WICHITA, Kan. — A rule adopted during the desegregation era in Kansas to limit out-of-state players on community college basketball and football teams discriminates against minority students, complaints filed with the NAACP allege.
The Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference, an athletic conference composed of 19 Kansas community colleges, earlier this month rejected efforts to throw the rule out. The conference rule now limits community colleges to 20 out-of-state players on their football teams and eight on their basketball rosters. Kansas has had some version of those out-of-state limitations since the early 1960s.
Supporters contend that the rule protects opportunities for Kansas students, boosting their chances of getting a college education on athletic scholarships. Opponents contend it discriminates against the mostly black out-of-state players, noting some community colleges are struggling to fill their team rosters with Kansas players and many athletic scholarships go unclaimed.
At least four other states — Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Iowa — have similar rules, said Jeffrey Sims, head football coach at Garden City Community College.
Sims has been joined by 49 players in filing individualized discrimination complaints with the NAACP about the conference rule, which he contends is unconstitutional and violates the Civil Rights Act. About 90 percent of the out-of-state athletes recruited by Kansas community colleges are black.
KJCCC Commissioner Bryce Roderick said its funding comes from Kansas and the league is responsible to taxpayers to offer opportunities to in-state students.
“We are not discriminating,” Roderick said. “We are saying this is what we believe the mixture of in-state and out-of-state athletes should be in those two sports.”
But Sims contends the underpinnings of the rule date back to the 1950s when there was “a gentlemen’s agreement” that Kansas community colleges would not actively recruit out-of-state athletes, especially minorities, Sims said. Some community colleges balked and began recruiting more players from outside the state — and winning more games — prompting the conference to adopt the rule, he said.
“Out-of-stater is a code word for a minority,” Sims said.
When a proposal to eliminate the out-of-state limitations was raised at an Aug. 2 KJCCC meeting, its opponents argued more out-of-state players would hurt Kansas students. The measure was defeated 10-8.
“It is taking a scholarship opportunity away,” said Alan Schuckman, head football coach at Bishop Carroll High School in Wichita. He said he was disappointed the issue has gone “to a different level.”
NAACP representative Eric Pettus said his organization is coordinating with various attorneys to review the complaints and consider its legal options. He said the group has been working with Sims for about a year trying to peacefully resolve the dispute without litigation, but now that the complaints have been filed the case will get “a bit more interesting.”
The out-of-state rule has been a “cash cow” for Kansas community colleges because their coaches typically recruit far more players than they can possibly place in their limited out-of-state roster spots, Pettus said. Those students, who typically also get government financial aid, are then trapped at a college where they can’t play on the team.
“You are selling them … the dream of going and playing at a higher level after they didn’t either have the academics or they didn’t have the stats or the film or the whatever and didn’t get recruited” by the major universities, Pettus said. “You are selling them the opportunity for a second shot of getting to college, which ultimately gets them to the NFL or the NBA.”
Out-of-state athletes recruited with scholarship offers are allowed to keep them for one year, even if they don’t make one of the out-of-state spots on the teams, Roderick said.
Among those students who filed a complaint with the NAACP was Jordan Johnson, a Garden City Community College student who came to Kansas from Yeadon, Pennsylvania. He wrote in it that junior colleges in his home state with football programs cost a lot of money to attend, noting also that he wanted to get out of Pennsylvania and see a different side of America.
“I believe I should be able to do that and pursue my dreams,” Johnson said. “I would rather be told that I wasn’t good enough to make a team than that I cannot play because of the color of my skin and where I am from.”