(Stats Perform) – Gardner Webb athletic director Chuck Burch has witnessed the power and precision of the North Carolina A&T football program and understands what adding the Aggies to the Big South in 2021 means for his Runnin’ Bulldogs and the other conference members.
“A&T is going to be a program that comes in in a couple of years and challenges the pecking order of this conference,” Burch said Friday after the university and conference officials announced N.C. A&T’s plans to leave the MEAC and become a full member of the Big South.
“A program that makes the rest of us who are aspiring to be at that level work that much harder to improve our program so we can be more competitive moving forward.”Burch was in Aggie Stadium in 2017 and 2018 when A&T dismantled the Runnin’ Bulldogs by a combined 90-9. Then again, no team solved the Aggies in 2017, when they finished 12-0. The following year, A&T defeated in-state FBS rival East Carolina 28-23 for another big victory.
A&T has developed into a Top 25 mainstay, first under former coach Rod Broadway and now Sam Washington the last two seasons. In four of the last five years, the Aggies have won the Celebration Bowl, which matches the champions of the MEAC and SWAC and generally identifies the nation’s top HBCU program.
Over the last four seasons, A&T is 40-8 overall and 24-7 in the MEAC.
Now they face a new challenge, joining a blossoming FCS conference. The Big South has put multiple teams in the FCS playoffs in four of the last six years and had a team reach the quarterfinals five of the last seven years. It will return to eight programs with N.C. A&T’s addition.
Washington admitted he has not paid close attention to the Big South’s individual teams in the past, but understands the overall strength of the conference, which includes powerhouses Kennesaw State and Monmouth.
“That’s what it is, a challenge,” Washington said. “We’re going to embrace it with open arms, hard heads and we’re really excited for the opportunity. It’s about growth; sometimes change is good. Hopefully, this is one of those times.”
Monmouth won the Big South championship in 2019 and earned the Big South’s automatic bid to the playoffs. Kennesaw State has participated in the playoffs in three of the program’s first five seasons.
North Alabama, a former Division II powerhouse, is a football-only member of the Big South. The Lions are currently transitioning to the FCS level and scheduled to become a full-fledged member in 2022.
“I feel real good about our football right now,” Big South commissioner Kyle Kallander said. “Clearly, Kennesaw State is a national power. Monmouth is doing a great job and has risen to the top. North Alabama is historically successful. To add North Carolina A&T to that level, we’re going to be challenging for the national championship on a regular basis. All of our existing football programs are pretty young in the FCS football world.”