That’s the question raised in this pointed essay from The Atlantic: The Case Against High-School Sports and a follow-up from CollegeSportsScholarships.com.
The examples cited are extreme. The Atlantic found schools that managed to fund its football teams while the science labs rotted. The University of Oregon’s students apparently slipped academically as the football team got better. That’s not good. But it’s one school — not a huge sample size.
That said, these are legitimate questions that fly in the face of some sacred cows. We’ve been programmed to think athletes (particularly female athletes in Title IX arguments) are more likely to stay in school and succeed. But that’s not always true, and we all know it. Especially not in college. There’s a reason the NCAA started tracking graduation rates so obsessively.
Another issue here, especially for the soccer crowd: Are schools a better place for sports than clubs are? From a school budget point of view, maybe clubs are better. From a family perspective, maybe the schools are better. You can’t tell me a kid is better off hopping in a car a couple of times a week to go practice with a club somewhere else when there’s probably a perfectly good field or gym right there at the school.
Football is the easiest target when schools need to cut back. That’s a lot of money to spend. But it’s hard to cut football out of a school’s social calendar. And unlike soccer, basketball, tennis, golf and several other sports, football doesn’t offer a lot of non-school options.
I was raised with the old ideal that kids needed to develop mind and body (and spirit, in my YMCA days). My tiny high school had a full athletic program, and roughly 90 percent of us played something. I admire that ideal, but I understand the expense argument.
So here’s a heretical idea: How about having more intramurals and less travel?
Maybe you could have tournaments within each school. From those tournaments, pick All-Star teams that compete against a couple of big rivals and then into state tournaments.
This would get many more people involved at big schools. I can already tells you how many players in youth soccer have no chance of making a school’s varsity or junior varsity with only two teams per school. Why not spread things out a bit?