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The baseball stadium at Central Arizona College is shown in March shortly before renovation was complete.

CASA GRANDE — Two years ago, coaches and administrators from Pinal County and across the state sat and watched in disgust as junior college football was eliminated in Arizona. Now a sense of deja vu is setting in, with potentially all sports on the chopping block.

The Maricopa County Community College District, which was the first domino to fall with football in 2018, has now made it known that all athletics are in the crosshairs.

The district includes 10 colleges, and the 10 presidents at those colleges have recommended to “temporarily suspend” athletics due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a district press release.

But the meaning of “temporarily” means different things to different people. It could mean the suspension of all athletics for the 2020-21 academic year. But to many people involved with sports, it appears to be a threat to cancel sports entirely and permanently.

And if that happens, it will threaten the future of athletics at all the other junior colleges in the state, such as Central Arizona College, Eastern Arizona College, Arizona Western College, Yavapai College, Cochise College and Pima Community College.

“Once you get rid of sports or pause it, it’s gonna be tough to bring it back,” said Randy Robbins, athletic director at Casa Grande Union.

Perhaps that’s the point. While the message from MCCCD is that it wants to temporarily suspend athletics to protect students from COVID-19, Robbins and others think it’s a cover, with the real reason being the district wants to eliminate all athletics moving forward in an effort to save money.

Robbins said those presidents and administrators are asking themselves if it’s worth it to continue into the future with athletics.

“In my opinion, it always is (worth it) to continue athletics and to further their education,” he said.

The main goal, Robbins added, is always about educational opportunities. And athletics provide the opportunities for thousands of athletes to ultimately receive a degree from a four-year university.

Starting Wednesday, MCCCD will hold two virtual community forums this week to collect public feedback on whether to suspend all sports or not. Wednesday’s meeting takes place from 5 to 6 p.m., and a second forum is scheduled for Thursday from 5 to 6 p.m.

To sign up and join the virtual forums, visit bit.ly/3f8j1fb.

With the way football was quickly and callously axed in 2018, Robbins said there is reason to be skeptical about how the public feedback will be treated.

“If it smells bad, it probably is bad,” he said.

Vista Grande football coach Chris Semore agreed, saying the MCCCD presidents are using the pandemic as an excuse to get rid of all sports moving forward, not just for this year, but permanently.

“I’m [of the] opinion that they’re using COVID as a scapegoat to get rid of athletics,” he said. “All in the name of saving money.”

But at what cost? Semore and Robbins say the amount of educational and athletic opportunities lost without sports will be devastating.

“It’s going to hurt so many kids in the state,” Semore said. “The whole point of a junior college is to get to a four-year school.”

Four of Semore’s graduating seniors from last year’s team went to Mesabi Range College, a junior college in Minnesota, to play football. Perhaps they never end up nearly 2,000 miles away if the junior colleges in Arizona that competed in the Western States Football League still existed.

Semore said those players should have at least had the option of pursuing the same opportunities in Arizona.

CAC athletic director Chuck Schnoor told PinalCentral on June 25 that he would do everything in his power to keep CAC and other schools in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference together if MCCCD cancels all sports.

It’s unclear what the MCCCD governing board will do with the feedback received at these forums, but many coaches across the state believe the final outcome is preordained.

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Brian Wright is the sports editor at PinalCentral. He can be reached at bwright@pinalcentral.com.

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