TSRN

Threat to Our Game

THREAT TO OUR GAME

By David Smith

Head Football Coach/AD, Klein Oak High School

 

Texas high school football is under siege from hi-tech, sports-first prep schools like IMG Academy in Florida. We need to act now to save the game we love – here’s how.

Texas football is a family. While we compete hard against each other on the field, we do so with great respect and love.  The spirit of the Texas football family has always included the leadership of UIL, TAPPS, SPC, THSCA,  AFCA, and the NCAA.  From the youth leagues through the major universities, our Texas football family includes coaches, players, trainers, officials, and millions of fans.  As coaches we derive satisfaction and motivation from the knowledge that, beyond football, we teach life lessons and a structure that often saves lives. High school football is the thread that connects us. Nothing unites communities, athletes, and schools in Texas, quite like football.

Today the game and culture we love is under siege. It is up to us, the Texas football family, to unite in defense of what we have and what we love.

This past year, IMG Academy defeated Desoto High School in a game that pitted student-athletes who reside in DeSoto, Texas, against a team chock full of blue-chip football prospects from around the country. More than a dozen 4 and 5-star rated recruits played for IMG last season. Having even three elite college prospects on one public high school team at one time is very rare.  Having 20 at one time is impossible.

But nothing is left to chance at IMG Academy.  The athletics-oriented prep school in Bradenton, Florida will cost $72,900 for a (non-scholarship) football player to attend during the 2016-2017 school year.  IMG’s 584 acre campus includes a 10,000 square foot weight room and a 40,000 square foot athletic center, a “sport science center” specializing in nutrition and hydration, a biomechanics center, a “vision lab,” and even a specialized hospital for sports injuries.

18 IMG Academy players accepted college football scholarships this year, with an incredible 16 players signing with FBS schools.  The University of Tennessee’s extraordinary decision to offer scholarships to 20 current IMG Academy players was widely reported last month.

This trend is only likely to get worse:  according to 247sports.com rankings, IMG Academy now has ten of the top 200 players in the class of 2017 alone. 

Not surprisingly, the elite recruiting prep-school trend has now come to Texas – aggressively.  Blue-chip prospects Kellen Mond (San Antonio Reagan) and Jahmond Ausbon (Houston Saint Thomas) recently left their schools to attend IMG Academy, where they will join former Allen high school rising sophomore E.J. Ndoma-Ogar, who announced he would transfer to IMG in January.

That makes three Texas players this off-season moving to IMG.

Moreover, it was recently reported that Lake Travis running back Maleek Barkley will attend the private Bishop Gorman high school in Las Vegas for his senior year. When players are leaving elite programs like Allen and Lake Travis, it is clear there is no limit to how many of our athletes will be poached by out of state, big-money, sports-specialized, out-and-out recruiting private schools.

IMG’s primary business is sports marketing – the IMG agency has represented stars like Cam Newton, Tiger Woods, and Serena Williams. It strains credibility to suggest that IMG Academy is not, at a minimum, “priming” very young athletes to be able to represent them in the future (although the company denies this).

These sports-first recruiting private schools offer scholarships, although they usually will not disclose specific information about which players receive scholarships or how much. It is illegal under NCAA rules for a sports agent to buy a college football player a sandwich. So how is it permissible to allow a sports agency company to own and operate a school, which in turn gives out more than $70,000 in benefits to hand-picked, blue-chip football prospects?

As if the inherent conflicts of a recruiting Academy weren’t enough, IMG Worldwide also owns Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Magazine. High school football coaches state-wide fill out forms for that iconic publication, giving detailed information on names, positions, height, weight and speed of their top players – ostensibly to help those young men gain publicity in the beloved magazine. As it turns out, Dave Campbell’s Texas Football is still run by Texans and does not funnel any information to IMG.

In an effort to further understand the goals and visions of Dave Campbell Magazine, as it pertains to IMG, we contacted Sports in Action, the company that owns the exclusive rights for the magazine.

