Football (American) still king of high school sports

I don’t know many kids who play youth football. But in my local elementary school, tons of people play youth soccer. I saw some spreadsheets at one time from which it was easy to figure out that nearly half of the boys in second grade were playing.

But the death of high school football, Bob Cook reports, is greatly exaggerated.

One big reason:

Or it could be that football, like track and field, will always have high numbers because at most schools it’s one of the few sports in which nobody gets cut.

It’s easy math. A typical high school may have 50, 60 or even more football players on its varsity, then similar numbers on its junior varsity. Maybe even a C team or a “freshman” team. At a lot of high schools, previous football experience isn’t a prerequisite. They need the numbers.

High school soccer? Good luck. My town typically has 200 boys and 200 girls per grade level playing soccer. Roughly 30-40 percent of those kids will go to the same high school. That’s 60-80 per year. If you’re not playing travel soccer, it’s going to be really difficult to make the team.

Then you have the rituals, as Cook points out:

When I’ve picked up my son after he emerges from the locker room after a game, girls are there saying hi and telling him what a good job he did. This does not happen after his chess tournaments.

It’s Homecoming week at my son’s high school, and it’s a big, football-centered deal. I don’t recall my son getting his locker decorated because of his water polo participation, nor a cheerleader asking to wear his jersey on game day, though that might be because in water polo there was no homecoming, nor jerseys.

Anachronistic? We might think so, but it’s still going on.

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College sports 2020: A plausible fantasy

Jan. 6, 2020 …

Alabama defeated Montana 35-34 tonight to win its third straight NCAA football championship.

The Crimson Tide’s experience in big games proved to be the difference against Montana, which made the NCAA playoffs for the first time after winning the Western Football League championship.

But the Grizzlies earned plenty of respect for the second-year WFL with their performance. The WFL was founded in 2017 after the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences stopped organizing football competition.

The championship pairing showed how much has changed since Northwestern University football players won the right to organize as a labor group in 2014. The cost of football became too much for many colleges. Alabama and the SEC continued, with some programs taking direct help from state legislatures willing to do whatever it took to keep beloved traditions alive.

Football and basketball, though, are the only men’s sports the SEC schools play in the wake of a court ruling that all money spent meeting new labor regulations for football players would be considered in all future Title IX proceedings. Georgia now has 22 women’s sports programs, adding teams in synchronized swimming, team handball and roller hockey in an effort to balance the ledger between men’s and women’s teams in proportion to the student body.

At other schools, many of whom were already losing money on football before the Northwestern ruling, the former nonrevenue sports have struggled to take center stage. Notre Dame’s soccer teams moved into the otherwise vacant Notre Dame stadium, never managing to fill more than half of the cavernous structure.

Fearful of other labor movements and a possible downswing in alumni interest, many athletic departments continued wholesale cuts in their sports programs. Only 14 schools competed in Division I wrestling last season.

Many schools attempted to continue in other Division I sports while fielding a Division III football team. The NCAA refused to allow this move for reasons that are still unclear.

Meanwhile, Montana and a handful of other colleges saw an opportunity to make a name for themselves as the rest of the college football structure collapsed. They invested heavily in football, cutting all other men’s sports, even basketball.

The NCAA’s response to the crisis was hindered by its inability to find a new president. The job was offered to Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, but he was critically injured laughing at the news.

‘Friday Night Tykes’: The decline of Western civilization?

This is a guest post from Katie Voss. Please greet her on Twitter

Youth football first became an establishment in 1929, and since then has been led by leagues such as the Texas Youth Football Association who, after being followed by cameras for the new reality show Friday Night Tykes, may face some backlash for their intense coaching antics. The primary goal of youth sports leagues, or at least their original intent, was to encourage the development of young athletes into capable leaders, teammates, and driven individuals. However, if Friday Night Tykes is an accurate reflection of what many youth sports programs have become, it looks like the realm of youth football has some re-evaluating to do.

The docu-series, which follows five teams of 8- to 9-year-old rookie players competing in the Texas Youth Football Association (TYFA), has shown not only some rough takedowns and questionably safe activities, but also some frightening advice from coaches and parents alike. One coach is quoted encouraging players to, “Rip their freaking head off and let them bleed.” He then goes on to tell another young athlete, “I want you to stick it in his helmet — I don’t care if he don’t get up.” Only one mother, perhaps shown to placate audiences, is filmed reminding fellow parents that the boys are little more than babies.

