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Dr. Dennis E. Thomas enters his 17th year as Commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) on Sept. 1, 2018. Under his dynamic leadership, the MEAC has ensured its financial stability, strengthened institutional compliance and improved student-athletes’ graduation rate.
In 2010, Commissioner Thomas realized one of his goals with the purchasing of the conference’s first building. The official headquarters, located in Norfolk, Va., marks the first time a FCS conference has owned its headquartered property. 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.
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, Home Depot, Colgate Palmolive and the National Football League (NFL). Thomas was instrumental in forging a partnership with the NFL to improve officiating and provide access for MEAC officials to advance to the next level. In May 2016, Thomas also helped broker an off-the-field partnership between the NFL and the MEAC to boost opportunities for non-playing careers in pro football.
In addition, the MEAC partnered with Collegiate Sports Management Group (CSMG) in 2017, entering into a multi-year agreement in an effort to increase the conference’s corporate partnerships and branding. The relationship focuses on marketing and sponsorship rights, as well as helping to develop more national strategies across all avenues to help generate revenue for the MEAC.
Thomas also played an important role and recommended to EPSN the development of the Celebration Bowl, pitting the champions of the MEAC and the SWAC together in a bowl game. The first two editions were played in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga., with the MEAC winning the inaugural contest in 2015 when North Carolina A&T State defeated Alcorn State 41-34 in front of over 35,000 fans and a national TV audience on ABC. Out of 40-plus NCAA football postseason bowl games, the Celebration Bowl is only one of five games to secure an over-the-air television slot on ABC. Beginning in 2017, the Celebration Bowl shifted venues, as the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium opened in downtown Atlanta.
Thomas has also bolstered the conference’s television footprint when it comes to the Olympic sports; in February 2017, the conference broadcast the MEAC Indoor Track & Field Championships, for the first time ever, on ESPN3. ESPN3 also broadcast the Bowling Championship and Outdoor Track & Field Championship for the first time in 2018. In addition, the conference’s volleyball championship final has been broadcast on ESPNU every year since 2014; that initial broadcast marked the first time in the conference’s history that the volleyball championship had been televised.
During his tenure, 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’s All-Academic team, which 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 conjunction with the women’s top honor.
Thomas has 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 12 years of service, Hampton excelled on and off the field of competition. In addition to guiding Hampton from the NCAA Division II level 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 1990-95 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 team’s remarkable win over Iowa State University, 58-57, in the first round of the 2001 NCAA Tournament. The historic win was accentuated when the Pirates returned to the NCAA Tournament the following year. No other No. 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 1986-88.
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 member of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame Board of Directors.
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 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 institution’s 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 & 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 legislature in Mississippi proclaimed April 8 as Dennis and Johnny Day in the state, recognizing Thomas and his brother for their achievements in scholarship, athletics and leadership.
Thomas earned his bachelor’s degree from Alcorn State University. He earned his master’s from University of Louisiana at Monroe and his doctorate degree 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.