Any consideration of eliminating, or even suspending, college sports is always met with strong opposition. Arizona is now faced with its second skirmish in as many years.
Just two years ago, the Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) decided to eliminate football from the sports offerings at some of its member schools, a result of an inability to continue to financially support football, which makes up 20 percent of the athletic budgets.
Just four football programs were initially targeted for elimination, but they were some of the oldest, most successful (including national championships) programs in the state. The tradition of football at Phoenix College, for example, goes back almost 100 years ago.
Once that announcement was made in early February of 2018, immediate opposition to the idea began to take shape.
Within a month, the Grand Canyon State Gridiron Club prepared a proposal for the MCCCD, outlining a plan to secure private funding for the football programs in jeopardy. Ten months later, a small group of players filed a federal lawsuit against the district, claiming the plan to eliminate the program presented a case for racial prejudice. It was an 11th-hour effort since the season ended two months before and the colleges were already moving on.
As it turned out, the other community colleges around the state with football programs followed suit since the loss of the four Phoenix-area programs left the remaining teams in Yuma, Tucson, and Thatcher without enough opponents for the coming seasons.
And now comes the latest threat to JUCO sports in Arizona. This time, the threat is supposed to be temporary — but the opposition is just as vocal and determined.
The presidents of the 10 colleges in the MCCCD have sent a recommendation to chancellor Steven Gonzales that all sports be cancelled for the upcoming school year. The decision to pass over the ’20-21 season is a response to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Arizona.
If the recommendation is approved, it would have a significant impact on the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference, which includes the MCCCD schools. Seven of the 16 members of the conference would be sidelined.
The opposition this time is in the form of an online petition that would prevent the cancellation of the sports season. As of Friday, there were 16,000 online signatures at change.org.
Today and tomorrow, the MCCCD will be taking input from the general public in an attempt to answer questions about the decision to shutter the programs, and address their concerns over the issue.
And then a final decision will be made about the immediate future of more than a thousand student athletes that will be affected by this sudden blindside.
If the season is, in fact, cancelled, there will need to be a plan prepared to address the needs of the athletes who are left hanging as they have to decide whether to look for a transfer, or ride out a season of inactivity.
The primary question: Will those that stay lose their eligibility for the upcoming season?