McLENDON-McDOUGALD GYM/DURHAM N.C. Central realized one of its biggest dreams of the early 21st Century today.

The Eagles are again officially members of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, the NCAA Division I (Football Championship Subdivision) conference of which NCCU was a founding member in 1971 before withdrawing in 1979 when the conference as a whole decided to make the move from Division II to Division I.

NCCU is in the process of reclassifying to Division I, and as such will be eligible for both MEAC and NCAA championships beginning in the 2011-12 academic year.

MEAC commissioner Dennis Thomas (pictured) was in town to make the announcement of the Eagles’ unanimous acceptance as the 13th member of the conference, which includes in-state rivals North Carolina A&T and Winston-Salem State, other former CIAA rivals Delaware State, Hampton, Howard, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Morgan State, Norfolk State and also Bethune-Cookman, Coppin State, Florida A&M and South Carolina State.

A crowd of about 500 including administrators, coaches, athletes and the NCCU “Sound Machine” band were on hand for the ceremony and press conference, at which NCCU chancellor Charlie Nelms and athletics director Ingrid Wicker-McCree were also principal speakers.

Thomas won the crowd over right away.

“That band sounds like an MEAC band!” Thomas said after hearing the band’s catchy “Rock the House” riff.

“I’m here today to welcome back an institution which served as one of our founding institutions. North Carolina Central University, welcome back home!”

Nelms said MEAC membership is important to the university not only because of the athletic competition.

“It’s about being a member of a group of institutions with which we compete athletically and cooperate academically,” Nelms said. “A vibrant and competitive athletic program is a central piece of the collegiate equation in American higher education.”

Nelms also noted that his birthday is on Friday.

“Thank you for this wonderful birthday present,” the chancellor said.

Wicker McCree said she was happy the Eagles will no longer have to travel all over the country all season – and what was unstated was that that situation has been primarily in men’s basketball – to play opposition as an independent.

“We now have a home,” she said. “This is truly a very special day for NCCU. This is the positive milestone in our reclassification process.”

Although Thomas said the Eagles may not be on MEAC master schedules until 2011-12, Wicker McCree said the university will strive for inclusion on as many MEAC school’s schedules as possible next season.

Football coach Mose Rison said the Eagles have four MEAC teams on next season’s schedule, which is not yet complete.

Also on the Eagles’ football schedule for 2010, he said, is Savannah State, which has also applied for MEAC membership. Thomas said the conference will take action on SSU’s application by Oct. 31.