Garden City Community College has declined an opportunity to be featured in the third season of the Netflix documentary series, “Last Chance U.”
The critically acclaimed series — which focuses on junior college football programs — reached out to GCCC in May for the second consecutive season, after passing over the school in 2016, deciding to feature East Mississippi Community College once again.
However, according to several GCCC administration officials, show executives desired to make GCCC the focal point for the 2017 season, but their offer was declined.
“We’re not going to go with “Last Chance U,” GCCC President Herb Swender said in a telephone interview Monday. “It just didn’t fit what we’re trying to accomplish here with student success and things like that … It’s something that’s more controversial.”
Swender said the college came to the decision “collectively.” GCCC athletic director John Green said he was part of the meetings with the show-runners, as was head football coach Jeff Sims, but the decision rested with top college officials, including Swender, executive Vice President Dee Wigner and Vice President of Student Services and Athletics Ryan Ruda.
Sims was a staunch proponent of bringing in the show in previous interviews with The Telegram, but directed all questions about the decision to the administration.
According to several GCCC officials, there was not a formal offer, but show representatives were offering somewhere between $30,000 to $50,000 to feature GCCC. Several phone calls to Lucas Smith, a producer of “Last Chance U,” were not returned.
Of the featured college, the show asks for nearly unlimited access to team meetings, practices and any team function.
“We want to find compelling human (interest) stories on the part of the coaches and the players, and we’re looking for the kind of access that we need to authentically tell their stories,” executive producer Greg Whiteley said in May, while the crew was in Garden City scouting the potential location.
That access demand was one of the first reasons Swender cited for why he did not want “Last Chance U” to feature GCCC.
“Open access to everything was really not something we’d want to commit to,” he said. “There’s a lot of unknowns about that.”
Swender downplayed the amount of money offered as another factor in the decision to rebuff the show’s offer.
“It wasn’t a big number,” Swender said of the money. “They (show executives) made that very clear. It was an opportunity for the marketing of our college, and that was a no. We’ll handle that on our own.”
However, Green said the amount of the offer was part of his reasoning for advising Swender to reject “Last Chance U.”
“I felt like if they want to have that access to our athletes at our college, we’re opening up our house, and that comes at a price,” Green said, adding he did not want to close the door on the show potentially coming to GCCC in the future. “They need to pay for it. We see the direction (the show) is going, and the popularity it’s gaining, and I’m sure some money is exchanging hands. And we want some of that to come our direction.
“If it’s that big and that popular, then there’s revenue and money being made. The stars, which is the team, the staff and the community, we need to make sure we get our fair share of it.”
Green said he knew there were possibilities for gaining endorsements from athletic brands to be featured on the popular Netflix show, but it was not part of the deal with the show.
“We would have been interested in (endorsements), but that wasn’t brought to us by Netflix,” Green said. “I understand those are possibilities, but I think that should have been a package deal. We need time to be able to go to these different things, Nike and things, to make those deals.”
But with the season just two months away when discussions took place, Green said there was not enough time. The Broncbusters, defending NJCAA National Champions, open defense of their title on Aug. 24 at home against Ellsworth, Iowa.
“We made the right decision for GCCC and our students,” Swender said. “It seems like (East Mississippi) has been able to benefit from that, I guess. But it’s not for GCCC.”
In a letter published in the May/June 2017 issue of the Community College Journal, East Mississippi President Thomas M. Huebner, Jr., wrote about the positives and negatives of the show.
“The attention has been phenomenal,” he wrote. “Our social media reach exploded overnight and has garnered the attention of hundreds of thousands. We’ve almost become a regular ‘shout out’ on football broadcasts across America … We’ve had a steady stream of campus visitors who see the Scooba sign along Highway 45 and drive through to make special trips to visit.”
A message for Huebner left with his office was not returned.