Grand Junction’s biggest sporting event each year, the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series, won’t be played this year.
The National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) on Monday canceled all spring competition and championships over concern for the COVID-19 virus. Spring competition had already been halted until early April, but NJCAA President Christopher Parker was holding out hope the season could be salvaged and national tournaments played.
The junior college governing body was the final college entity to cancel competition. The NCAA last week canceled winter and spring championships, and on Monday, the NAIA canceled its spring season.
The news was disappointing, but not unexpected, in Grand Junction.
“Our leadership, our executive team, when the NCAA announced it was shutting down Omaha (the site of the Division I College World Series), we pretty much felt that was going to happen with JUCO, primarily with the perception of the pressure that would be pushed on them anyway,” said JUCO Tournament Chairman Jamie Hamilton.
“Everything as far as reaching out on contracts for sponsorships, we put on a two-week hold to get a better sense, maybe the middle of March they’d make a better commitment, and obviously they did.”
The cancellation of the 19-game tournament that was scheduled for May 23-30 will be felt far outside of the baseball fans who flock to Suplizio Field every year. This would have been the 63rd annual JUCO World Series, the 62nd consecutive year it’s been played in Grand Junction.
“It will definitely have an impact on sales tax, lodging tax, restaurants, the hospitality industry,” said Diane Schwenke, the CEO of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. “It’s going to be big.”
She estimated the economic impact — conservatively — to be $1 million to $1.5 million, with each dollar turning over two or three times in the community.
Hamilton said sponsorships and ticket sales generate roughly $500,000 every year. Some economic impact calculations say each dollar generated multiplies five to 10 times.
“So if you agree at seven, it takes 7 times half a million for us, that’s $3.5 million in hotels, radio contracts, newspaper inserts, all those type of things,” Hamilton said.
He feels for the players and fans who won’t get the experience of the national tournament, but even more for the small businesses who rely on the event and Little League teams that sell programs to earn money for their seasons.
“The vendors who come in and put up ice cream or snow-cone shops for 10 days often tell us it’s these 10 days that makes their year,” Hamilton said. “Brent Miller operates as an independent contractor to handle concessions and this is his biggest sales time, even more than high schools or Colorado Mesa seasons. The summer help, the baristas who get extra tips at Starbucks (across the street from the stadium) from teams that go in there. It’s a trickle-down that’s going to be felt by all.”
The tournament committee was well into organizing this year’s tournament, and now those plans are halted. Fans who have already purchased their tournament passes will be reimbursed.
Once finalized, those procedures will be posted at jucogj.org.
The tournament will not have to send a payment to the NJCAA for this year’s tournament, which, under contract, is 50% of ticket sales after expenses are met.
For the past five years, that’s averaged $90,000 to $95,000 a year, Hamilton said. However, JUCO must still make its payment to the city of Grand Junction for the bond issued to build Hamilton Family Tower.
“That’s one of the reasons we work hard as a committee to have reserves, to take care of our commitment to the bond payment that’s due Dec. 31,” Hamilton said. “We feel comfortable we’ve got that handled.”
Junior college players and coaches were understandably disappointed in the news, but one veteran coach, Iowa Western’s Marc Rardin, said skipping this year can only make next year better.
“My understanding of how that place works and the history of that place, something like this is really a feeder to something as strong that has been there for so many years,” he said. “It comes back next year, it comes back stronger. People realize what they missed out on.”