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Northeast eliminates rodeo; basketball programs to move to DII

Northeast eliminates rodeo; basketball programs to move to DII

NORFOLK, Neb – Northeast Community College will discontinue its fledgling men’s and women’s rodeo program effective immediately. The move comes at a time of challenging budget planning, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leah Barrett, Northeast president, said removing rodeo from the college’s athletic lineup was a difficult decision to make.

“The investment necessary to create a quality experience for our rodeo student-athletes is not justifiable in the context of college priorities at this time,” she said. “We certainly are saddened to have to make such a move, but we must be cognizant of our resources. It has been made with the best interests of the college in mind.”

Waivers currently signed by rodeo student-athletes for 2020-21 will be honored based on their Letter of Intent and participants from the 2019-2020 rodeo season, as well as any individual currently signed to a Letter of Intent, will be granted a Letter of Release so they may continue their collegiate rodeo career elsewhere. 

Kurt Kohler, dean of student life and athletics, described Coach Fenton Nelsen as an incredible addition to Northeast athletics.

“Fenton has shown compassion for those he works with and is an outstanding teacher. He will be missed in our athletic department, and I know he has a bright future ahead of him in coaching rodeo in another program.”

Nelsen does have the opportunity to remain employed by Northeast in another capacity in the upcoming academic year.

In another budget cutting move, Northeast Community College will be shifting its men’s and women’s basketball programs from Division I to Division II over the next 18 months. Both programs, however, will continue to compete in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) at the Division I level during the 2020-21 season.

Room and board scholarships already signed by basketball student-athletes for the 2020-21 academic year will be honored based on their Letter of Intent, although no additional room and board scholarships will be awarded for the upcoming academic year. This will be the last season that room and board scholarships will be granted to Northeast’s men’s and women’s basketball student-athletes.

Barrett said, “The costs to maintain the basketball scholarship commitment and the travel expenses are not sustainable.”

Northeast will also petition the NJCAA for permission to move both basketball programs to Division II beginning with the 2021-22 season with a new declaration for NJCAA competition at that level for a four-year cycle in the 2022-23, 2023-24, 2024-25, and 2025-26 seasons. The move to Division II for basketball will mean that all Northeast athletic programs will participate at that level of competition.

Other NJCAA Division I basketball programs have petitioned to move to Division II over the past several months. This includes the recent announcement by Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs. It comes at a time when many colleges and universities across the country are eliminating some of their athletic programs or making other adjustments.

Northeast also cut its dance team program earlier this spring. The move of all of the athletic cuts and adjustments will save the college at least $250,000 annually. 

“Today is a difficult day for Hawks Athletics, and one that was not anticipated when the establishment of Northeast men’s and women’s rodeo program was announced in 2018 as our newest additions to the athletic department,” Kohler said. “The decisions to eliminate rodeo and begin having the basketball programs compete at the NJCAA Division II level, as well as cutting the dance program in March, were not arrived at easily, but are critical in sustaining competitive athletic programs while maintaining fiscal responsibility at Northeast. Hawks Athletics has shown grit and resilience through tough times before, and we will continue to do that through these unprecedented days of financial uncertainty.”

In addition to men’s and women’s basketball, other athletic programs at Northeast Community College are baseball, softball, men’s golf, women’s volleyball, and men’s and women’s soccer.