High school sports | commentary

Baxter: TV exposure has a price

January 5, 2014 

I SPENT THE weekend watching a couple of the national All-American games because there were some players who I had coached in my camps throughout their high school careers.

But as I observed the glitter surrounding those games, as well as the antics of some of the players, I began to wonder if this level of commercialism of high school sports is a good or bad thing.

This is not something new. In the 1980’s we saw the beginnings of what was to come.

Multi-state basketball tournaments, corporate-sponsored events, and all-star games have evolved into television contracts for football teams, intra-state travel games between powerhouse programs, and news conferences for 18-year-olds to announce where they will be attending college.

There are four All-American games that have a national audience, and several that are growing to that level. They bring in retired pro coaches and high-profile high school coaches to enhance the games’ profile.

To maintain a level of interest, the players are encouraged to “be excited” during the games, and showboating and excessive celebration is not a bad thing as far as the referees are concerned.

As I watched one of the games this weekend, a cornerback came up in run support and made a routine tackle — and not a good one — and jumped up high-stepping, beating his chest, and simulating the “Superman” move of ripping his shirt off. I said to myself, “Why are you celebrating for making a tackle? That’s your job. Get over yourself, already.” But that behavior is a by-product of the glamorization that comes with the commercialization.

The threat to the purity of sports is not limited to high school. Watch the broadcast of the Little League World Series and listen to the commentators marvel at the curveball that kids should not be throwing.

Commercialism also impacts above the high school level. Many college admissions programs will admit poorly educated athletes because they qualify by NCAA standards, and a lot of those players stay for two years and leave for a chance at an opportunity in the pros.

This has an impact on high school athletes who do it the right way; who would like to trade their skills for an education, not use the institution as a bridge to the pros.

Don’t get me wrong. The high school players and coaches who devote their time should be recognized for their hard work and commitment.

But how many All-American games do we need? I believe we should tread lightly around this rabbit hole of commercialism that college football fell into decades ago.

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