“They had held regional events kind of like a regional open where any university in that region fished in that regional and then like the top 10 percent qualified to go to the national championship, and that was the only way a college could qualify to go to the national championship was either through their region or one wildcard event that they used to hold,” Heflin said. “After the college national championship, they decided they were going to change formats. They were going to offer I think three opens across the country, and universities can compete in any open that they want to, and they were also opening it up at the state level so each state (BASS) Nation could hold a qualifying event where any university in your state can fish your qualifying event, and that would allow you to send one team from your state to the national championship without having to fish an open.”
In the old method, Heflin said, your region may have held its event in Minnesota or Alabama, and the schools in each region were only allowed to fish wherever their regional tournament happened to be taking place. He said every club cover the expense of traveling to the tournament, plus staying there all week and other expenses, so the organization decided that might have limited participation across the country.
Heflin said he had a good idea of which lake he wanted to hold the qualifier on and had submitted a request for the permit, but he didn’t want to announce the location until it had been officially approved. The event tentatively would be planned for Sunday, April 8, if the permit goes through.
“This first year, I don’t realistically know how many teams are going to show up,” Heflin said. “The thought is, Texas — as big as it is — held theirs already this fall and they only had 15 teams show up, just simply because it’s a new idea.
“But it’s kind of like the high school program. The first year of the high school program, it was pretty small participation, but they’re thinking in the next couple years it’s something that, as a state, we can build on and get more interest, because now the kids don’t have to travel to Minnesota or Alabama or Texas to have a chance at qualifying.”
Participation also could be affected by anglers from other states coming to Kansas to compete, but the organization has rules in place to prevent teams from competing in multiple state qualifiers.
“Based on the way that I understand BASS’s rules, they can, but only if their state is not holding their own qualifying event,” Heflin said. “So in the instance of, say, Missouri — if Missouri opts not this first year to hold their own qualifying event, then the schools from Missouri could come to Kansas and participate.”
Unlike most NCAA-sanctioned athletics, fishing is a club sport, and all college bass fishing teams compete at the same level. This means a Division II or Division III team — or even a community or junior college — has a chance to compete against the top Division I schools for a national title. In the past, the cost of travel would have been prohibitive for smaller schools to compete in the regionals, but this new structure allows smaller schools to compete within their home state for a spot in the championship tournament.
Heflin said he has reached out so far to Wichita State, Kansas State, Kansas, Hutchinson Community College and Pittsburg State. He also contacted the Hays adult bass club to see if anyone at Fort Hays State would be interested in getting a club going and registering in the event.
“Currently, today, the only university that’s affiliated with the Kansas BASS Nation — of course now, they wiped out their roster on Sept. 1, so everybody has to re-up again — so the only school right now registered is Hutchinson Community College,” Heflin said Wednesday. “They just started the program in the last month. The president of that program is actually a former youth and high school competitor.”
K-State has won three national titles in the past five years and is likely to register with the KBN to compete in the qualifier. K-State won the 2016 Bassmaster title with the team of Kyle Alsop and Taylor Bivins. Before he graduated, Alsop also won the 2017 FLW national title with teammate Travis Blenn, who will return to fish again this season at K-State.
Blenn on Saturday said he saw both positives and negatives to the change in formats.
“It’s just like anything, there are advantages and disadvantages to what BASS is doing,” Blenn said. “I think that it would be an absolute awesome opportunity if you lived down south somewhere around Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama. If you lived down there you could fish three different tournaments without having to drive very far, plus you would get your local tournament, as well, giving you potentially four relatively close chances to qualify. While we have our local tournament, the next closest tournament for us to travel to is about a 13-hour drive. That’s just for us in Kansas, the guys further up north are at even more of a disadvantage because it’s not hardly practical at all for them to travel that far.
“In doing the tour-style qualifiers, where anybody can enter any event, it will increase boat numbers and make it even more difficult to qualify. I think it’s really cool what they are doing making it tour-style to make it similar to what we would be doing for those that make the move into the Elites, but at the same time we are still college kids who are working with a very limited budget in most cases.”
However, Blenn was interested in seeing how the state qualifier would pan out.
“Not all the details have been released yet on the local tournament, as far as how many teams will qualify,” he said. “But with it being on a local lake, I will have more opportunities to practice. With local qualifying events, it will also provide more of an even representation of states at the national championship.”
High school angler Thomas Heinen, a Hayden senior who is still considering whether to fish collegiately at K-State, Wichita State or Washburn, said he was excited about the change. K-State and Wichita State both currently have fishing teams, but Washburn doesn’t. He said if he decides to go to WU he would look to start a club there and make sure it was registered to compete in the qualifier.
“I’m really looking forward for this event in the near future,” Heinen said. “This gives us anglers a better chance to go to the national championship. I’m very excited about this. I have always dreamed about competing on a bass team in college. This just opens the door for some wanting to compete at a higher level. I’m very thankful for this opportunity BASS is giving us.”
Heflin said the registration process is fairly straight-forward for college fishing clubs looking to compete in the state qualifier.
“There’s three steps that have to be done. First, they have to be a BASS member, then they have to be a member of BASS Nation, which both of those can be done through Bassmaster.com. And then they have to affiliate with the state, and they can do that through contacting me.”
Heflin said those hoping to compete can contact him by phone at (785) 246-0243 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.