by Cerwin D Haynes
By now, we're all aware of the current landscape of our society due to COVID-19: maintaining social distancing, making sure our medical facilities have the capacity to treat those who fall seriously ill to the virus, ensuring that people can be tested, that contact-tracing can be executed to reach out to those who have been in contact with people who have tested positive, and to be able safely isolate those who test positive or show symptoms of coronavirus.
With better understanding of executing these measures along with constant study of infection data, our society has begun to explore and implement early measures to resume life and business within this landscape. To wit: California's phased plan of reopening is currently in Stage Two, and the City of Los Angeles is currently in their version of Stage II as well. In addition to – and amongst – these plans are questions as to how and when sports will resume on various levels.
There have been progress to start finding answers. Here are some examples:
- Today, the NCAA Division I Council voted to approve "voluntary athletic activities in football, men's basketball and women's basketball" beginning on June 1 and going through June 30.
- Major League Baseball would like to start its season the first week of July. Yesterday, California Governor Gavin Newsom said the LA Dodgers and LA Angels can return to their respective home stadiums in June. His decision paves the way for the two teams to meet MLB's desired targeted start range.
- The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) released a 16-page document on Tuesday recommending how to carefully "open up" athletics and activities for member schools amid the fluid state of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The CIF Southern Section, the governing body for high school athletics in most of Southern California, is studying the feasibility of proceeding with a 2020-2021 high school sports season. In an interview with CIF Southern Section commissioner Rob Wigod via Scorebook Live, he states:
"My sense in discussions with our leagues and a lot of different folks that we are in contact with, is that they're willing to do almost anything to preserve three seasons of sport if we can do it."
That's three levels of sports – professional, top-level collegiate, and high school – that are working to find ways to allow their members to safely pursue some form of athletic competition for this summer, fall and winter.
Absent from this list? California community colleges.
In fact, there has been some sentiment brewing amongst community college administrators and presidents that the preferred route would be to suspend not just all of fall 2020 sports, but the entire 2020-2021 sports calendar. This drastic and devastating choice is seemingly born from the news that California community college system is looking at an overall 10% cut in funding.
Now, there's no arguing that all community college administrators will need to make some tough choices to be able to serve its students with less money. The question that can be posed, however, is this: why would suspending Athletics in entirety be the answer to these proposed cuts? Why should Athletics – its staff, coaches, managers, and most important, student athletes – be the first up on the chopping block? Are student athletes less important than other students? Is their plight to leverage their physical gifts and abilities to obtain a quality education not as important as students who leverage other kinds of skills and talents to do the same?
It's believed that some do not understand the nature of community college athletics. It is not leisure, nor is it simply a recreational vehicle that students engage in outside of class. College athletics – at any level – require a high-level of commitment by participating students. Remember; these students are leveraging their physical attributes not just to obtain a quality education, but to further that education in pursuit of a four-year degree. Student-athletes do not simply fill out applications to enroll in their desired college – they are recruited. And the better the student-athlete performs in high school, the more colleges will be interested in recruiting that student to enroll and play for them… this creates a unique dynamic that few outside the realm of athletics experience and understand.
If a school ceases to offer a sport the student-athlete was recruited to play for, that student will be recruited by another college (even one out of state) that does offer the sport, and that student-athlete will leave. And when recruited athletes leave, so do their student apportionment – which is the allotment of dollars given to a college (and in our case, LACCD) through the state. In California, there are approximately 27000 CCCAA student athletes – the majority of which make up an equitable minority group – that generate $371.25 million through FTE (full time equivalency).
Student-athletes bring great value to community colleges: they are required to be full-time students: according to data retrieved from CAL-PASS, the average California community college athlete completes 30 units per year, while the average non-student athlete completes 10 units. This transitions into higher completion and success rates among student-athletes versus their non-athletic peers. Their exploits can bolster the profile of a college locally and beyond, which helps to attract more students. And many times, the overall transfer rates of student-athletes at a given college beats out the transfer rate of non-athletic students at said college.
The purpose of raising these arguments is not to suggest that community college athletics should completely go about business as usual. That's simply unrealistic, and we all know that. However, take another look at the examples listed above: it's very reasonable to assume each level will experience loss of funding, revenue, and operational budget. And yet, each level is still figuring ways to make sports happen. Community college athletics need to be allowed the same opportunity: there are ways for athletic directors to reduce department expenditures and operate with less budget to still serve our student-athletes – all while utilizing similar phased safety measures that are being implemented by the state of California, the City of Los Angeles, the NCAA and CIF SS.
Community college athletics deserves the opportunity to figure it out. As do our dedicated students.