Contributed Photo/Courtesy PCC: EAC and Pima Community College will meet on the gridiron for the last time this year as PCC intends to follow the Maricopa schools’ lead and eliminate its football program starting in 2019.
Will EAC be next to drop football?
By Jon Johnson
TUCSON – The list of potential opponents for the Eastern Arizona College (EAC) Gila Monsters in 2019 just got reduced by another one and now EAC’s football program may be in jeopardy as well.
According to a report in the Arizona Daily Star, Pima Community College (PCC) will follow the Maricopa County Community College District’s (MCCCD) lead and will eliminate its football program after next season.
In February, MCCCD announced it would cut football from its four schools – Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale, and Glendale community colleges – after the 2018 season. Those four schools, along with EAC, Western College, and PCC in Arizona and Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, currently make up the Western States Football Conference (WSFC). With five of the eight schools cutting their programs, the remaining teams will be faced with traveling to multiple out-of-state games – most likely in Texas or Colorado, since California teams don’t play out-of-state for games and Snow is the only junior college team in Utah. New Mexico also only has one junior college team.
The report stated PCC’s athletic director, Edgar Soto, recommended cutting the program to the Pima Community College District Governing Board in a move to cut more than $500,000 from his budget. Cutting football will achieve that goal in one swoop.
Former University of Arizona football coach Dick Tomey previously gave his support for continuing football at PCC, which has drawn a lot of Division I scouts to the area looking for players.
EAC head football coach John O’Mera previously said moving forward in 2019 will be tough after learning of the Maricopa schools decision to drop football. Although, he said it could also open up new recruiting doors for EAC since EAC will be only one of two community colleges in Arizona with a football program – should it continue.
“You hate to see anything go away for that to help out, but now they’ll definitely need an opportunity, so it could open up a great angle for us to get players,” O’Mera said in February.
He added that no matter what happens moving forward, losing the teams is a tragedy for a group of young men who possibly will not have the same opportunity to receive an education they would have had. Not only does the WSFC regularly produce 10 to 15 players who move onto Division I schools every year, but it has many other athletes who move on to play at smaller, four-year schools and ultimately receive degrees.
“A lot of those kids wouldn’t have gone to school without that opportunity,” O’Mera previously said. “They get in and they find something that they’re interested in and they make a career out of it . . . We’re definitely a chain that helps kids go all over the United States to get their education paid. It’s definitely going to affect a lot of kids.”
After Wednesday’s decision by PCC, the available slots were reduced again and the domino effect may continue.
EAC President Todd Haynie said the college is still in the early stages of reviewing the information regarding what a 2019 EAC football season may look like.
“We are currently in the process of gathering information to make the best decision for EAC’s athletic programs,” Haynie said. “At this point, no decision has been made, but we are looking at all of our options.”
On Thursday, EAC released a statement advising that while it “will continue to move forward with its 2018 football season” it will conduct “a careful review” regarding moving forward.
“Football has been a valuable component of EAC’s educational experience for many years,” said EAC athletic director, Jim Bagnall in the release. “There are only three teams left in the Western States Football League and we must determine if a schedule is viable, if we can operate within budget, and if it is possible to maintain a balance of costs and benefits. As stewards of public funds, EAC is responsible for the financial resources it has been entrusted with and will seek answers to these questions and more prior to determining the future of football past the 2018 season.”
This article was updated Thursday night to reflect the news release from EAC and comment from athletic director Jim Bagnall.