Central Arizona College vs. Tohono O'odham College

Central Arizona College's JC Canahuate attempts to shoot over Tohono O'odham Community College's Jeremiah Moldonado on Saturday at Central Arizona College.

When the Maricopa County Community College District announced Thursday it was moving all fall sports to the spring, it briefly felt like a win.

Since the presidents of the 10 MCCCD schools had already announced intentions to possibly eliminate all sports during the 2020-21 academic year, it was at least a sign that sports were still alive at those schools.

For now, that is.

“We recognize the challenge to offer athletic programs in a manner that meets safety guidelines,” Dr. Steven R. Gonzales, MCCCD interim chancellor, said in a statement. “This decision was not made lightly, the well-being and safety of our community remain our number one driving force as we adjust to the affects of COVID-19. We will follow the recommendations from our College Presidents, Vice Presidents of Student Affairs, Athletic Directors, and NJCAA as we plan for Spring Athletic programs.”

There is worry among many involved in high school and junior college sports across the state that when MCCCD presidents talked about suspending academics for the upcoming academic year due to COVID-19, there was an ulterior motive at play.

That motive is to permanently eliminate all sports at those 10 Maricopa County junior colleges in an effort to save money.

And of course, any decision made at the Maricopa County level affects the other Arizona schools in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference. Those schools include Central Arizona College, Yavapai College, Cochise College, Pima Community College, Arizona Western College and Eastern Arizona College.

Last week, MCCCD held two virtual community forums to solicit feedback from students, coaches, stakeholders and the general public. I want to believe the concerns of those who understand the importance of junior college athletics were heard loud and clear.

But there’s also this fact: MCCCD hasn’t officially made a decision to have sports yet. In October, the district will start to evaluate the viability of a plan to hold all fall sports in the spring. MCCCD has given itself a deadline of Nov. 25 to make a final determination on whether those sports will occur in the spring or not at all.

So while I felt a bit of optimism toward the district’s announcement that came Thursday, not everyone is convinced that decision is a sign of good things to come.

I spoke to CAC athletic director Chuck Schnoor on Friday, and the announcement hadn’t made an impact on his thinking.

“I’m not surprised,” he said of MCCCD announcing it was moving all fall sports to the spring. He added Maricopa County was going to make its own decisions, and there is nothing he can do about it.

“We have to move forward with what [CAC] is going to do,” he said.

For Schnoor, the mere fact that the possibility of eliminating all sports has been discussed is a concern.

“I never think it’s good to ever even bring it to the table,” he said.

The thought of eliminating junior college sports at those schools, and the many benefits they provide to students, makes Schnoor cringe.

He acknowledged the pandemic has created many challenges, and it’s a very difficult time to be making decisions, even for leaders accustomed to making big decisions.

And while Maricopa County schools will continue to discuss the issues in October, Schnoor is focused on what he and the other junior colleges in his conference can do to be prepared for the spring.

If the COVID-19 spread gets any worse than it already is, Schnoor said there won’t be any sports, noting the need to move forward in a “safe way.”

CAC is doing its part, he said, by not having any students on campus this fall. There won’t be any team practices or other athletic activities until it’s safer to do so.

“We’re not going to do anything that puts people in jeopardy,” he said, admitting that the current situation with the pandemic is concerning. “I’m hopeful that we can get going (with resuming sports), but I’m not optimistic.”

While MCCCD takes a breather before getting decision makers back in a room to discuss spring sports, Schnoor and the athletic directors at the other ACCAC schools will keep working on their own plans to make spring sports happen.

“We’ll just keep grinding,” Schnoor said.

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

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