Hibbing CC football program faces suspension

HIBBING, Minn. (AP) -- The provost of Hibbing Community College said Thursday he'll decide in about a week whether to suspend the school's football program because of the players' poor academic performance.

HIBBING, Minn. (AP) -- The provost of Hibbing Community College said Thursday he'll decide in about a week whether to suspend the school's football program because of the players' poor academic performance.

The players' combined grade-point average over the past five years is 1.8 on a 4-point scale, said Ken Simberg, provost of the Iron Range school. Athletes in other sports at the two-year college have a combined 2.6 GPA, he said.

And among the 63 football players who started the season, only 13 ended the semester with a GPA higher than 2.0 -- a C average or better.

While the provost maintains the issue is academics, some have suggested that race is a factor. About 80 percent of this school year's players are black, and almost all of the players are from out of state.

Some 60 to 100 people turned out for a forum on the future of the team Thursday afternoon, including football players who politely asked the administration to give the program another chance.


Simberg said that if he suspends the program, staff members, faculty and administrators would then consider strategies that could revive the 84-year-old program, perhaps after a year.

``One thing I know is that this will affect people's lives,' Simberg said. ``I lose sleep over it. But we are an academic institution.'

Some players, faculty and community members said at the forum that suspending the program would harm diversity efforts and take away an important second chance for some of the players.

``A lot of people came from all across the United States to play football here,' said Branden Bailey, a football freshman from Atlanta. ``A lot of us don't do good at academics, but sometimes people need a second chance. Where I come from, either you sell drugs or you do something athletic-wise. Please don't take it (football) away, because I don't want to go home and sell drugs.'

``If you take Hibbing away from me, I don't know what I'll do,' said Kendrick Johnson, a freshman from Miami. ``This is a last resort for a lot of young men.'

Football coach Kurt Zuidmulder defended his program, saying players and coaches weren't warned that academic shortcomings were putting the program in jeopardy.

``In my heart, this is more of a diversity issue, not an academic issue' he said.

The football team accounts of a majority of the nonwhite students on the 1,200-student campus.


But Simberg insisted the issue is education, not race. He said school officials are concerned that student-athletes enroll simply to play football and then leave with loans to pay off and no marketable skills.

``I believe it is a mistake to continue to attract students with the carrot of football ... when so many are unsuccessful academically,' Simberg said.

The football team finished the season with 48 players -- 45 freshman and three sophomores. About eight of the original 63 were removed for disciplinary reasons and another five or six left after black student-athletes were accused of rape, Zuidmulder said.

Four current and former players were charged in that case, which involved the alleged sexual assault of an 18-year-old high school student in a dormitory. Their cases are still pending.

This past fall's roster included only three players from Minnesota, Simberg said. Over the past five years, 76 percent of football players came to Hibbing from other states, he said. Twenty-two were from Florida and 12 were from Ohio.

During the same period, 32 percent of the men's basketball players and 13 percent of women's basketball players came from other states.

Simberg said his plan to suspend the program had nothing to do with the alleged rape, though Joe Sertich, president of the Northeast Higher Education District, acknowledged at the forum that the charges against the players has made the out-of-state recruitment issue ``much more controversial.'

Until the 1970s, Hibbing Community College's players came mostly from the Iron Range. But declining high school enrollments led community colleges in the region to look outside Minnesota. In southern states, they found players who did poorly in high school and were eager to go to any college that would let them play football.


Aaron Brown, a speech and communications instructor, said he agrees that ``the status quo in our football program cannot be tolerated.' However, he said that the college owes it to the players to set clear academic accountability standards.

Assistant coach Murray Anderson said college officials last year asked for improvement in on-field discipline and to recruit more Minnesota players. He said the Cardinals went from being the most penalized team in their conference to the least.

``And we tried to recruit more Minnesota kids,' he said. ``We were given expectations and we did the best we could.'

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