DURHAM — N.C. Central announced Thursday that the Eagles' athletic programs will join the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
"We now have a home," said Dr. Ingrid Wicker-McCree, the Eagles' athletic director.
N.C. Central officials, including university chancellor Charlie Nelms, announced the details of the decision at a news conference inside McLendon-McDougald Gymnasium on the school's campus.
MEAC commissioner Dennis E. Thomas addressed the crowd, saying "Welcome back" to a school that had been one of the original seven members of the conference.
The Eagles became the 13th school to join the MEAC, returning to the conference after withdrawing when the conference decided to reclassify to NCAA Division I.
From 1979 to 2007, N.C. Central competed as a Division II school in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
The move to the MEAC comes in N.C. Central's third year of its reclassification from NCAA Division II to Division I.
Wicker-McCree said the athletic program must now complete its NCAA Division I certification process, which will take an estimated two years. She said the school must complete a yearlong self-study before the NCAA completes a yearlong review.
"It's a very arduous process," she said, adding that the MEAC process was also strenuous. "And it's good that it is. Because during this process we've actually had a chance to go out and see Division I. ... So now we know we know those things that we want to do to aspire to become a really good Division I school."
Meanwhile, the Eagles will start their conference schedule in all sports in 2011. They will not be able to compete for NCAA championships until they are accepted as a Division I program.
N.C. Central athletes and coaches considered the conference news with a sigh of relief.
"It's big in all aspect of the program," basketball coach LeVelle Moton said. "Just to have an opportunity to be on that even stage, it gives them an opportunity. Now they know they can be a part of the one shining moment: March Madness."
Football coach Mose Rison said belonging to a conference will help the program in scheduling and recruiting.
The current schools in the MEAC are Bethune-Cookman, Coppin State, Delaware State, Florida A&M, Hampton, Howard, Maryland Eastern Shore, Morgan State, Norfolk State, N.C. A&T, South Carolina State and Winston-Salem State.
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