Coaches, players and staff for the East Mississippi Community College football team pose with the NJCAA National Championship trophy following the Lions’ win over Garden City Community College Nov. 29, 2018 in Pittsburg, Kansas.

The Mississippi Association of Community Colleges is considering an appeal after the NJCAA voted Monday to move the majority of its fall sports to the spring due to COVID-19, according to Meridian Community College President Thomas Huebner.

The MACC, which governs MCC, as well as East Central and East Mississippi community colleges, has until July 27 to file an official appeal, asking NJCAA President Christopher Parker to allow the conference to commence with fall athletics under its own parameters. If the appeal is granted, however, teams will become ineligible for postseason competition, including Region 23 tournaments and national championships. 

The NJCAA released guidelines last month with changed competition dates in response to the pandemic before announcing it was suspending the season until the spring. The MACC, formerly the MACJC, aso voted to delay the start of the football season two weeks and for teams to play an eight-game schedule instead of nine.

“As a group in Mississippi, we’ll have to decide if the benefits of doing that outweigh the benefits of waiting,” said Huebner, who also serves on the NJCAA Presidential Advisory Committee. “We will make the decision to appeal as a group of presidents, and we will likely be making that decision only after we’ve learned what national organizations and other conferences are going to be doing at that point.” 

The desire to wait until other governing bodies make decisions is what prompted the MACC to abstain from voting on the NJCAA’s plan to move fall sports to the spring at the start of the week, according to Hueber, who supported the organization’s move of not voting. He said he wanted to wait a few weeks to see what outcomes the NCAA and its majors conferences settle on.

“I wish we weren’t first out of the gate, but I understand the need of my colleagues across the country who wanted to make a decision regarding what we were going to do and how we were going to do it in the fall,” he said. “We want to have opportunities for students to play, and we also want to have environments that keep them as safe as possible. Both organizations are on the same page with regards to that.”

MACC member school presidents will meet multiple times over the next 12 days to determine whether to file and appeal, Huebner added, while still considering what other governing bodies decide. There will also be a meeting next week among the community college athletic directors to figure out how they want to proceed, according to EMCC athletic director Sharon Thompson. 

Thompson said her biggest concerns going into that discussion will be the student-athletes who live with older parents or grandparents, who are at a higher risk of serious illness and death from the coronavirus. She also envisions schools losing student-athletes in both scenarios: if fall sports go on in the fall, players will unenroll due to COVID-19 concerns, but if fall sports take place in the spring, a number of players will graduate in December and move on to the four-year schools.

The Lions’ football program has also won five national championships over the last nine years. If the MACC appeal is granted, they will be unable to compete for another title in 2020. 

“I don’t know if there’s a right or wrong to this thing. If we play in the fall, is it right or is it wrong? If we play in the spring, is it right or is it wrong? We’re going through one of those times in this pandemic now to where it’s hard to make a call on what’s right and what’s wrong,” Thompson said. “I just want to be a team player and just do what’s best for our association, but also just make sure we’re doing the right thing for our student-athletes and everybody’s health and safety.”

East Central athletic director Paul Nixon said his department supported the MACC abstaining from the NJCAA’s vote and said it will be digesting a lot of outside arrangements.

“The presidents are looking to see how the next couple of weeks play out in terms of reports from our local and state health agencies,” he said. “And also decisions made by other athletic governing bodies.”

Sander Atkinson, MCC’s athletic director, said the organization had proper rules in place for continuing with athletics this coming season in its own capacity.

“Our association felt like we had good plans in place that would’ve allowed fall competition,” he said. “But we didn’t want to stand in the way of what the national association thought was best for the nation.”

Huebner added that he is unsure if there is a consensus at this point among the MACC presidents on whether to appeal or not. Those discussions have yet to take place. 

“We want to provide the safest possible environment for our students,” he said. “And if it looks like that’s not possible, then we will not play.”

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