Courtesy of SSUAthletics.com
For the better part of the last 10 plus years, the athletics program at Savannah State University had been a running joke. Leaving NCAA Division II and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) for Division I and hoping for a spot in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) in 2001, the Tigers were known for being NFL hall of famer Shannon Sharpe’s alma amter and also in way over their heads for much of that time before the MEAC finally brought them on board in 2010.
Since then, the Tigers have slowly built their athletic programs into competitive teams within the MEAC and with Sunday’s 1-0 10-inning win over Bethune-Cookman University in the conference’s baseball championship game, Savannah State claimed their first MEAC tournament title of any kind, against the gold standard of MEAC baseball no less.
So while baseball isn’t one of the revenue sports associated with NCAA success (football and men’s basketball being the top dogs), it still is a major victory in a very popular college sport for an institution that has had little to celebrate in the last 12 years. So what could this mean for Savannah State and the MEAC going forward? Well, a couple of things.
As far as the MEAC goes, they’ve been desperate for a Georgia presence for years. At the turn of this century, the conference openly wooed Morris Brown College in Atlanta to join up, with out of conference match-ups in football set up. Unfortunately for the MEAC, Morris Brown went under because of corruption and has yet to recover. Savannah State was next in line, but the Tigers weren’t ready. The football program has won just 14 games in 11 seasons as a Division I school and are working on their fifth football coach in six seasons. The men’s basketball team went 0-for-2005, losing every game in the ‘04-’05 season, 28 in all.
However, the basketball team, under the leadership of former Georgetown standout guard Horace Broadnax, has improved mightily, winning the MEAC regular season crown in 2012 and appearing in the NIT tournament. The baseball team, coached by former Grambling standout and longtime college coach Carlton Hardy, finished 15 games under .500 a year ago, but rebounded to earn a share of the MEAC Southern Division title this season and overcame the BCU Wildcat dynasty, which had won the previous seven conference tournaments.
Savannah State needs to take the momentum from these successes and build up their program and with a very nice campus in one of the South’s more beautiful cities, they should be able to recruit more talented kids to campus. And while they still have a long way to go, Savannah State might be turning the corner from HBCU laughingstock to MEAC contender.