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The Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton played JUCO football. Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Troubling financials, negative press and NCAA rules have put the future of junior college football (or JUCO) on shaky ground. Several programs have shut down in recent years, and the fear is that this trend will continue.

Why it matters: Junior college football has long been a lifeline for players who might have otherwise fallen through the cracks, while also serving as a farm system for Division I's top programs.

  • Four junior college players have gone on to win the Heisman (Cam Newton, O.J. Simpson, Roger Staubach, Mike Rozier), and eight participated in Super Bowl LIII. Aaron Rodgers played JUCO ball. So did Alvin Kamara.
  • An estimated 800 JUCO players join FBS programs each year, with about one-fifth of them joining Power 5 schools. Perennial powerhouse Oklahoma, for instance, has signed 18 JUCO players over the last five years.

What's happening: Junior colleges face significant hurdles just to stay afloat, and those hurdles have gotten higher in recent years.

  • Dwindling financial support is putting cash-strapped schools even deeper in the red. Itawamba Community College in Mississippi spent $666,806 on football in 2016-17 but only made $17,346 in ticket sales — the program's only revenue source.
  • New FBS transfer rules mean that players who would have previously transferred to JUCO are transferring to other D-I schools, instead. 
  • A negative perception of JUCO culture has been made infinitely worse by Netflix's Last Chance U. The Hard Knocks-esque show focuses on the drama and, thus, doesn't tell the full story. It has also been mired in controversy.

What's next: A class action lawsuit is being filed that could lead to the reinstatement of one of the recently shuttered programs, and plenty of administrators and coaches across the country are working to fix the system.

The bottom line: Junior college football is devouring itself. Fewer programs mean more travel. More travel means less money. And less money means less football.

Go deeper: America's Olympians might unionize

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Health

Texas to end all coronavirus restrictions

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaking at the White House in December 2020. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Texas will end its coronavirus restrictions next week with an upcoming executive order, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced Tuesday during a press conference in Lubbock.

Why it matters: After Abbott signs the new order, which rescinds previous orders, all businesses can open to 100% capacity and the statewide mask mandate will be over, though large parts of the state will remain under mask local ordinances.

Senate confirms Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo as commerce secretary

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D). Photo: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Senate voted 84-15 on Tuesday to confirm Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo to lead the Commerce Department.

Why it matters: The agency promotes U.S. industry, oversees the Census Bureau, plays a key role in the government's study of climate change through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and evaluates emerging technology through the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director warns "now is not the time" to lift COVID restrictions — Exclusive: Teenagers' mental health claims doubled last spring.
  2. Axios-Ipsos poll: Americans' hopes rise after a year of COVID
  3. Vaccine: J&J CEO "absolutely" confident in vaccine distribution goals — Vaccine hesitancy is shrinking.
  4. World: China and Russia vaccinate the world, for now.
  5. Energy: Global carbon emissions rebound to pre-COVID levels.
  6. Local: Florida gets more good vaccine newsMinnesota's hunger problem grows amid pandemic — Denver's fitness industry eyes a pandemic recovery.