Local sports club offers plan to save JUCO football in AZ


Memo to Arizona’s JUCO football programs:  Hang in there, gang, the Calvary is on the way.

The football programs at four of the community colleges in the state have been targeted for elimination following the 2018 season.  A statement issued by the Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) in the first week of February announced the district’s plans to drop the football programs at Phoenix College, Scottsdale CC, Mesa CC, and Glendale CC.

Stagnant enrollment numbers and increasingly tight budgets were blamed for the decision.

But Don Kile says there are ways to raise the funding necessary to keep the programs alive beyond 2019, and his organization has made a proposal to the MCCCD Governing Board to save the programs through private funding.

Kile is president of the Grand Canyon State Gridiron Club (GCSGC), an organization that promotes itself as an advocate of grassroots amateur football, with much of its involvement at the high school level.  One of the organization’s more high-profile efforts is the annual presentation of the Ed Doherty Award, established in 1987, which recognizes the top high school football player in Arizona.

Now, however, the club has taken up a new challenge as it jumps into the dilemma surrounding programs at the next level.

Junior/community college football has always provided either a stepping stone to the four-year programs, or a landing spot for those players who might never possess the talent to play at the Division I level, but want to continue playing the sport after high school.  For many, it’s a lifeline while they continue to develop their skills or get their grades up to be able to quality for NCAA acceptance.

And, over the years, the state of Arizona has fielded some of the top JUCO teams in the nation.  The tradition of football at Phoenix College goes back almost 100 years.

But the MCCCD points out that football makes up 20 percent of the total athletic budget, and half of the entire insurance costs can be attributed to the football programs.  That’s become a major liability since enrollments have leveled off and state funding has been cut.

The outlook at community colleges in this state, which offer two-year degrees and certifications through training programs, in general is not good.  Ten years ago, state funding for community colleges was $68.7 million.  Over the years since then, the amount has begun to evaporate.  By 2012 it had been whittled down to $6.9 million, and by 2016 it was non-existent.  Next year’s budget once again will not include funding allocations.

“At the end of the day, the main objective is to offer affordable education,” district chancellor Maria Harper-Marinick told The Arizona Republic recently, adding that “We can’t be all things to all people because we don’t have the resources to do that.”

It’s hard to tell whether GCSGC has taken all of this into consideration, and whether the club’s proposal has addressed the bigger issues facing the district, since the details of the proposed funding plans haven’t been made public yet.

But, according to Kile, the proposal included replacing the district-sponsored funding with a private-funding model that will involve local business leaders, a plan he feels is workable.

He says MCCCD officials have acknowledged receipt, but not yet responded to his proposal.