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Fame, documented: East Mississippi Community College football

University Business, March 2018

The vast majority of community college athletic programs operate in relative obscurity, known mostly at the local level, if at all.

The obvious exception is the football team at East Mississippi Community College.

Where to see them: The Lions were the subject of the first two seasons of Netflix’s well-received documentary series, Last Chance U. Emmy-nominated filmmaker Greg Whiteley brought his cameras to Scooba, Mississippi, for a behind-the-scenes look at the team’s 2015 and 2016 campaigns, and the result, wrote SB Nation’s Jason Kirk, was “a carefully crafted drama with personalities to care about.”

Link to main story: Community colleges are playing for keeps

Why the stories stick: To understand how “community college football” and “drama” can be plausibly combined, it is necessary to consider the East Mississippi’s hallmark. The Lions have become known for their acceptance of student-athletes who have washed out of NCAA Division I programs for academic or disciplinary reasons.

These students enroll at the college in a final effort (the “last chance” of Last Chance U) to reclaim their playing careers and return to big-time college football. With four national titles in the last seven years and a host of players transferring back into Division I, East Mississippi clearly earned its spot on Last Chance U.

Shattered dreams: The risk of welcoming student-athletes with issues is also on display in Last Chance U. In the first of the Lions’ two Netflix seasons, a vicious, bench-clearing brawl in the first half of their game against Mississippi Delta disqualified the team from the state playoffs and made them ineligible for the national playoffs.

In the second season, the fallout from the fight continued to doom East Mississippi’s title chances. With dozens of players suspended for the opener, the Lions lost. Though they won the rest of their games, that first defeat prevented them from rising high enough in national rankings to qualify for a shot at the championship.

Moving on up: Some East Mississippi players' careers have soared. Running back LeGarrette Blount enrolled there back in 2006 after failing to qualify academically at Auburn. He then transferred to Oregon, and went on to the NFL and three Super Bowl wins, the most recent earlier this year with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Thomas W. Durso is associate vice president for marketing and communications at Delaware Valley University in Pennsylvania.

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