The show, set to air on the Esquire Network on January 14 (available from most cable providers, DirectStar TV and from their website), is giving ammo (perhaps unintentionally) to already concerned parents and others regarding the safety of youth football and similar contact sports. From the preview alone, which is being advertised on TYFA’s homepage with pride, it’s clear that these players are participants in some of the worst aspects of athletics: public shaming, being pushed past physical breaking points, and high-risk, injury-causing activities. Someone may have to remind these coaches that their players need to safely make it through elementary, middle, and high school before being given a chance to play for their favorite colleges.

It seems Esquire expected some sort of controversial response, which is no surprise since the dangers regarding concussions from football and similar sports has been filling headlines across the country for the past couple years. As recently as 2012, more than 2,000 NFL players sued the NFL for not educating them on the possible consequences of repeated blows to the head, and the controversy resulted in a PBS documentary: League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis. Esquire claims that the show will bring to light important health questions regarding young athletes. Their website claims the show will have “coaches and parents offer insight into why they believe they’re teaching valuable lessons about discipline and dedications, but also grapple with serious questions about parenting, safety, and at what price we’re pushing our kids to win.”

Concussion awareness aside, one of the biggest issues a young athlete will face is the “culture of resistance” found in most competitive sports. Whether it is a potential head injury or other physical pain, athletes are often afraid or discouraged from reporting injuries. Staying on the sidelines, and therefore disappointing mom, dad, and coach during or prior to important games can be more convincing than physical discomfort.

The NFL, which has been trying to reduce head-to-head collisions among players through penalties, fines, and education, has already felt the need to publicly mention that Friday Night Tykes is not a part of their Heads Up Football Program, which seeks to improve player safety in youth football. If even the NFL is skeptical, chances are the show will not highlight the bright side of little league football. In the end, what audiences can only hope for from the show is an understanding of what needs to change in order to improve youth sports.

Much as Teen Mom was aimed toward (and possibly succeeded in) lowering teen pregnancy rates, Friday Night Tykes could help reduce the culture of resistance in youth sports, and educate parents and kids alike on the safety risks, and necessary precautions, that are part of high-contact sports.

2012 medal projection update: Ball sports

See the original post for projections from 16 months ago; read on for the latest (which may not have changed much):

BASKETBALL

The only major international event played since the last World Championships were the men’s and women’s European tournaments. The top four men: Spain, France, Russia, Macedonia. Women: Russia, Turkey, France, Czech Republic.

FIBA also compiles rankings that reflect all the various zonal tournaments. Top men: USA, Spain, Argentina, Greece, Lithuania, big gap. Top women: USA (by a mile), Australia/Russia (tie), giant gap, Czech Republic, Spain.

Men: The USA and Spain are clearly the front-runners. After that, the picks are more difficult. France has Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and two other NBA-affiliated players, though Joakim Noah is out injured. Great Britain has two players who passed briefly through Duke — Luol Deng and Eric Boateng. But you can’t always judge by the number of NBA or former college players. Lithuania has a lot of Euroleague experience (as well as some players U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski will know from ACC play), and Russia is built around several players from perennial power CSKA Moscow.

France (ranked 12th) may be underrated, especially when you consider that France qualified for the Olympics ahead of fourth-ranked Greece. Then Nigeria knocked out Greece in the last-chance Olympic tournament, qualifying along with Russia and Lithuania.

Brazil (#13) is certainly underrated. They finished second at the Americas qualifying tournament behind host Argentina (the USA did not participate), and they usually give the USA a tough game. Argentina beat Brazil in the neutral setting of the 2010 Worlds. But on paper, Brazil’s roster is stronger, and the history is solid.

So we’re not changing. USA, Spain, Brazil

Women: A U.S. loss would be a shocker. Australia has three straight silver medals, and the Opals return roughly half of their 2008 squad, including world-class star Lauren Jackson, though several WNBA players have moved on.

Russia was far from unbeatable in the European qualifying tournament last year, barely getting past Slovakia in the opener and losing a group-stage game to Lithuania. Belarus beat them in the next round, and Britain got within three points. They woke up and stomped everyone in the knockout stages, and no one else has given any reason to doubt the rankings, the original projection or the 2008 finish. USA, Australia, Russia

Read on …

Continue reading 2012 medal projection update: Ball sports