Without fanfare, Kansas junior colleges have reinstated a cap on how many out-of-state scholarships they can offer in football.
Removing the cap was denounced by high school coaches and athletic directors around the state when the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference (KJCCC) voted unanimously in 2015 to allow football and basketball programs to have as many out-of-state scholarship athletes as they wanted.
“I have since had a change of heart,” says Hutchinson Community College President Carter File. He voted to lift the cap in 2015 because he wanted “to preserve the conference as a whole.” Several schools threatened to leave the 96-year-old conference if the cap remained.
Now File says, “I want to give Kansas athletes opportunities to participate in athletics at Kansas community colleges.” File is president of the KJCCC this year.
For decades, KJCCC schools were limited to just 20 non-Kansas scholarship football players.
Lifting the limit has caused turmoil in the conference.
Independence Community College (ICC) hired Jason Brown as head coach in 2016. The flamboyant Brown was the star of season 3 of Last Chance U on Netflix documenting the 2016 season at ICC. It was clear Brown knew Kansas junior college football was in for a huge change. “We went from being a 20 out-of-state limit roster, and now we’re an unlimited out-of-state roster and I think that’s really going to change the game," Brown said in the first episode. "We’ve got to turn over rocks and find kids at all costs.”
In 2016, Brown had his limit of 20 out-of-state players. The cap was removed in 2017, and rosters expanded from 63 players to 85 player then. In that season, Brown had 69 out-of-state players, a 245 percent increase. That year Brown had only four kids from Kansas, according to rosters posted on kjccc.org. Brown resigned in February after a controversial text exchange with a student.
Across the conference, the number of non-Kansas scholarship football players jumped 203 percent between the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Eight of KJCCC's 21 schools play football.
The new scholarship rule goes into effect for the 2021 season. It allows for a maximum of 55 out-of-state players on the expanded 85-player roster.
“We've had Kansas kids, Olathe kids, who've been passed over," says Olathe Public Schools Athletic Director Tim Brady. "Our kids want to stay in Kansas. They want their parents to come see them play.”
“That win-loss piece is important, but it's not the most important thing that these junior colleges should be looking at,” according to Brady.
Shawnee Mission School District Athletic Director Richard Kramer doesn't expect the rule change to have much of an impact on his students, "It's a small number." However, for athletes in rural districts and for urban schools the impact could be big, he says.
Jeff Sims, the former head football coach at Garden City Community College, pushed the hardest to lift the cap on out-of-state students, according to officials with deep ties to the conference.
Sims argued the cap was discriminatory. “I know what I’m hoping to accomplish is to remove a discriminatory rule that was set in 1962,” Sims told the Garden City Telegram in August 2016. "The rule was put into place to limit the number of African Americans who come to these small towns. Period."
Despite his intense and successful lobbying to change the rule, Sims won a national championship at GCCC in 2016 with a roster full of Kansas players and his limit of 20 non-Kansans.
Still, he wasted no time going out-of-state for players. In 2017, the number of non-Kansas players jumped to 72, a 260 percent hike. The GCCC team even included a player from Canada and one from Australia.
Sims was head coach last year when a 19-year-old lineman from New Jersey died from exertional heat stroke after a grueling practice.
Braeden Bradforth collapsed after only his second day in Garden City last August after receiving a late scholarship offer. Before the cap was lifted, it is unlikely he would have gotten one of the limited out-of-state scholarships to GCCC.
Sims coached in the national championship game last year but lost. He is now the head coach at Missouri Southern State University, an NCAA Division II school.
Conference presidents voted to not restore the cap on men's and women's basketball. Prior to 2017 KJCCC schools were limited to eight out-of-state scholarships. There are, of course, far fewer players for basketball so there are far fewer scholarships to offer.
Still, after the conference removed the cap, basketball rosters swelled with out-of-state players. This year, conference records show that of 540 basketball players on KJCCC rosters only 121 were from Kansas. Sixty-eight players were from Texas, five were from Mozambique and two were from the Netherlands.