Do local colleges really need sports?

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Column by Jim Clark

Many years ago when I was working in Palatka, being a sports fan, I used to go to the basketball games at St. Johns River Junior College, which become a community college and is now a college.
I often wondered why a “community” college had so many out-of-town players.
Those questions cropped up again when I moved to Ocala. One time I looked at Central Florida Community College’s roster, and there were several players from Russia. I sarcastically asked, “What community are they serving … Minsk?”
Now comes the word that because of equality and other issues, St. Johns is dropping basketball. The Vikings, as they are called, are keeping some other sports, but basketball (they only had a men’s team) is falling by the wayside.
To me that brings up the question: Do our community colleges really need to have interscholastic sports? I know, they are not “community” colleges in name any more, but in theory they still serve specific geographic areas.
Take a look at the basketball teams of the College of Central Florida for the season just concluded.
The men had only one local player, from Ocala Forest. They had two from London (as in England) and a bunch of others from around the state and U.S.
Likewise, the women had only one local player, from Trinity Catholic. They had one from Sweden, and some from several places around the U.S., including one from my old stomping grounds in New Jersey, where they spelled the name of her town (Paterson) and the name of her high school (Paramus Catholic) wrong on the website roster.
These colleges, with the majority of their degrees being of the two-year variety, were originally conceived as an alternative to four-year schools, both in availability and cost. But many of their sports have turned into “farm teams” for the major universities. Players are at the school for one or two years to hone their skills, or their grades, and then transfer to a four-year school, where they are not subject to the NCAA’s transfer rule of sitting out for a season.
One thing St. Johns is doing is taking some of the money saved and turning it into academic scholarships for minority students.
Shouldn’t other schools do the same? I’m all for athletics, but it should not be a reason for giving a student a free ride at a local college. Let more students with academic prowess get the financial help … even if they don’t play basketball, baseball or whatever.
This is not an issue that the local schools should be deciding. This is something that, on a statewide level, legislators say should be changed.
Leave the athletics to the bigger state four-year schools and universities. Let our local colleges do what they were intended to do, bridge the gap for deserving students in the community. Or if the athletics continue, make the eligibility the same as high school … you play for the school in your district.
One of the worst things that was done in the past couple of years when the local colleges started giving four-year degrees was the changing of the name, dropping the word “community” from the title. Where is it written that a school can’t be a “community” college and still offer degrees?
Restore the name “community college,” and emphasize that these schools should serve their communities, not England, Sweden or Russia, or even New Jersey.
Jim Clark is the editor of the South Marion Citizen. He can be reached at editor@smcitizen.com or at 352-854-3986.

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