There are three levels of high school football presently being played in the United States.
First, there are the traditional public school programs where schools take freshmen and through practice, diligence and teamwork, try to emulate their family members or friends who came before them, these schools representing a very high percentage of the 14,000 high schools playing football in America. On their fields, young men are taught to play for the love of the game by coaches who mold the aspiring players into the best they can be. Each year, a new group arrives eager to wear the school helmets and colors. Those coaches, most of whom are also classroom teachers, clearly know their role, i.e., teachers first and coaches second.
A second level of public high school football in America sees coaches and supporters steering the best players away from other schools to transfer to play on their teams. The Florida High School Football Association (FHSAA) has been inefficient in monitoring players switching schools because they are woefully understaffed to deal with such transgressions. Therefore, the misguided Florida State Legislature recently passed a law (House Bill-7029) removing all restrictions on transferring, stating that any child playing any sport in any school may transfer to any other school in the entire state as long as he/she can get there. In creating what amounts to high school free agency, they ruled any athlete so inclined could play twelve different sports at twelve different schools over his/her four years of high school. What will surely happen is the constant switching of schools to find the perfect fit. Recruiting is still not allowed in public high schools, but somehow superior players show up on the first day of school each year at a different school. The coaches who espouse this arrangement are no wiser with X’s and O’s than the coaches who play without the luxury of transfers. But as one wily coach once bitingly commented, “If you are winning with somebody else’s players, you are really not winning.”
There is a third level of high school football where recruiting is openly done and results in a totally misguided concept of professionalism creeping into academia. These schools, whose very existence depends upon private funding and the recruiting of students in order to exist, have taken football to such a ridiculous level that the top five high school football teams in the country are all private schools using players from afar. De La Salle High School in Oakland, California, recently won 151 straight games and six consecutive state titles. Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas has also won several state titles and has recently been ruled ineligible to even compete in post-season play by their ruling state authority. A new entrant into the private school football consortium, IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, owned by a sports/talent management company in New York City, entices upperclassmen in high school to transfer to IMG to receive more exposure and the chance at a scholarship and/or professional NFL contract. The University of Michigan abetted the school by holding a week of their spring drills at IMG in talent rich Florida this year.
The most egregious of the above programs is the second one in which public schools allow indiscriminate transferring, breaking up teams that have tried to achieve success on their own only to see other teams steal their best players. One coach told me he just got so tired of recruiting his own players every year to simply remain at their school that he just quit coaching.
There has developed over time the misguided notion that the ends justify the means in high school football wherein winning is the only important goal. There are 14,000 high schools from which a total of just 1,625 boys each year will get a football scholarship to a major university. Doesn’t it make much more sense that a high school invest in the 99.9% of its football playing seniors to prepare them for the real world awaiting them, devoid of football participation? Keep in mind that the graduation rate is atrocious for college football players wherein barely half of them ever receive a degree.
Let’s get away from the misguided notion that playing football is the be-all and end-all for high school athletes. It simply isn’t. Working hard academically, coupled together with a love of the game, both leading to a college degree, is the road to be taken.