For the first time in 13 years, a change is coming to football rosters in the Jayhawk Conference, and it’s caused a sharp divide among some of the league’s elite programs.
An initiative, approved last month and spearheaded by Hutchinson Community College coach Rion Rhoades, bumps roster sizes up four from 55 to 59, with the four extra players making up a “taxi squad” of out-of-state players. Teams will still be allowed just 12 out-of-staters for conference games, but can play all 16 out-of-staters for non-conference and bowl games.
Rosters for conference games must be turned in by the Thursday before Saturday games – meaning the out-of-state players are interchangeable from week to week. In the past, out-of-state players could only be switched out through the first two or three games. After that, all rosters were set.
From 1965 to 1999, the Jayhawk allowed 10 out-of-state players on each roster before moving up to 12
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“I think it makes things more flexible and give gives us a little more power when it comes to injuries and punishment,” Rhoades said. “I also think it gives more kids an opportunity to be successful.”
Of the league’s eight teams, only Butler and Coffeyville were opposed to the new rules. Butler has won 12 of the last 14 Jayhawk titles and five national titles since 1998. Coffeyville is coached by former Butler offensive coordinator Aaron Flores.
Both schools expressed concern that the new rules would take away opportunities from Kansas players and were wary of an out-of-state player losing a season of eligibility by playing in one or two games.
“I voted against it, Butler voted against it,” said Butler coach Troy Morrell, in his 12th season. “I thought there was more of a deal where kids could get potentially hurt by it. I believe this is a league for Kansas kids first and speaking from a personal standpoint, I don’t know if I would’ve been able to play without the rules the way they were and I’d like to see it say that way.
“I think a lot of this comes from teams wanting more out-of-state players so they compete on the national level a little better. I’m in favor of giving Kansas kids more of an opportunity.”
Morrell, from Buhler, was an All-American offensive lineman at Butler before going on to play for Fort Hays State. Flores, from Olathe, played quarterback at Butler in 1990 and 1991.
Coffeyville plays two of its first three games against non-conference opponents – Trinity Valley and Air Force Prep – and the Jayhawk plays an annual series against schools from the Southwest Junior College Football Conference in the second week of the season.
“For us, we’ll be the guinea pigs in the whole thing so we’ve got to make some decisions right away,” Flores said. “I wasn’t in favor of it because if a kid plays one or two games, then there goes his eligibility. The key will be explaining, in detail, that it can change week-to-week. We need to be thorough in explaining to the kids exactly what the situation is.”
According to Jayhawk commissioner Bryce Roderick, the proposal was tabled at the August meetings after several athletic directors and coaches expressed concerns over players losing eligibility for playing in only a few games.
Rhoades said he wasn’t surprised by the opposition from Butler and Coffeyville.
“I think with Butler, they’ve been so successful that their approach was ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’ ” Rhoades said. “And I think with Coach Flores, his background is being from Butler, so I think that’s influenced a lot of his thinking.”