Bob Lutz

Jayhawk Conference meeting must produce compromise, unity

Hutchinson Community College is one of eight schools in the Jayhawk Conference that competes in football, but has not threatened to leave the conference if scholarship limits aren’t eased.
Hutchinson Community College is one of eight schools in the Jayhawk Conference that competes in football, but has not threatened to leave the conference if scholarship limits aren’t eased. Hutchinson News

There is a meeting Thursday in El Dorado and it may be one of those lock-yourselves-in-a-room-until-you-find-a-solution kind of meetings.

Nineteen presidents of Jayhawk Conference community colleges are getting together to determine whether the conference stays as is or blows up.

I’m thinking they’ll do whatever it takes to keep the latter from happening. At least they should, but these days you never know what destruction folks are capable of inflicting.

Eight Jayhawk schools — Barton, Cloud County, Coffeyville, Cowley, Dodge City, Garden City, Independence and Seward — are threatening to leave the Jayhawk unless the conference amends its roster limitations and out-of-state scholarship limits to align with National Junior College Athletic Association rules.

The Jayhawk Eight, for lack of a better term, see a competitive disadvantage in the current stipulations and believe junior colleges such as Butler and Hutchinson have an edge because they are inside a higher population area.

This season, though, Garden City and Dodge City are ranked first and 12th nationally and will play Saturday in Dodge City.

Increasing scholarships and rosters will undoubtedly also increase costs, and that’s something that also will be discussed.

The bottom line, though, has to be some kind of compromise.

It was wrong, in August, for Garden City football coach Jeff Sims and 49 players to file complaints with the NAACP, saying out-of-state restrictions were based on past discrimination against minorities. Such a claim incites negativity and dredges up harmful emotions that need not be revisited with this situation.

These Jayhawk restrictions are 50 years old and even if the basis for them was racial, it serves no purpose to debate them now.

The key is to avoid shrill words and find a calm solution, which is what the presidents hopefully will be able to do.

When this topic first came up in August, I’m not sure how many people took it seriously. It seemed to be driven by Sims and Garden City and both proposals failed to gain enough support. One would have increased out-of-state scholarships from 20 to 30, with the extra 10 coming from a state that borders Kansas. The other would have removed out-of-state restrictions for football, soccer and golf.

Since then, however, consensus has been built and eight of the Jayhawk’s best are serious, they say, about leaving unless significant changes are made.

Four — Dodge City, Garden City, Coffeyville and Independence — compete in football. If they were to leave the Jayhawk, only four football-playing schools — Butler, Hutch, Highland and Fort Scott — would remain.

This is a threat to be taken seriously. But it’s also one that needs to be averted.

Why not increase out-of-state scholarships? Except for a rise in costs, doesn’t it seem like a logical move?

Of the 39 All-America football players to compete in the Jayhawk since 2006, 31 have come from outside of Kansas. The conference’s connection to Kansas would not be threatened by this change. So if schools are opposed to an increase from 20 to 30, how about 25? That’s middle ground and haven’t we always been taught to find compromise?

If the NJCAA allows 85 football scholarships and the Jayhawk allots only 63, what about going to 75?

After talking to several Jayhawk athletic directors Wednesday, I came away thinking there’s nobody who wants a Jayhawk division. Imagine the fallout.

The eight departing schools would have to find others to join its new league. The 11 who could remain would need to do the same, since both groups would be represented by only football-playing schools.

Jayhawk bylaws stipulate that if eight depart, the remaining 11 Jayhawk teams could not schedule them for regular-season games.

Imagine what the upheaval caused by a breakup would do for Hutchinson? The Blue Dragons would lose natural rivals Barton, Dodge, Garden and Seward.

Butler would lose Cowley and Coffeyville.

It’s too bad it’s come to this, really. This meeting strikes me as unnecessary and a colossal waste of everyone’s time.

These 19 schools need one another. The Jayhawk Conference has been around since 1923 and produced hundreds of tremendous athletes and coaches.

Since the meeting is happening, here’s hoping the Jayhawk presidents make it a productive one. Don’t bicker, don’t chastise, don’t mock.

Find common ground. Recognize that for many Kansans, your schools are an important piece of the athletics puzzle. Residents in your communities take pride in your schools, your teams, your athletes and your conference.

Don’t throw it all away over a battle about scholarship limits and out-of-state athletes.

The eight presidents from the dissenting schools have a point. So do the 11 who are steadfast in their loyalty to the Jayhawk Conference.

Come away from this meeting with a solution that everyone can live with. But do not, under any circumstances, blow up this league.

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