Our October 10th speaker was Dennis Thomas Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Commissioner.
Thomas has served as the commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) since 2002.
Under his dynamic leadership, the MEAC has ensured its financial stability, strengthened institutional compliance and bolstered the attendance of the annual MEAC Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament.
A revolutionary, Commissioner Thomas led the MEAC to become the first Division I FCS conference to institute instant replay during its televised regular season football games in 2011. In 2010, Commissioner Thomas realized one of his goals with the purchasing of the conference’s first building. The official headquarters, located in Norfolk, Virginia, marks the first time a FCS conference has owned its headquartered property. In addition, his diligence to increasing Corporate America’s investment in the MEAC led to the conference’s unprecedented partnership with international marketing agency IMG Collegiate. The collaboration with IMG Collegiate aims to grow the MEAC’s corporate partnerships, as well as implement branding and multimedia initiatives.
Thomas’ mission to increase the conference’s corporate resources has led to multi-year partnerships with Russell Athletic Corporation, Coca-Cola, State Farm Insurance, Nike, Wells Fargo, ESPN, Jostens, United States Marines, and Colgate Palmolive. Thomas was instrumental in forging a partnership with the National Football League (NFL) to improve officiating and provide access for MEAC officials to advance to the next level.
Commissioner Thomas proved instrumental in negotiating a bowl-like football game experience with ESPN for conference football playing institutions. In 2005, the MEAC/SWAC Challenge arose and provided MEAC institutions with a cross-conference game with the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) featuring national television exposure and financial guarantees. Thomas negotiated an extension to this contract with ESPN in 2011. The MEAC has continued the contest and boasts a winning record of 8-2. Thomas played an important role in the pending Celebration Bowl, pitting the champions of the MEAC and SWAC together in a bowl game, slated to begin at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia on December 19, 2015. The game will telecast live on ABC.
Under his guidance, Commissioner Thomas has been a proponent of MEAC student-athletes being strong on the field as well as in the classroom. His vision to reward academic excellence was implemented with the start of the Highest Graduation Award for member institutions with the best graduation rate for the academic year. The institution that achieves the honor is awarded $25,000. In addition, each year the MEAC recognizes the Commissioner All-Academic team that highlights student-athletes who achieve a 3.0 or better grade point average for the academic year.
In 2006, Thomas implemented the MEAC Woman of the Year honor. The award celebrates the achievements of female senior student-athletes who have excelled in academics, athletics, community service and leadership. In 2012, the MEAC introduced and recognized the MEAC Man of the Year award in collaboration with the Woman’s top honor.
Thomas brought a wealth of collegiate administrative and higher education experience to the MEAC. Prior to becoming Commissioner, Thomas served as Director of Athletics at Hampton University (Va.). In his twelve (12) years of service Hampton excelled on and off the field of competition. In addition to guiding Hampton from the NCAA Division II to Division I, Thomas demonstrated a strong commitment to student-athletes during his tenure by developing the athletic academic support unit to increase graduation rates.
Under his leadership, Hampton won 17 Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) Division II championships from 1990-1995 and 11 MEAC Championships from 1996-2002. Hampton was awarded the MEAC’s top honors with the 1999 Talmadge L. Hill All-Sports Award and the 2002 Mary McLeod Bethune Women’s All-Sports Award symbolizing the overall strength of the athletics program.
Thomas’ term at Hampton also marked the Pirates men’s basketball teams’ remarkable win over Iowa State University, 58-57, in the first round of the 2001 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The historic win was accentuated when the Pirates returned to the NCAA tournament the following year. No other 15 seed winner had returned to the tournament in consecutive years after accomplishing the feat.
Thomas served as the Head Football Coach at South Carolina State University from 1986-1988 and compiled a record of 15-18.
His leadership and managerial skills among national organizations has not gone unnoticed. Thomas was awarded the National Association of Collegiate Director of Athletics (NACDA) Athletic Director of the Year Award for the Southeast Region (I-AA/AAA) in 2002. In 2001, he served as Chair of the NCAA Division I-AA (now FCS) Football Committee. He also served on the NCAA Division I Football Issues Committee and is a former board of director member of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame.
Thomas has served as a member of the NCAA Division I Leadership Council, the NCAA I-FCS Governance Committee and chaired the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions and the NLI Policy and Review Committee. Thomas has also served as the chair of the NCAA Division I-AA (FCS) Commissioner Association and served on the NACDA Executive Committee. Currently, Thomas serves on the board of directors for the Advocates for Athletic Equity (AAE) and the Walter Byers Scholarship Committee.
For his years and dedication and service to Hampton University and its athletic programs, Thomas was inducted into the institutions inaugural Athletic Hall of Fame Class in 2009. Thomas has also been enshrined in the Alcorn State University (Miss.) Hall of Fame (2010) and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Hall of Fame (2003).
The Heidelberg, Miss., native was a four-year letterman in football and track and field in high school, and at the age of 16 he embarked upon a collegiate career that is still in the SWAC’s record books. In 1973, he made history as the first and only offensive lineman to be named the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year. He finished his collegiate career as a three-year letterman at Alcorn State, a two-time Pittsburgh Courier First Team All-American, First Team Black Mutual Sports Network All-American, and the Outstanding College Athlete of America (1974). While at Alcorn State, Thomas coached and played under the legendary coach Marino “The Godfather” Casem. During his playing and coaching tenure at Alcorn State, the Braves won SWAC Football Championships in 1970 (as a player), 1976, 1979, and 1984 (as a coach).
In 1978, the state legislative of Mississippi proclaimed April 8 as the Dennis and Johnny (brother) Day in the state for their achievements in scholarship, athletics, and leadership.
Thomas earned his bachelor’s degree from Alcorn State University. He earned his master’s from the University of Louisiana at Monroe and his doctorate from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He was selected Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities as an undergraduate and as a graduate student. He is also a proud lifetime member of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.