Buddy Stevens

East Mississippi Community College football coach Buddy Stephens called the decision to not play this fall “heartbreaking.”

With national powerhouse East Mississippi Community College deciding not to play football this fall, most state rival teams appear prepared to move forward with practice next week.

Itawamba Community College, Northeast Mississippi and Northwest Mississippi all still have plans to play this fall.

EMCC, the winner of five national championships since 2011, announced on Tuesday that it will not be participating in the state’s shortened football season, which is slated to begin Oct. 1.

The statement from East Mississippi cited “safety challenges created by the novel coronavirus pandemic.”

While players at the school will remain under scholarship, they would also have the ability to transfer elsewhere for a chance to play this fall.

That could be a boon to the teams in the state which intend to play.

“While we hated to learn this afternoon that East Mississippi has suspended its football season this fall, I was glad to hear that its institution is releasing its players in the event they would like to transfer,” ICC president Dr. Jay Allen said in a statement. “I’m sure our coaches are working to determine if we have a place for any players who would like to take advantage of this opportunity to play at ICC this fall.”

A Northeast Mississippi spokesman told the Daily Journal “our preparations for the 2020 football season continue as scheduled, with the health and safety of our student-athletes our formemost priority.”

On Wednesday, a Northwest Mississippi spokesman said the team is preparing for a fall season.

Practice around the state is slated to begin on Monday.

The National Junior College Athletic Association had previously called off fall football, with plans to play an unprecedented spring season. Mississippi’s plan for a six-game regular season this fall, announced in late July, has the NJCAA’s blessing.

East Mississippi, however, has opted to sit this one out.

“The well-being of my players will always come first,” veteran EMCC coach Buddy Stephens said in a statement. “There are too many unknowns to put in front of our players moving forward at this time. We must make this incredibly heart-breaking decision to not participate in the fall 2020 season.”

East Mississippi went 6-4 last season, losing in the first round of the state playoffs after winning back-to-back national titles.

State juco athletics commissioner Steve Martin voiced his support in a statement. “Player safety is of the utmost concern,” he said. “We understand the decision made by East Mississippi.”

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