Evidently, the community college football programs in Arizona aren’t going quietly into the night.
A second effort at saving the programs, which the Maricopa Country Community College District (MCCCD) voted to eliminate last year about this time, is now underway. This time it comes in the form of a lawsuit by a small group of players.
In early February, the MCCCD issued a statement announcing the district’s plans to drop the football programs at Phoenix College, Scottsdale Community College, Mesa CC, and Glendale CC. The 2018 season was to be the last for those schools.
Stagnant enrollment numbers and increasingly tight budgets were blamed for the decision. Football makes up 20 percent of the total athletic budget in the district.
Then, a month later a local group of college football supporters, the Grand Canyon State Gridiron Club, made a proposal to the MCCCD governing board, outlining ways the organization felt could be used to raise the funds necessary to keep the program alive beyond 2019. The core of its proposal included replacing the district-sponsored funding with a private-funding model that would involve local business leaders.
There has been little said since that time about that first effort at saving the programs. But now there’s a new push that is using the legal system to try to hold off the programs’ elimination.
A group of 11 players has filed a federal lawsuit against the district, claiming the decision to eliminate the football programs presents a case of racial bias because it violates the U.S. Civil Rights Act and the 14th amendment. They want the programs reinstated.
The lawsuit, filed by the group’s Mesa attorney, Phillip A. Austin, claims that documentation that includes emails between board members shows that the board’s decision to eliminate the program was “prompted by political and racial animus.”
Community college/junior college football provides 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 qualify for NCAA acceptance.
There are 300 student athletes that made up the 2018 rosters for the four MCCCD schools – and that doesn’t include players at Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona Western College in Yuma, and Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher. Those schools followed suit after the MCCCD announced its decision to eliminate football, shuttering their football programs as well. The loss of the Phoenix-area programs left those three teams without enough opponents for the coming seasons.
A local non-profit has stepped up to try to fill the void. The Athletic Advancement Association of America is working on forming a new league that would include four teams and be supported by private funding. Players in the new league, called the Hohokam Junior College Athletic Conference, would have to be enrolled in a community college in order to be eligible to participate.
Whether that will satisfy those players behind the new lawsuit remains to be seen.
But we also need to keep in mind that that legal action is an 11th-hour attempt that may be too late, even if it is successful. It has been a couple of months since the football season ended and the community colleges have moved forward with plans that don’t include football.
However, it wouldn’t be the first time a Hail Mary pass has won a big game.