Ryan Felker was two days away from inking what he believes to be the best football recruiting Mesa Community College has had in his six years running the program.
He felt like everything was falling in place, winning a recruiting battle for a quarterback transfer from Pitt, along with several other out-of-state recruits.
The coaching staff had a terrific offseason, getting talented players who were excited to come to the two-year college to play at John D. Riggs Stadium and attend classes on the campus located at the corner of Dobson Road and Southern Avenue.
Then an email was sent around at noon on Monday that completely obliterated every positive thought Felker had going into Wednesday’s national signing day.
“They destroyed my football team,” Felker said. “This was two days away from national signing day. I’ve lost the ones who are already here and probably those who wanted to sign here, too. It was basically a death sentence.”
The Maricopa County Community Colleges District (MCCCD) announced via email that it decided to eliminate football after the 2018 season at MCC, Glendale Community College, Scottsdale Community College, and Phoenix College based on “ongoing financial constraints” and the recommendation by the Maricopa Priorities Athletic Task Force, which came out in May 2017.
“The president was blindsided, the athletic director was blindsided; none of us knew it was coming down,” Felker said. “When they made that statement (in 2017) they said we didn’t meet certain academic markers and they would reevaluate at the end of the 2018 season.
“We aren’t there year. They haven’t made good on their promise and I feel lied to.”
It doesn’t help that, according to Felker, no one involved in the decision-making process has an athletic background.
“What they don’t understand is that 90 percent of players wouldn’t be coming to Mesa Community College if we weren’t recruiting them,” he said. “When I’m out there at high school recruiting I don’t run into someone recruiting students for ceramics, physics or business.
“What are these kids going to do now? The kids from south Phoenix and the lower socioeconomic areas of Mesa have nowhere to go to keep them in line. They can head down the wrong path now much easier without this option. It sounds drastic, but it’s true in a lot of cases.”
Over the last five years, 149 MCC players went on to four-year schools, including 73 to Division I programs.
“We can compete nationally for recruits because they know they are going to get a chance to play at the next level,” Felker said. “We are getting the kids who aren’t developed yet, and we are preparing them for what they need to do to get there. We’ve had kids go all over this country.”
He believes another big change that will come with the decision will be the diversity of campus.
“Especially, here and Scottsdale,” Felker said. “It will completely change the diversity of the people who are walking around this campus every day. (MCCCD) doesn’t think about these kinds of things and how it affects so many things other than the budget.”
The thing that bothers him the most is what it means to the players.
There were about 50 offers to athletes looking to sign somewhere on Wednesday. He has no idea if any of them will make the chose to become a Thunderbird. He’ll find another coaching job, but the players who are already on campus from out-of-state and spent money to move to Mesa are in a tough spot and may not have enough time to find a new school.
They have another year together if they so choose, but chances are players like Pitt transfer Tom MacVittie are most likely not going to stick it out with a program that has a known end date.
“He’ll be headed to Garden State in Kansas by tomorrow,” Felker said. “Parents have spent hundreds of dollars to get their kids here and now they probably are going to pack up and leave again. They aren’t seeing the big picture; just the bottom line.”
The decision will eliminate opportunities to stay local for football players with Arizona Christian being one of the very few options for the lesser players who are not going to get looks from Northern Arizona, Arizona and Arizona State.
“This hurts because we were really doing something here for these kids,” Felker said. “It’s nice to win, but it is about the relationships and getting the players in a better situation. It’s a terrible situation; the worst day of my 20 years of coaching.”