NORFOLK, Virginia, July 20, 2021 – Dr Dennis Thomas, who has completed his 19th year as Commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), today announced he will retire in December. As the longest-serving commissioner in the 50-year history of the MEAC, Thomas has served his position with integrity and loyalty, earning respect and distinction as one of America’s premier college athletics administrators.
The Council of Presidents and Chancellors will conduct a national search for a successor, which will begin immediately. As the conference’s third full-time commissioner, Thomas’s leadership helped help the conference achieve national notoriety on the athletic field and in the classroom.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as the Commissioner of MEAC for almost 20 years,” said Thomas. “But first, I must pay tribute to my parents, Russell and Marjorie Thomas, for setting the direction, expectations and responsibility of my brothers, sisters and myself. Without their guidance, discipline and unconditional love, I would dare to think about the path I would have taken. The achievements and recognition achieved by the conference during this time would not have been possible without the incredible support of our member institutions and all those associated with MEAC.
“To the MEAC staff, thank you for always working to improve the MEAC. By any objective measure we have achieved it. I would like to especially thank and thank the MEAC chief of staff, COO and Senior Administrator Sonja Stills, who has been with me since my first day as commissioner. She has been a loyal, progressive thinker, student-athlete-centered, creative, passionate, accomplished professional and dear friend. I have no doubt that the MEAC and its member institutions will continue to do great things and I will always cherish the friendships and memories created during my tenure as Commissioner.
Statement from Dr Johnson O. Akinleye, Chairman of the Council of Presidents and Chancellors of MEAC:
“. He has served the MEAC for the past 19 years with distinction, dedication and unwavering commitment. I commend his unprecedented leadership, experience and innovative management of MEAC as it enters its 51styear of intercollegiate competition. While Dennis will be sadly missed by the MEAC family of institutions, we wish him good luck as he begins his well-deserved retirement journey.
Statement from Dr. Tony Allen, President of Delaware State University:
“Commissioner Dennis Thomas is an exceptional administrator, but I am honored to know him as a good and honest man as well. We all serve a brand of higher education that prides itself on excellence, access and opportunity. At MEAC, our student-athletes are our first fruits and ultimately the lasting proof of our efforts. Commissioner Thomas is a perfect example. From a legendary career on the grill to an unprecedented tenure in a daring sports conference, he has led with distinction and grace and set a clear example for all of us. I am proud to always call him, Commissioner, Brother and Friend.
Statement from Wayne AI Frederick, President of Howard University:
“As the world of college athletics has undergone tremendous change, Commissioner Dennis Thomas has provided the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with unwavering leadership for nearly two decades. On behalf of the entire Howard community, I wish Commissioner Thomas a happy retirement. His advice and dedication will surely be missed. But through his leadership, the MEAC is well positioned to move forward with strength and persevere in the face of the challenges it will face in the future.
Declaration of Dr David Wilson, President of Morgan State University:
“Commissioner Dennis Thomas has served the MEAC extraordinarily well with impressive poise, innovation and vision, commitment and dedication for 19 years. His accomplishments are numerous and he has placed the MEAC in a strong financial position to navigate the course of the future during this era of unprecedented change in the NCAA. We wish him good health and prosperity during his well-deserved retirement. “
Declaration of Dr Javaune Adams-Gaston, President of Norfolk State University:
“In my two years as President of Norfolk State University, I have seen Dr. Thomas work tirelessly to improve upon thousands of student-athlete achievements at historically black colleges and universities. . He provided corporate and external partnership opportunities for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, developed initiatives to increase student-athlete graduation rates and keep the organization in good financial health. I congratulate Dr Thomas on his successful tenure as MEAC Commissioner and wish him health and happiness as he makes the transition to retirement.
Statement from Dr. Anthony L. Jenkins, President of Coppin State University:
“Commissioner Thomas led the MEAC conference with great integrity and vision. We are better because of his leadership. On behalf of the Eagle Nation, thank you and we wish you an enriched and joyful retirement. “
Statement from Dr. Heidi Anderson, President of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore:
“During my short tenure at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, it was a pleasure working with Commissioner Dennis Thomas. Commissioner Thomas has been a strong voice for MEAC for 19 years and a great advocate for all of our student athletes, sports programs and institutions. We wish him a good retirement. “
Notable achievements of Thomas and the MEAC during his tenure as Commissioner:
- Balanced the budget for 19 consecutive years as Commissioner from 2002 to 2021, bringing financial and managerial stability to the conference throughout his tenure.
- Implemented the highest success rate award for the conference, awarding $ 25,000 to the institution with the highest graduation rate for its athletic program. During the program, $ 275,000 was distributed to MEAC establishments.
- Thomas’ mission to increase conference corporate partnerships has led to multi-year partnerships with Russell Athletic Corporation, Coca-Cola, State Farm Insurance, Nike, Wells Fargo, ESPN, Jostens, US Marines, Home Depot, Geico , Colgate Palmolive and the National Football League (NFL). Financial contracts from corporate partnerships have paid out more than $ 50 million to conference institutions.
- In 2004, he recommended ESPN start a playoff bowl game between football champions MEAC and SWAC that culminated in the Celebration Bowl. The game debuted in 2015 and is played annually at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and aired nationally on ABC. Also played a key role in the development of the MEAC / SWAC Football Challenge.
- Helped bring ESPN College Football GameDay to Florida A&M University in 2008, the first time the show aired from an HBCU campus.
- Establishment of student-athlete honors for all MEAC Championships to recognize conference student-athletes with a GPA of 3.0 or higher.
- Established the MEAC Woman of the Year Award in 2005, the MEAC Sportsmanship Award in 2006 and the MEAC Male Student-Athlete of the Year Award in 2012.
- Led the MEAC to become the first NCAA Division I FCS conference to institute instant replay in its regular season televised soccer games in 2011.
- Establishment of NIKE paid internships for students from member institutions in order to acquire work experience in companies.
- Played a role in the creation of the NFL Football Careers Forum held at the Cricket Celebration Bowl to provide students with employment opportunities.
- Partnered with the NFL to improve college football refereeing and MEAC.
- MEAC was the first FCS conference to host women’s football matches in 2002.
- Implemented the use of the Vokkero system, a hands-free communication system, for football officials in 2013. MEAC was the first FCS conference to implement the system.
- Purchase of the office complex for the headquarters of the MEAC conference office in 2010. This was the first time that the MEAC had its own headquarters without financial assessment of member institutions.
- For the first time in MEAC history, the MEAC men’s basketball teams were part of ESPN’s Bracket Busters event.
- Negotiated the live broadcast of all preliminary matches of the MEAC men’s and women’s basketball tournaments on ESPN3 or FloSports.
- First broadcast the MEAC Men’s and Women’s Track and Field Championships on ESPN3 in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021.
- Implemented the Academic Progress Rate Achievement Award for the MEAC, awarding $ 25,000 to the institution with the highest APR score for its athletic program.
- Partnered with the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame events in New York City to recognize MEAC Football’s Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year (MVP) at the press conference.
- Creation of the digital network MEAC to broadcast all regular season and championship events.