Why Community College Sports Programs Are Essential to An Athlete's Success
By Kayla Jones
If someone were to ask you to name some of the top college athletic programs in the US, what would be the first schools that you would name? For most people, they would likely name some of their favorite Division 1 schools that are well-known for their athletic programs such as University of Alabama, Gonzaga University, Duke University, and many others. It is rare for a person to mention community college athletic programs because there is not enough public knowledge or media attention around them. In reality, they are responsible for providing student-athletes that may not get as much recognition in high school the opportunity to get noticed by Division 1 recruiters. Proof of these results comes from athletes such as Tyreek Hill (Miami Dolphins), Jessica McDonald (Racing Louisville FC), Andy Pettitte (retired New York Yankees), Jimmy Butler (Miami Heat), and many more. These programs have given student-athletes an opportunity to hone in on their skills or even improve their academic performance to later move up to a Division 1, where they are one step closer to becoming a professional athlete.
Community colleges started to take notice of the lack of respect for their athletic programs in 1938, when 13 two-year colleges wanted to participate in the NCAA Track and Field Championships in Fresno, California. The 13 institutions were rejected by the NCAA, therefore resulting in the creation of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), an organization responsible for governing all community college, also known as junior college (JUCO), athletic programs. According to a research study done by the NCAA in 2019 , the competition for athletes looking to transfer is high, with about 14.5% of men’s basketball athletes transferred from a two-year college to a four-year college, 21.8% for men’s baseball, 8.6% for women’s basketball, and 5.7% for women’s softball. The struggles many athletes may go through attempting to transfer was brought to the public eye by Netflix through their “Last Chance U” series for both community college football and basketball programs. The series shines a light on the realities the athletes face as they put the work in to get noticed and hopefully fulfill their dreams of becoming a professional player.
Coaching staff at community colleges also know that most athletes participating in their sports program are there to develop their athletic prowess and showcase their work ethic. The athletes come in prepared to hone-in on their skills and grow, which is something recruiters from Division 1 schools are looking for in potential transfers. Knowing they can handle the student-athlete lifestyle because they are already in college, versus an athlete freshly out of high school with no college experience, is a major benefit considering how substantial the transition from high school to college can be.
While it’s important for athletes to further develop their skills on the field and garner the attention of recruiters, they also have the opportunity to improve their academic abilities. Since community colleges tend to be smaller in student body size, it allows student-athletes to be in smaller classes where they have the ability to ask questions that they may not feel comfortable asking, or have the opportunity to, in the larger lecture classes of 4-year institutions. This more personalized setting is conducive to student-athletes who have struggled with academics in the past and are looking for ways to strengthen these areas. Community colleges also tend to be less expensive, as they don’t typically offer amenities like on-campus housing, meal plans, etc., and provide more scholarship opportunities than 4-year institutions, making them the better option for athletes that may not have the money to pay for a 4-year college where no scholarships are offered to them.
Gateway Community College of New Haven, Connecticut is just one of the many schools in the U.S. that participates in NCJAA (Region XXI). They offer a men’s and women’s basketball team, where the men’s basketball team has made nine appearances in NCJAA Region XXI Tournament. They have had many athletes transfer from their institution to 4-year institutions such as Southern Connecticut State University, University of New Haven, Albertus Magnus College, and many others nation-wide. Some of their athletes have been named All-American and all New England, with some even in the National Junior College Hall of Fame.
The NJCAA Foundation forms their purpose around helping student-athletes follow their dreams in every way possible. They provide funding for scholarships, educate people on the NJCAA to bring awareness to 2-year college athletic programs, and provide students with the necessary tools they need to not only be successful in their sport of choice, but also in the workforce if they decide that is their path.
After high school, many student-athletes don’t have the opportunity to go play at Division 1 schools right after graduation. Community college athletic programs have become a large part of helping athletes reach their goal and continue to be a large part of a student-athletes’ journey. The coaches, administration, and community surrounding these athletes will do whatever it takes to make sure these athletes grow to their full potential and later fulfill their dream of becoming a professional athlete.