Magazine article University Business

PLAY for KEEPS: Community Colleges Go for a Slam Dunk in Launching and Maintaining Athletics Program

Magazine article University Business

PLAY for KEEPS: Community Colleges Go for a Slam Dunk in Launching and Maintaining Athletics Program

Article excerpt

In San Antonio, Texas, men's basketball teams from two higher ed institutions will soon play for a national title to conclude the "March Madness" tournament.

The NCAA Division I championship will air in prime time on national television, with hundreds of media members on hand to chronicle the game.

Just over a week earlier and 700 miles north, in Hutchinson, Kansas, men's basketball teams from two other schools will have played for a national title under a lot less fanfare. The National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division I championship will have taken place at the Hutchinson Sports Arena, on the campus of Hutchinson Community College, which has hosted the game since 1952.

Athletics at the community college level bring far less pomp, circumstance, attention and money than their NCAA Division I counterparts. But that doesn't mean they don't play a significant role.

Officials at Hutchinson Community College should know. The Blue Dragons, who won the national title in men's hoops last year and were the runner-up the year before, have posted an impressive 50-26 record in tournament games.

"While community colleges may not have the same levels of boosters, sponsorship and ticket sales that their four-year peers do, much of this is still a benefit we experience," Hutchinson Community College President Carter File says. "In addition, our athletic programs enable us to build our student population and add to diversity on campus."

Program inspiration

Many observers point to the "in addition" portion of File's comments as the reason community colleges launch athletic programs. Television contracts and endorsement deals don't find their way down to two-year schools, but fielding teams can still bring attractive advantages.

"It's about three things," says Chris Parker, executive director of the NJCAA. "Enrollment, No. one; public relations, No. two; and fundraising and development, No. 3."

In 2015, Florida Southwestern State College brought athletics back to campus after a hiatus of almost two decades. Volleyball, basketball, baseball and softball were the first to return. (Formerly Edison Junior College, the institution had changed its name the prior year to reflect the increasing number of bachelor's degrees it was awarding, but it remains a school whose primary offering is two-year degrees.)

Florida Southwestern President Jeffrey Allbritten may not have been the most obvious leader to bring back athletics. "I don't watch sports," he says. "But I get the power of it." That power, however, is not fiscal.

"Is it a good ROI?" he asks. "I think there are many ways to measure that. If I'm doing it to create a profit center, no. But I'm very happy with our investment. Many things we do don't add to our bottom line. It's about, 'Why are we here?'"

As NJCAA's Parker notes, it isn't only four-year institutions who are scrambling to fill seats in classrooms. Community colleges have become more aggressive in recruiting traditional-age undergraduates who may not have the resources to go straight from high school to a baccalaureate institution.

Florida Southwestern is no exception.

"Our institution has become more and more traditional, in the sense of full-timers, younger students and now residential housing," Allbritten says. …

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