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NJCAA punts football to spring; Mississippi’s path unclear

The National Junior College Athletic Association has punted its football season to the spring. It’s still unclear, however, whether Mississippi will play along.

The national governing body for junior college sports announced Monday that it will move its football season from the fall to the spring, with a starting date of March 25.

The NJCAA’s decision came following a vote by its Board of Regents, as well as a recent spike in COVID-19 cases nationwide. It also affects several other fall and winter sports that straddle the fall and spring semesters.

“Our greatest focus is and always has been providing the best opportunities for our student-athletes,” Dr. Christopher Parker, NJCAA President and CEO, said in a statement. “Through a unified effort from our Presidential Advisory Council, the Board of Regents, and leadership staff, our most recent plan of action provides a path that keeps our student-athletes competing at the highest level with proper safety measures in place.”

The Mississippi Association of Community Colleges released a statement Monday saying that its representative abstained on the final vote by the NJCAA.

“While we are very concerned about the health and safety of our student-athletes, personnel and fans, we believe they are best served by waiting for other conferences and organizations to make a final decision regarding fall sports,” the MACC’s statement read.

It was not clear whether that indicated Mississippi’s 14 junior colleges would — or even could — break from the NJCAA and play football this fall. If that happens, those schools would not be eligible to play for a national championship.

Nearly one fourth of the NJCAA’s 54 football teams play in Mississippi.

The Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges had announced in June that it would delay the start of its football season until Sept. 10 and cut the league schedule from nine games to eight.

A call to the MACC for clarification on its statement was not immediately returned on Tuesday.

Hinds Community College athletic director Gene Murphy declined to comment until the state’s junior college presidents make an official decision, but did say, “They are considering what their options are.”

The NJCAA’s decision came after several college conferences canceled their fall sports seasons, and major ones such as the Big Ten and Pac-12 announced they will only play conference football games this fall.

Under the NJCAA’s plan for spring football, teams would still be allowed to practice for 60 consecutive calendar days from Aug. 15 to Nov. 15. They would also be allowed to play up to three scrimmage games against other teams this fall.

Preseason practice would then begin on March 1, 2021, with the first playing date on March 25. Teams would be allowed to play as many as eight games, with the last playing date on May 22. The national championship game would be on June 3.

One of the major issues for Mississippi’s juco football coaches would be having enough players to field a full team in the spring.

Signing day for junior college players is in December, and many of them graduate then and head to their four-year schools for the spring semester. New recruits would not arrive until the following summer, meaning many teams could be at half strength with mostly freshmen on the roster.

“I don’t know how we’ll be able to do it. We won’t have the same kind of numbers,” Copiah-Lincoln Community College head coach Glenn Davis told Jackson’s WJTV-TV on Monday. “We’re probably going to have 25 kids graduate in December. We’ve had years where we might not have had but one or two offensive linemen come back in January. So your numbers are going to be down for everybody.”

All winter sports competition will begin in January, with a majority of championship seasons moved from March to April. These sports include men’s and women’s basketball, wrestling, and swimming and diving.

Men’s and women’s bowling and men’s and women’s indoor track and field will be held at the beginning of March.

Just like football, basketball would be allowed to practice during the fall semester and play as many as five scrimmage games against other teams.

Preseason practice for basketball would begin on Jan. 11, and games on Jan. 22. Teams can play a maximum of 22 regular-season games, and the NJCAA national tournament would begin on April 19.

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured sports reporters in the paper's 137-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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