School's uncertain future creates challenges for CCSF athletic programs 

click to enlarge George Rush
  • mike koozmin/2012 S.F. examiner file photo
  • If CCSF is unable to meet its accreditation requirements, the upcoming season would be the last for the Rams’ powerhouse football team, led by iconic coach George Rush, above right, and all the other sports programs.

Alex Bell fell in love with City College of San Francisco upon first sight.

The incoming freshman quarterback from Delray Beach, Fla., was searching online for junior colleges with strong athletic and academic reputations and the school quickly caught his eye.

"I was looking up the top junior colleges in the nation and it just popped up — I fell in love with it," Bell said.

But Bell and countless other freshmen athletes could be looking for new homes later this school year if CCSF is forced to close its doors because of ongoing accreditation issues. The school's accreditation was revoked last month and it has less than a year to prove to the regional Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges that it's worthy of staying open.

"It's definitely scary," freshman Brianna Caba said. "I came to City [College] to play volleyball. If it closes, I don't know what I'll do."

In addition to being one of the largest, most academically and culturally diverse junior colleges in the country, CCSF boasts an athletic tradition and history that is almost unmatched.

Over the years, the Rams have won 18 California Community College Athletic Association championships, the football team has won more state titles (seven) than any other program and more than 90 percent of the department's athletes transfer to four-year schools after graduation, department chair Dan Hayes said. According to football coach George Rush, the football team alone transfers an average of 15 players to Division I universities each year.

While the school attracts students, like Bell, from as far away as Florida, it also gives local high school athletes, like Caba, an opportunity to continue playing their sport after graduation.

Caba, a Lincoln High graduate, chose CCSF because she wanted to extend her volleyball career and the school is nearby and affordable.

"If the school closes, I don't know if I'll be able to play volleyball anymore," Caba said. "I can take the bus here really easily. I wouldn't want to spend the gas money to get to Skyline [College] or somewhere else."

Women's athletic director Jamie Hayes said the department also gives San Francisco Section-Academic Athletic Association athletes a chance to earn scholarships to four-year universities that they couldn't afford to attend otherwise.

"A lot of these athletes have the opportunity to go to colleges that they definitely would not been able to go to right out of high school," she said.

But with the school's future in question, coaches are confronting "negative recruiting" tactics as they compete to attract top talent.

"It does hurt, there's no getting around that," men's athletic director Harold Brown said. "We just try to do the best we can and tell kids what we think and believe."

Despite the challenges, coach Rush said his incoming freshman class is one of his "best in years."

"I just tell them the truth," Rush said. "I have a lot of confidence in our faculty, our staff and our senior administration, that they will do the things we need to do get this thing done."

Men's basketball coach Justin Labagh, who led the Rams to an undefeated regular season in 2012-13, said he didn't lose a single recruit this year, despite the dark cloud hanging over the program. In fact, he said he turned hundreds of players away.

"It hasn't been as challenging as I thought," he said. "The majority of the kids we're recruiting are area kids and they know about City College. They just don't think it's going to happen."

Labagh said the uncertainly would be a bigger problem if his student-athletes were committing themselves for more than one or two years.

"It's such a short time," he said. "It's a quick-little step for these guys."

And nobody knows exactly what will happen to the school if it loses its appeal to the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

Will the commission actually shut the college's doors, turning away 85,000 students? Or will the school go into receivership, which could save the athletic department?

"I really believe if they wanted to close us down they would have done it already," Labagh said. "We just have to make some adjustments."

Bell, who was pursued by junior colleges in numerous states, said he went ahead and enrolled at CCSF because he believed the school still offers the best path to success.

"Coach [George] Rush is the greatest coach in junior college football and the school is one of the top JC's in the nation," he said. "It just outweighed the risk."

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Paul Gackle

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