NORFOLK, VA (WTKR)- The 2022 MEAC Tournament tips off on Wednesday and, after two years of alterations because of COVID-19, this year's event is somewhat of a breath of fresh air.
After only allowing 250 fans inside The Scope for each game during the 2021 version of the MEAC Tournament, all of which went to family and guests of the teams, full capacity returns for 2022.
"The number one thing is the fans are back in the arena,," said conference commissioner Sonja Stills. "That's tremendous for us, a great way to have the student-athletes get the feedback from the fans and supporters and it's just really awesome to have all that."
Spectators will be required to wear face coverings, but tickets will be on sale to the general public at full capacity. While that's good news for the atmosphere inside The Scope, it's also promising for area business owners, who felt the impact of the fans' absence in 2021. Stills says that this year's event will help stimulate the local economy as the first step towards growing back towards pre-pandemic economic impact numbers.
Eight men's teams and eight women's teams hit the floor this week in the Mermaid City to battle for a championship. Stills hopes that fans leave with an appreciation for the high quality product the MEAC feels it puts onto the basketball court.
"The HBCU's give great Division I basketball," the commissioner said. "I want them to see that the MEAC is sustainable, we are together and we will remain together and I hope that they get that feeling when they come back that they're here as a homecoming and we're family."
Stills is a little more than two months into an historic tenure. Back in January she became the first female commissioner of the conference, as well as the first female to hold that position of a Division I HBCU conference. She's no stranger to the league, working for the MEAC for 19 years prior to her latest promotion, but is now overseeing her first conference basketball tournament from the big chair.
"I've been with the MEAC almost 20 years now, so it's the same old hat, just a different position," Stills noted. "I've got great staff and I expect them to execute the tournament and give the fans and the student-athletes a great experience."
Action tips off on Wednesday at noon. Both Norfolk State squads will be in action on day one, with the women tipping off against North Carolina Central at 2:00 PM, while the men face Delaware State at 6:00 PM. The Spartan women are the number two seed after splitting the regular season title with Howard. Robert Jones and the men are defending conference champions are were outright regular season champions.