Blue Devils will need more non-conference games with only 10 league contests
by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC
An era in Kansas City Kansas Community College basketball is coming to an end.
While remaining a member of the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference, Blue Devil basketball teams will no longer compete in what has been a 19-team Division I conference.
Starting next season, the Jayhawk will be divided into three conferences – two in Division I and one in Division II.
KCKCC will be one of four Jayhawk Conference members competing in a Division II Conference along with Johnson County, Highland and Fort Scott. In addition, they will be joined by two community colleges who are not members of the Jayhawk, Brown Mackie and Hesston.
KCKCC owns one outright women’s championship and shared two titles. The Lady Blue Devils were the first Jayhawk team to finish 18-0 in league play in 1997 after tying with Independence for first in in 1995 and 1996.
However, the Blue Devil men have never won a Jayhawk Conference championship and in fact over the last 23 seasons, only four teams have finished better than .500. Their best finish came two years ago when a Dennis Tinnon-led team lost to Coffeyville (15-3) in overtime in the next-to-last game of the season and finished in a second place tie at 14-4.
“I like it; I think it’s good for us,” said KCKCC men’s coach Jon Oler. “Johnson County has won two national championships since it went Division II. Brown Mackie has won two national tournaments. Highland finished fifth in the national tournament in its second year in DII.
The last couple of years we probably would have been ranked in the top five in Division II and probably No. 1 with a good chance to have won two years ago.”
By no means, however, does it mean a cake walk to the national tournament. “The road to the nationals is not any easier,” said Valerie Stambersky, interim athletic director and women’s head basketball coach. “Even though it has been an easier road to get to the national for DII schools in past years, we have nationally competitive schools in our district that we need to get past in order to get there.”
As members of the Jayhawk Conference, members are allowed to provide only books and tuitions regardless if they are in DI or DII. “The national rules allow fees but we do not provide fees,” said Conference Commissioner Bryce Roderick. Also, conference members are allowed only six out-of-state players as opposed to an unlimited number by independents such as Brown Mackie and Hesston.
However, that number may be increased from six to eight should two-thirds of the conference membership give approval in a vote to be taken later this spring.
Such a move, Oler believes, will make it even more difficult to compete against the traditional powers of the conference such Coffeyville, Cowley and Independence, who have won or shared men’s league titles in all but two of the seasons dating back to 1976. “Also, Division I is going to a new national tournament format of 16 district champions, four zone qualifiers and four at large qualifiers which is going to increase the pressure to make the national tournament even more.”
On the other hand, Oler said, increasing out-of-state scholarships would increase KCKCC’s opportunities to recruit more heavily across the river in the Kansas City, Mo., area high schools. This year’s roster includes five graduates of Kansas City, Mo., high schools.
Because of the move of four members of the Jayhawk East Conference to DII, Butler County will shift to the Eastern Division with Allen County, Neosho County, Labette, Independence, Cowley and Coffeyville. The Western Division will be made up of Barton County, Hutchinson, Seward, Pratt, Garden City, Colby, Dodge City and Cloud County.
That will be the makeup of the Division I members through the 2013-2014 season. However, it is expected that some of the “also-rans” such as Allen County, Neosho County and Labette will take a long look at moving to Division II in 2014-2015.
The most pressing problem for KCKCC next season will be scheduling. Instead of 18 Jayhawk games this season, the Blue Devils will have only 10 conference games in 2013-2014, leaving 20 non-conference dates to be filled.
"Scheduling of 20 non-conference games instead of the 12 in the 14 years I’ve been here is going to be more difficult,” Stambersky said. “Because of the new tournament rules for DI, a lot of DI schools will choose not to play us in order to have a better chance go getting to the national tournament.”
In the past, KCKCC has been able to book junior varsity teams from area four-year colleges but few of those schools now have JV teams which means more out-of-state teams may fill the Blue Devil schedules. This year’s schedules included two Nebraska opponents, Central and Southeast, and Wentworth Military Academy in Missouri. The Lady Blue Devils also played Southwestern Iowa.
"There’s also a large contingent of Division II schools in Iowa such as Des Moines Area, North Iowa, Iowa Central, Ellsworth and Southwestern,” Oler said. Other possibilities include Penn Valley, Moberly and State Fair in Missouri; North Ark, a regular competitor in the annual season-opening Lindsay Classic; and current Jayhawk rivals such as Allen County, Neosho County and Labette which likewise will be needing to add more non-conference games.