Hibbing Community College May Sack Football

Larry Oakes, Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul), Jan. 18, 2007

Hibbing Community College Provost Ken Simberg says the writing is on the wall, complete with embarrassing misspellings and bad grammar.

Frustrated with the perennially dismal academic performance of the college’s football players, Simberg this week announced his recommendation to drop the football program effective next school year.

The proposal has caused a stir in the college and across the Iron Range, where aggressive community college recruiting practices and wide-open entrance standards have helped enrollments, team records and racial diversity, but have also led to complaints of increased crime, racial tension and fewer opportunities for local athletes.

Of the 63 players on the Hibbing football roster this past fall, only three were from Minnesota, while 22 were from Florida and 12 from Ohio. Meanwhile, all but five of the players were freshmen, highlighting another of Simberg’s concerns: players do so poorly in the classroom that most leave early, saddled with student loans, and the recruiting cycle begins anew.

Despite lots of remedial help, the team’s grade-point average for the past five years is a lowly 1.8, he said, while the college’s other athletes have stayed above 2.0.

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“I beg you, please don’t take this away from us,” said Branden Bailey, a 270-pound freshman recruit from College Park, Ga. “Where I come from, either you sell drugs, or you do something academic-wise or athletics-wise to stay out of trouble. We might go home and do worse.”

Others, noting that the football team’s approximately 60-member roster typically includes most of the college’s nonwhite students, lamented that cutting the team would deep-six diversity on the 1,200-student campus.

Recent rape alleged

Simberg said that the college’s football program has been around since 1923, and as late as the 1970s players came mostly from the Iron Range.

But then declining high school enrollments led community colleges in the region to recruit from outside Minnesota. In southern states they found players who did poorly in high school and couldn’t get into the colleges of their choice, and were eager to go to any school that would let them play football.

But the heavy recruiting has drawn fire, in part from those who see a pattern in a string of incidents and crimes involving recruits during the past 15 years. The incidents included the alleged rape last fall of an 18-year-old high school senior in a dorm room by four current and former Hibbing Community College football players, who were charged and await trial.

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