VETTEL: JUCO Football Can Work In Florida

For years I have supported the idea that Florida should have at least some junior (aka: community) colleges that play football. That lack of opportunity in such a wealthy state makes no sense when far less prosperous states such as Kansas and Mississippi offer their kids the opportunity. In fact, 17 states including California and Texas offer JUCO football.

Nobody has been more positive about the possibility than former Gator football star and Athletic Director Bill Carr who, like me is convinced it can work.

There is now a movement to at least consider the possibility by eliminating the legislative ban on JUCO football in Florida. State Representative Bob Henriquez has a bill that would allow community colleges to start a football team if they so desire. A house committee unanimously approved the bill on Thursday.

The law would not require any of the state's 28 community colleges to begin a football program. But it would allow schools with an interest to begin looking into it and gauging what kind of support would be there. It's worth looking into.

Not Many Schools Make Sense

Many community colleges would immediately be out of the running from day one. They either don't have the space (see big cities) or their leadership isn't interested, or there's too much sports competition. For example it would probably be tough to put a JC football team in Miami, Orlando or Tampa due to space issues and direct collegiate competition. It also would be absurd to put a program in Gainesville or Tallahassee. But there are some ideal settings where you might be able to generate significant community (financial) support:

Manatee Community College in Bradenton Polk Community College in Lakeland Chipola Community College in Marianna Pensacola Junior College Gulf Coast Community College in Panama City Indian River Community College in Ft. Pierce (where I'm an alumnus!) Lake City Community College in Lake City North Florida Community College in Madison Florida Community College in Jacksonville Brevard Community College in Melbourne/Titusville Okaloosa-Walton Community College in Ft. Walton Beach

All of these schools have the opportunity to build community interest and support without fighting a major college program for money and attention.

Financing is Crucial

Estimates are a junior college football program would cost about $500,000 a year to operate. That number could change significantly depending on the level of scholarship aid offered. But if you need that amount every year, then a school could go about finding sponsors to raise that money in advance. If the local area cannot generate 100 "boosters" who will contribute $5,000 a year, then perhaps you don't need to go any further.

The last thing you need is to create a system that will depend on state dollars or siphon money away from the educational mission of the school. However, there's no reason not to give it a shot.

Don't Compete With High Schools

For JUCO football to succeed in Florida it cannot compete with local high schools for attendance and community support. Instead, it should be viewed as a partner with the area high schools in providing an opportunity for local kids to pursue that dream. And there's only one way to do that.

Play in the spring.

If you play in the spring, your local high school football teams are not hurt by your existence. If you play in the spring, you can actually play your games at the best high school stadium in the area and help generate money for that school. If you play in the spring, you will get more media attention and better attendance. If you play in the spring, you can get by with two or three full-time coaches and support them with the best local high school coaches on a part-time basis.

If you play in the spring you might be able to save a small fortune by making use of more existing facilities.

Playing in the spring may not be ideal for guys moving on to play division one football, but that's not the primary purpose of junior college football. Just like most high school kids will never play college football, most junior college players will see their competitive careers end at this level. But junior college football will provide an outlet for those who want to play a little longer and get a little more education. It has the potential to unify a community around a single team and, yes provide an opportunity for top high school talent that is not ready academically for the next level.

Ideally you'd get a dozen teams to play football in the spring of 2008. Split them into divisions (north/south) where they play everyone home and home. The division champions meet in the annual "Florida Bowl" at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for the state title. Games should be played in February and March on Thursday nights to avoid going head to head with college or high school basketball. Gotta time the schedule to make sure the title game and late-season games do not compete with the NCAA basketball tournament.

So where's ready to go. All we need is 12-hundred sugar daddies to pledge their support and Commissioner Vettel will get busy setting up a television package.

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