When I first started in the sports writing business in 1975 in Independence, among the beats I covered the Jayhawk Juco Conference.
In those days, schools could have only 10 out-of-state football players, with the remaining 45 being from Kansas. What a wonderful opportunity it was for Kansans to continue playing after high school.
Most of the out-of-state players — many were placed by big-time schools because they couldn’t meet GPA requirements — made up the skill positions. I can remember one year where Indy Juco brought in five out-of-state running backs and wound up keeping only two. Coaches didn’t bring in out-of-staters to sit the bench, they had the make the most of the few they had.
The number of out-of-staters later was raised to 12, then to 20. Now, after a vote last year, the eight schools have unlimited restrictions.
Those not in favor at the time said the new rule would result in some schools turning away from Kansas kids and going more for out-of-staters and that KCAC, MIAA and Heart of America schools would take advantage.
Well, the detractors were right. According to a list compiled by Fort Scott Tribune sports editor Scott Nuzum, it’s staggering to see the dropoff.
There were 316 Kansans on rosters last year. When the conference opens for business on Saturday, there are just 101, with half of those provided by longtime power Butler County (30) and Coffeyville (20).
Butler had 40 Kansans last year and Coffeyville has more than cut its number in half as it had 43 in 2016.
My alma mater Indy and defending national champion Garden City have basically passed on Kansans. Both schools have just four apiece after Indy had 35 last year and Garden City 31.
Ironically, Indy coach Jason Brown is a former Garden City assistant. Garden’s Jeff Sims was the biggest advocate of the new rule as he led the charge, saying the old rule discriminated.
KCAC coaches at Media Day earlier this month said they are hoping the Jayhawk’s change in tactics means they’ll get more Kansans. A glance at McPherson College’s current roster on its website numbers 21 Kansans while Bethany College has 23.
Getting back to the jucos, I found it interesting that there are only three in-state quarterbacks listed on the eight rosters and just three fullbacks. The offensive line has 18 in-staters with linebacker the next-most with 14.
I haven’t been to a juco game forever. I know when I was at Independence the level was off the charts. One of the my favorite games I ever covered was when Independence was at arch-rival Coffeyville and Ron Springs was The ‘Ville’s star running back. All he did was rush for nearly 400 yards and had about another 75 called back for penalties. Springs went on to become one of the best running backs in the country at Ohio State and enjoyed a long-and-successful NFL career with Dallas.
It will be interesting to discuss with some of my sports writing brethren if they feel the change has made juco football better. All I know is the change means the day of Kansas kids populating the rosters are over.