Meridian Community College has resigned its membership in the Mississippi Association of Community & Junior Colleges Athletic Conference (MACJC), effective with the culmination of any playoffs for which the Eagles might qualify in the 2007-08 school year. Thereafter, MCC will return to competing as an independent beginning with the Fall 2008 semester, according to Dr. Scott Elliott, MCC president.
Elliott submitted MCC’s resignation letter to the MACJC on Sept. 21. The 10th-year MCC president explained that Meridian’s Board of Trustees recently made the decision in response to the MACJC’s newly adopted recruiting guidelines for MCC, which Elliott opined would negatively impact the Eagles’ ability to field consistently competitive teams.
“This is not something we’re happy about,” Elliott said. “It’s just something that we felt compelled to do. Philosophically, I still feel that Meridian should participate in the state organization for community colleges in all respects, athletics included.”
“Having said that,” Elliott continued, “every college also owes it to its constituents to try to conduct quality programs, whether it’s biology or baseball. MCC’s trustees and I simply concluded that, from our perspective, the newly adopted MACJC guidelines for MCC would diminish our ability to consistently deliver quality athletic programs. Therefore, we felt compelled to go in another direction.”
MCC rejoined the MACJC in 2002 after several years as a member of what was then known as the Miss-Lou Conference. During its second stint in the MACJC (2002 to date), the Eagles won 14 state championships, including two in baseball and two in women’s softball and several others in golf and men’s and women’s tennis.
The root issue with MCC where athletic recruiting is concerned, Elliott said, is that Meridian is unique among the state’s community colleges, in that it has only a one-county district shared with another community college (East Mississippi C.C.). Other Mississippi community colleges have as many as 11 counties comprising their recruiting district. For all practical purposes, MCC does not have a viable recruiting district for student-athletes. So, in 2002, the MACJC worked out certain dispensations to try to level the playing field for Meridian.
Recently, a committee of community college presidents was convened by the MACJC to evaluate the 2002 Meridian recruiting guidelines. That committee recommended a new recruiting format for Meridian,
which was adopted by the MACJC presidents during their monthly meeting in August.
Elliott emphasized that MCC “does not bear any ill will toward our sister institutions (the other 14 public community colleges comprising the MACJC)” in resigning its membership.
“I have great respect for my fellow presidents,” Elliott said. “They are all honorable people. It’s just that most of them respectfully disagree with me as to the impact these new guidelines will have on Meridian’s ability to recruit competitively. In approving the new guidelines, I’m sure they voted for what they felt was in the best interest of their colleges and the league. Conversely, in resigning from the conference, I feel we are acting in the best interest of Meridian Community College.”
Elliott noted that he hopes MACJC schools – especially those in the East Mississippi region – will consent to continue playing Meridian in non-conference competitions in the future.
“Playing our traditional rivals in the region has been fun these past five years, and it has also proven a cost-effective measure,” Elliott said. “We’ve had some big crowds at our games, so I hope that can continue. However, in the past when MCC functioned as an independent in athletics, few MACJC schools agreed to play us. That will be up to officials at the other colleges. I can’t speak for them. All I can say is that MCC would like to continue those competitions, but there will be no hard feelings if my colleagues feel differently.”
As to the specifics of the new MACJC recruiting guidelines for Meridian, Elliott said that they are too complex to attempt to detail in a press release or sound bite.
“Suffice it to say,” he reiterated, “we felt that the original guidelines established in 2002 afforded MCC a reasonable opportunity to compete for state and regional championships. We were never guaranteed success, but we were afforded what we felt was an equitable opportunity to be successful. We knew when we rejoined the league that it was doubtful that MCC could continue to compete year-in and year-out on a national level, but the trade-off, both philosophically and financially, in rejoining the state conference was worth it to us. Now, we feel that the pendulum has swung a bit too far in the opposite direction, so this is the best choice we feel we can make at this time.”
“Of course, there are always two sides to every story,” Elliott summed. “I have simply offered Meridian’s perspective. My fellow presidents obviously have their own. Again, there are no hard feelings, and if the MACJC ever determines to open up the state for recruiting such that all student-athletes would have the opportunity to sign with any college of their choice, then I would personally love for MCC to re-affiliate with the league. As to whether that opportunity will arise in the future, I couldn’t predict.”