I’ve covered sports for over thirty years. Played sports for just 14 until the knees said enough is enough. I figured if I couldn’t play anymore, I should be on the broadcast side of it. Play-by-play was my passion. I was good at it according to my mentors, but I was doing other projects to make ends meet. When you’re in your early 20’s, being a broadcaster for just a college basketball team doesn’t pay the bills. I co-hosted the San Diego Chargers pre and post-game shows, did a daily show, sports updates, wrote a Saturday column in the local suburban newspaper, too. I always found my way out onto a sideline or press box every Friday night. Sometimes in my position it’s necessary to bring out the fly swatter, other times the sledgehammer. This little rant is probably going to end up somewhere in-between.
I’ve started a new season in life in the last couple of months. It’s actually a season I went through before with my first son. I’m wading back into the waters of being a high school football dad. While I’ve devoted a portion of my company to high school sports, I didn’t know just how upside down the football world for kids between 14-18 really was. I knew that there were crazy parents (I’m told they just care about their kids), but I’ve seen first hand kids being shopped from school to school. A couple of weeks back I ran into a father and son and the kid basically said to me, “I’d rather stay with my friends, but dad wants me to go to this other school for football.” The parents are not big people, he’s not a big kid, what exactly are we thinking here? Clemson isn’t calling anytime soon. Sad.
The calendar of football is probably the most alarming to me. In the arms race of a 7A title, programs are putting players through the paces for basically 11-and-a-half months. I have college coaches who tell me in all sincerity, “We want athletes, not specialists.” How can a player even attempt to try another sport if he’s tied up with two months of 7- on-7 or bigman challenges every other night in May and June? The kids aren’t as sharp and focused by the time they get to the finish line on June 30th. The mental stress, anxiety, pressure on a 15-year-old to push his max in the weight room or out on the track isn’t healthy year-round. My son has played club water polo for the last five years. A great compliment to football. Three-hour practices, swim, fight under water, work as a team, 30-second shot clock, six-minute quarters, very little pressure on the knees. I encourage all football kids to take up golf. Very few find the time. Golf is a mental workout and an escape from the pounding. If your son is on track to become a high level player, he’s going to be asked to play in golf events starting after college. Get your player into the pool and onto a golf course. They can play both sports for the rest of their lives.
Our industry is partially guilty of the current state in high school football, too. You will never, ever see a top 100 player list or number of stars on this site. It’s NEVER going to happen.
Here’s how lists and stars work. A coach, parent or administrator gets friendly with a reporter. Because the company the reporter works for is under tremendous pressure to hit a number of web clicks per month to meet advertisers expectations for cash, the company and reporter put out lists (cheap content to produce) even though it’s excrement. Parents click on lists to see if their kid made it or not. Lists do more damage than good in the grand scheme of things. Kid may be a late bloomer, may have a single parent who can’t afford to send them to camps to get noticed, may have a problem at home with dad, may have to hold a job to help out the family. May have an illness (mono is one that I’ve seen keep kids off lists or lack of stars). On the other side, big baller-shot caller tells everyone and anyone that his or her kid made some silly list or has how stars next to their name. Who cares. The GPA and the tape are ALL that matters.
We do the All-Academic team. A parent can’t work over a reporter. A coach can’t schmooze his way into getting his kid on the list. The ONLY metric we look at is Grade Point Average. GPA doesn’t lie. A few years back a coach from one of the bigger programs in the Valley called me. I was in the press box at a Cardinals’ game and he starts cursing over the phone at me. I calmly let him go on his rant. He was upset that a third-string quarterback at a competing school made the Sports360AZ All-Academic team. I let him finish and then said “If you ever talk to me like that again, we’re done.” I then asked him, “Let me guess, a parent called you about this?” The answer was, “Yes.” I then asked him what the GPA was of his QB and he told me. It wasn’t even near the third stringer. He called me back that night to apologize and all is good. Parents think that a coach should be working for their kid on a Sunday afternoon? 24/7? Not realistic. Putting an academic honor on a college application is far more important than number of stars or a list. Crazy.
Lastly, schools, kids and parents on social media working on building their own brands. Most of the time they simply don’t know what they don’t know. Whoever started the trend of putting out a tweet of “blessed and amazed that I’ve been offered by___insert school here_, ” will go down as one of the low points in sports social media. Another one I find amusing is a school putting out, “Thanks to Stoneybrook, USC, Colorado Pueblo, UNLV, Texas, Abeline Christian, and twenty other schools for coming by” Even though all of those same recruiters go on to the next school right down the street. I respect the programs more that do less on social. You need to do some, just don’t tell me everyday who came by your place. Teach your players less is more. The “I’m being slept on” or “They’re sleeping on us” puts me to sleep, too. Way too much desperation by schools, coaches, parents and players hoping to attract attention to themselves.