Archive for Thursday, August 31, 2006

Opinion: $450,000 for a high school team?

August 31, 2006

One of my favorite parts about Sports Illustrated is "This Week's Sign that the Apocalypse is Upon Us," a little box with a tongue-in-cheek look at some outrageous sports fact or event that suggests the world might be ending.

Last week, though, I think the magazine's editors got mixed up and put the latest sign of the apocalypse in one of their regular articles.

The article was about a high school in Alabama, Hoover High. Like most high schools, Hoover has a football team. Unlike most schools, Hoover spends an average of $450,000 a year on that football team. That's right, $450,000 per year, for one high school football team.

Surely that can be considered a sign that the apocalypse is upon us.

Now, I'm no auditor, but just from reading the article I was able to pick out a few areas where Hoover might cut some corners and save a few bucks (or a few hundred thousand).

First of all, Hoover has scheduled a non-conference game in Tulsa, Okla., and has chartered an airplane to get its players and coaches to the game. Call me crazy, but I think there's probably enough schools within the state of Alabama to fill an entire 10 game schedule. Those schools would be readily accessible by bus, saving the school about $100,000.

The article also mentioned that Hoover has to budget a large sum of money to put its players up in hotel rooms the night before some home games. Now, I understand team unity and solidarity and all that, but football games don't start until about 7 p.m. on Friday night. That gives the kids plenty of time to sleep at home and still get to the football field, especially since they're all ostensibly at school already, going to Friday classes.

According to SI, all of the $450,000 Hoover spends on football comes from gate receipts, concessions and fund-raising, which means that coach Rush Propst nearly has a full-time job just soliciting donations from local businesses. But obviously he thinks it's worth it, and so does the president of Hoover's booster club, who says that the school spends so much money on its football program because it wants to "create a championship atmosphere."

That goal seems to be met, as Hoover has won five of the last six Alabama state championships. But is it really right to put that kind of pressure on kids, some of whom aren't even old enough to drive? What if they don't win a state championship? What if they fly all the way out to Tulsa and then have an off-day? What if the quarterback's girlfriend breaks up with him the night before Hoover plays on Fox Sports Net and he goes out and throws five interceptions on national television?

If any of that happens kids will be devastated, townspeople will be angry and the game will no longer be fun.

When you put that kind of money into sports the people who are supplying the money expect results, regardless of how young and volatile the participants are.

That's the danger of treating high school athletics like big-time college athletics. We lose sight of the fact that these are just kids, they're not getting paid and they're not supposed to be playing for anything other than the love of the game.

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