In typical fashion, Butler Community College football coach Troy Morrell is taking the sea change about to hit the Jayhawk Conference in stride.
“We’re dealing with it, but so is everybody else,” Morrell said. “It’s definitely an adjustment.”
An adjustment unlike any in the league’s history. Jayhawk presidents and athletic directors voted last month to expand football rosters from 55 to 63, and increased the number of out-of-state players from 12 to 20 in response to a growing outcry from several schools in the conference that Butler’s domination in football had made it almost impossible for them to recruit the top players in Kansas.
The Grizzlies have won 11 of the last 12 titles and are coming off back-to-back 11-1 seasons and a loss to Iowa Western in the NJCAA championship game in December. They’ve completed six of their 20 allotted spring practices, have zero returning starters and only 22 of their 55 roster spots were occupied by freshmen.
“We’re relying on youth, not experience,” Morrell said. “Some guys that were role players or had limited time last year are going to have to step up. Our freshman class needs to be a crop that contributes right away. The weather hasn’t been very conducive to what we’re trying to accomplish, but it’s been worse for our baseball, softball and track teams.
“It’s going good, but it’s still early on.”
The vote to change rosters came through at an unusual time — most years, Jayhawk schools have their recruiting classes signed, sealed and delivered by the first week of March. And while Butler seems to have taken care of its most important position — Morrell signed Bishop Carroll quarterback Zeke Palmer in February and Savannah State quarterback Hunter Vaughn transferred in at semester — there are still a lot of spots to be filled.
“We’re going to be scrambling for some recruits, and we’ve had to change the way we do things somewhat,” Morrell said. “They jammed (the roster changes) through after we thought we had our signing class and it threw us for a loop. I think it shocked everybody that there wasn’t some sort of grandfather clause that would’ve put off the (roster changes) until 2014, because that would’ve given everyone a year to adjust.”
There’s an economic aspect, too. The eight extra players need to be accounted for in each school’s budget — from a football standpoint that means more clothes, more gear, more hotel rooms and more food.
“The cost could be the hardest thing to account for,” Morrell said. “That’s eight extra guys you’ve got to get outfitted.”
The changes aren’t done with the rosters, either. Earlier this month, the Jayhawk Conference and the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference’s three teams announced a scheduling pact that begins with the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
The wording of the initial release indicates that Jayhawk teams will play all three schools, plus each other — accounting for 10 games. That means each school will add a non-conference game to get to 11 games. It also means that the Region VI playoffs will be a thing of the past.
“There’s going to be more travel on the part of the Kansas teams, but one positive is for the four teams that wouldn’t have made the playoffs are guaranteed more games,” Morrell said.