JuCo football shift concerns Mississippi practitioners

Steve Buckley on outlook of JUCO football season

ELLISVILLE, Miss. (WDAM) _ The coronavirus and what most consider a not-unreasonable decision made Monday by the National Junior College Athletic Association has left Mississippi's junior-college football programs in a quandary.

With COVID-19 roller-coastering its way across the nation and no ready-to-market vaccine in sight, the NJCAA voted to move its fall semester “contact sports” into the next calendar year.

While Jones College football coach Steve Buckley said he understood the decision, he was not exactly celebrating it.

“At least they had the guts to make a decision,” Buckley said Tuesday afternoon. “I respect the NJCAA. (It) had a tough decision to make and we are a member of that (organization).

“At that same time, our goal is simple: We have to take care of our kids, so we’re going to fight for what we believe in and for our kids.”

The first indication that Mississippi’s programs were not ready to concede the fall season came Monday. The delegate representing the state’s junior college football programs under the Region 23 umbrella abstained from voting for the move to the spring.

The issue: Asking recruited prospects who would be poised to graduate and sign with four-year schools in December as early transfers to stick around for another semester.

Pearl River Community College athletic director Jeff Long said it was important to stay in lockstep as much as possible with the National College Athletic Association programs.

“It’s unique to the junior college system,” Long said Monday night. “We have kids that get ready to move on to four-year schools. We’re the only association that does that. That has its own unique challenges and it certainly again throws a wrench into moving things from fall to the spring.

“One of the reasons we’ve asked the NJCAA for just a little bit more time is we certainly want to be in step with the NCAA schools as much as possible.”

Another factors: With so many sophomores tracking for December graduation, a spring football season would be played with a wildly, short-handed roster.

Buckley said Mississippi junior colleges are able to give 55 scholarships annually He said 38 of his players can “walk out the door in December,” with 18 of them already verbally committed.

“Could we field a team?” Buckley asked “It’s not really feasible, but if we had to make it work, I’m sure we could get it done. But I cannot ask my kids to stay if they have the offer they wanted.”

Buckley and first-year PRCC football coach Seth Smith both agreed that the safety of the players was the top priority for all concerned.

But Smith echoed Buckley, saying that the move to a spring season could impact a player’s chance at moving on to the next level.

“You just want to make sure a decision that’s made is not a decision that hinders a sophomore from going on and playing football,” Smith said. “So, we have to make sure, whatever decision we make, that not only the safety but the future of these young men is at the forefront of whatever we decide.

“It’s different but we’re not going to pout about it. We’re going to find something good to look at it. We’re still blessed and know that this will pass and when it does, we’re going to do our best to fulfill a competitive product.”

Buckley said he has been able to use the situation as a teaching moment.

“That’s one of the most important things we try to do here, is teach our players life skills, and sometimes, well, life ain’t fair,” Buckley said. “We’re going to play the hand we’re dealt.

“Sometimes, you get dealt a bad hand, but you’ve still got to play it.”

Delegates will vote near the end of the month whether to accept shifting the sports to spring.

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