By Laura Pappano
I had to wince at a Birmingham News pre-season high school football analysis: Quick! Go pay $6 to see Hueytown high school quarterback Jameis Winston because “come 2012 at a major BCS school [it]will be around $50 and that’s not even counting the donation for priority seating…”
It’s there. In a nutshell. Anyone who feels that college football is out of control these days (and it is!) should take a step back and look at the source: High School. There is a problem — aside from concussions –with teen boys playing football.
The practice of placing high school football at the social, communal, and financial center of school life – from the focus of homecoming activities and Thanksgiving community gatherings to the status as a ticketed, revenue-producing event – sets it apart and above other sports and school-related pursuits.
This is the sweet spot of the high school football season. But let’s take a half-time pause and recognize that what feels like innocent ritual is actually the blueprint for a troubled sports culture.
— In Texas, Allen High School just spent $60 million for a one-sport, one-team stadium for its football team. Where to start?
— Last month in a move to save money, Bethlehem, NY moved up the start time of a football game against Ballston Spa to 4:30 pm so it wouldn’t have to turn on the field lights. Players were upset; parents of players were outraged. One parent commented on an Albany Times-Union blog: “At the varsity games last year, the bleachers were packed…..not yesterday!!! Wonder why???? Could it have something to do with the fact that the game started at 4:30???” Perhaps that’s what parents of other sport-athletes feel on a regular basis when fans don’t show for soccer or field hockey in hoped-for numbers? If we’re playing under the lights, give every team a shot at evening glory.
— The practice of scheduling high school football for Friday nights – plus charging admission and opening concession stands – has created a worrisome dependence on young male high school athletes to provide revenues for school budgets. In some communities a single football game generates $100,000 or more. If we care about fairness, it’s wrong to put this responsibility – and reward – on a group of teenage boys. It’s not good for them and it’s not good for schools.
Who says football must be the focus of homecoming celebrations? And when we have multi-sport school v. school competitions, can someone out there please ensure that boys teams aren’t the only ones playing under the lights?
********* NOTE: There are still a few tickets available for what promises to be a terrific lunchtime discussion at the New York Athletic Club on Oct. 27, 11:30-2 “Women and Sports: Get in the Game” with an all-star panel. More info here.