With the National Football League and National Collegiate Athletics Association football seasons just beginning, fall is being ushered in with blitzes, drives and field goals. So why is there no football program at Bellevue College? The answer has three parts: cost, scheduling difficulties and issues of gender egalitarianism.
Bill O’Connor, Director of the BC Athletic Department, spoke about the costs of running a football program: “We cannot get any state money for our programs. All the money we get is from the Associated Student Government, and we are very grateful for that money.” That budget as of now is $165,000 and is divided between the 10 athletic programs currently maintained. “Just to start a program, I’d say you’d need about $500,000. That’s with uniforms, equipment rentals and travel. On top of that, you’d probably need $250,000 annually to maintain the program, so that’s $750,000 for the first year alone,” added O’Connor. These costs also factor in athletic injury insurance premiums, which are currently $1,100 per student athlete.
Scheduling difficulties arise from the complete absence of any official community college football program in either Washington or Oregon. From 1987 to 1990, there were only four colleges in the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges (a group of 29 colleges in both states) that had football programs: Walla Walla, Wenatchee Valley, Spokane and Yakima Valley. In fact, BC has never had a football program. “I think that the mentality was at that time that those schools would serve as recruiting spots for the major universities around here,” said O’Connor, “but that wasn’t the reality.”
After 1990, only Walla Walla was left. According to a Dec. 12, 1997 article of The Columbian newspaper, Walla Walla “had been operating as a football independent…competing against two-year schools from Idaho, Utah and California and four-year junior varsity teams. In December of 1997, Walla Walla closed its program following a 3-1 vote by its board of trustees.” One of the reasons cited for the decision mentioned in the same article was “significant problems with federal Title IX regulations, specifically in regard to numbers of students by gender participating in intercollegiate athletic programs and the financial resources committed to sports by gender.”
Title IX comes from a group of laws called the “Education Amendments of 1972,” passed by congress and signed into law by President Richard Nixon. Section (a) of Title IX states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance…” (Source: dol.gov) An anonymous athletic department employee explained how this law had an effect on Walla Walla’s decision: “Because of limited funding for community college athletics, there was not enough money to start up new women’s sports teams to balance the high number of males who were on a large football roster. Therefore, the only other way to have proportionate numbers gender-wise was to cut out the sport that not only had the most male numbers, but also the one that was costing the athletic departments the most amount of money as well.”
In 2009, Kory Hill, former President of both the Auburn Junior Football and Auburn Riverside Gridiron Clubs, founded the Northwest Community College Football League. The league represents four colleges: Green River, Tacoma Community College, South Sound Community College and Yakima Valley. The teams at these schools are actually non-profit clubs, much like any club at BC. This was the only way they could be established. By contrast, California boasts 82 official community college teams divided amongst six divisions and 12 conferences.
One anonymous athletic department employee commented: “While it was a general consensus in the Northwest that there was no room for community college football, it does exist, and is very strong in California. Even though their budgets are worse off than the northwest, I am not sure how they are able to survive by keeping football.”
O’Connor remains dubious about the establishment of an official team at BC: “Occasionally I’ll get a call from a student asking me, ‘Why can’t we start football at BC?’ All the factors make it difficult to see it being feasible in the future. Cost is a factor, Title IX is a factor and of course there is the fact that our closest competitors would be in California.”
In the meantime, students wanting more information should inquire at http://bellevuecollege.edu/athletics/.