It has been a project in the making for several years. Talk has been going on for more than 20 years. The past 10 years or so it gradually grew louder.
The past few years — especially in the past year — frustration began to build.
That led to a two-month surge that will change the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference.
Finally, Thursday it happened.
The Jayhawk Conference is dropping several restrictions and will allow its 19 members to play under the NJCAA rules if they so choose.
“This is ground-breaking,” Barton Athletic Director Trevor Rolfs said. “In all my years in the conference as a coach, assistant athletic director and athletic director there didn’t seem to be a very positive movement for change and progress.”
Gone are roster restrictions set in place by the conference. Gone are scholarship limitations that were more stringent than the NJCAA.
Thursday, in El Dorado, the 19 schools voted unanimously to remove those limits and allow schools to follow the guidelines set by the NJCAA.
Things really began to pick up steam in August. That is when, for the third time in the span of year, the conference voted down scholarship increases.
A proposal put before the conference in the fall of 2015, again in the spring of 2016, and finally a third time just this past August had failed to garner the needed 13 votes for approval from the 19 schools.
It was a three-tiered vote.
First, remove all scholarship limitations. If that failed the second tier was to remove all limitations except for football. Finally if both failed, the third tier was to start with one sport and remove all the limitations. Basketball was the one proposed.
The closest any came to passing was a 10-8 vote – still well short.
“It became apparent it was never going to happen,” Rolfs said. “Several of the schools became frustrated with it.”
Following the August meeting talks between some schools wanting to increase the limits heated up. First it was two or three schools. Then four or five. Then it grew to eight.
Those eight schools were Barton, Cloud County, Coffeyville, Cowley, Dodge City, Garden City, Independence, and Seward County.
At that point, that gang of eight was ready to move forward. They put together a report and presented it to the presidents of the institutions.
“This was done at the presidential level,” Rolfs said. “The conference was notified in late September.”
From there it was presented to the conference in first part of October.
It was based on three guiding principles:
1. Collectively agree to amount of student athlete scholarship aid that is in keeping with NJCAA conditions.
2. Allow maximum student athlete roster participation as per NJCAA conditions.
3. Allow maximum out-of-State student athlete roster participation as per NJCAA conditions.
“We felt the roster limitations were hurting the schools financially,” Rolfs said. “For example, in football, schools were limited to 63 roster spots and the NJCAA allows 85. Baseball was limited to 39, where there are no restrictions under the NJCAA. That’s potential money lost.
“It was more than just the scholarship issue. It was a combination of scholarships, rosters, and the ability to grow financially that led to enough schools to say enough is enough.”
Rolfs stopped short of saying those eight schools gave the conference an ultimatum. But the terms were not negotiable.
“None of the eight schools wanted to see the conference break up,” Rolfs said. “We just needed the commitment of enough schools to make the changes happen.”
Starting next season the schools will no longer have to follow roster limits that restrict the number of out-of-state athletes allowed in several of the sports, as well roster number limitations.
The following year, the 2018-19 season gone, too, will be the scholarship limits of allowing only books and tuition. Schools will be able to offer full-ride scholarships at that point.
The reason for the delay in lifting the scholarship limits is because the 2018-19 season will be the new two-year cycle when schools declare whether they want to play Division I or Division II.
Schools choosing to play D-I will no longer have limits and can offer full rides. Schools choosing the D-II option will still be under the books and tuition restriction, but can also give fees as set forth by the NJCAA.
“This should have a positive affect,” Rolfs said. “We can move forward to grow some programs. No school will have full rides for every athlete in every sport. You don’t see that at any level.
“But it gives us the opportunity to get players we were accustomed to seeing for so many years that we can’t get these days.
“We lose many high caliber athletes due to scholarship restrictions. It becomes frustrating for ADs and coaches. Now we have the ability to go get those high caliber players and turn the league back to what it was years ago.”
The change will require a new bylaw to be passed by the KJCCC. That will take place at the April 2017 meeting. If it is not passed, the rule will revert to the previous scholarship limits beginning in 2020.