded schools and a tight geographic footprint. The CAA’s football-only league is a colossus stretching from Maine to North Carolina.

An Aggie loss to the Spartans this Saturday will be another data point that will cause Aggie fans to question the move to the CAA. Losing to one of the also-rans of a conference they once ruled shows that the problem lies deeper than conference affiliation. NC A&T-Norfolk State could become a microcosm of conference realignment at the FCS level.