Friday, May 23, 2008
The troubling focus on high school sports
I just finished up writing a story about an area high school that was named to SI.com's top 25 national programs for the 2007-08 season. Conversely, the May 26 issue of the SI named the same school No. 14 in the entire country and No. 1 in Indiana.
The story made me recall the recent hoopla encircling an eight grader's commitment to the Kentucky men's basketball program. Before you jump all over UK, remember USC's Tim Floyd has accepted commitments from two eighth graders. There's been plenty more. The trend is troubling.
Though the NCAA prohibits coaches from contacting high schoolers about scholarships until the summer before their junior years, we all know the loopholes are there. Summer all-star and traveling leagues and camps for middle and high schoolers have always been around, but coaches attending them has grown more common in recent years. It's a recruiting edge.
Recall a former high schooler with me. Remember the buzz around QB recruit Terrelle Pryor's college selection? Signing day came in February and he waited until after his basketball season to make a decision. He even set up a press conference to make his intentions known - Ohio State over Michigan. What kind of 18-year-old high school senior does that? One who knows the excessive attention will follow.
How about former high school standout, one-and-done USC guard, and NBA draft lottery prospect O.J. Mayo? He just severed ties with his representation (or was it vise-versa?) after ESPN's Outside the Lines reported improper benefits, cash, etc. he received as an amatuer.
Mayo's had "advisors" at his side, in his ear, dating back to his early high school days. Knowing full well Mayo's talents would make him some money, these mooches hopped on the talent's coattails hoping to get a piece of the pie.
There's even websites which garner tons of hits from obsessed fans who scour player profiles and rankings and then discuss amongst each other on message boards. Rivals.com is the prime example.
In part, sportswriters like myself perpetuate the buzz around high school athletes - I write about their accomplishments, interview them and rank their teams. But most of what I write is for the families, friends and fans.
College and professional recruiters don't need a newspaper article to find a talented kid for their program. In fact, all they need, it seems, is to blend into the crowd of a summer basketball game.