“I believe the best coaching in the country in the Texas high schools,” said Adam Hochfelder, president of Sports in Action.”

Hochfelder further stated,

“We will maintain every effort to promote and campaign for high school players to stay in their own communities throughout their high school careers”

“Our relationship with IMG is simply that we bought the right to operate the brand.  We don’t interact with them on the content of the magazine and certainly do not provide any data we receive from coaches to them.  Dave Campbell’s Texas football is still Texas-run and Texas proud.    I have run this magazine and web site brand since 2005.   Texas High school coaches are THE MOST important constituents of Texas Football.  Protecting this relationship with our coaches is of utmost importance to us.”

The good news that we can continue to work with Dave Campbell’s Texas Football as far as sending our questionnaire without worrying that the data will provide IMG any special advantage.

To understand the harm of these elite recruiting prep schools, you have to understand what high school football means to communities in Texas.  It brings us together. High school football is the tie that binds in our state. It does so because Texans love watching football, certainly, but just as importantly, it does so because the teams are comprised of residents of the towns they represent.

Second, football in Texas provides a wonderful experience precisely because not every player is a blue-chip, Division I prospect. Our public school teams are comprised of students of every size, race, religion, and nationality. Through football, these young men unite in towns and cities all across Texas.

For those who have never been part of a team, it is impossible in one article to touch on everything that membership in a team can provide.  As coaches we help young men deal with every conceivable problem; family, school, relationships, drugs and alcohol, personal conflict, etc. – 24 hours a day for four years.  Can a private school, where most football players attend and know their coaches for only one year, possibly provide a similar experience?

In doing research for this article, we contacted a number of college coaches in Texas. We found that our college coaches are unflinchingly, enthusiastically behind us.

“I can attest to the caliber of coaching the young men in Texas receive from outstanding coaches,” Texas A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin said. “Not only do they receive great instruction and development, but the sense of community and caring, the support of the local community to the high school coaches and student-athletes is something very special in Texas. I have seen it manifest itself in players like Von Miller and the legacy he left with players that followed him in high school, and the sense of pride he still has for his hometown school. The closeness of friends who have put in work in the same community is special. I see it first hand in my children in our community. The sense of belonging to the high school team, not only in football but for all sports, and the pride of being a part of something bigger than yourself with great community support, is a special experience, and kids would be foolish to miss out on it.”

A prep school that brings kids in from all around the globe, to play together for just one season, offers none of the benefits Coach Sumlin mentioned.

Having recruited in Texas for years for the likes of Ohio State, Iowa State, and Rice among others, University of Houston Coach Tom Herman concurs.

“The University of Houston Football program will always live off of our recruits and players from the great Texas high school programs. We believe in their sense of community and loyalty and understand that players from Texas have been trained by the best coaches in the country.”

Out west in Lubbock, Texas Tech Coach Cliff Kingsbury is in full agreement.

“At Texas Tech we take a lot of pride in recruiting the state of Texas and working alongside the incredible high school coaches and programs in this state….There are so many talented players and great programs in this state that we feel we can fill most of our needs year in and year out without leaving Texas.”

Baylor Coach Art Briles added:

“Baylor knows through our roots in Texas that there is NO better high school football anywhere than in the state of Texas – as proved by the fact that 98% of our roster are products of Texas high school football.”

We also have endorsements from D.W. Rutledge, Executive Director of the THSCA; Glen West, THSCA President; Shane Hallmark, the President of the Greater Houston Football Coaches Association; Drew Svoboda, Vice-President of the GHFCA; Eliot Allen, Regional Director of the THSCA; and Hal Wasson THSCA board member.

The message is clear.

We are asking that all high school coaches discourage our in-state universities and colleges from recruiting football players from these sports-first elite recruiting academies. And we are asking that all Texas collegiate coaches take a proactive role in encouraging underclassmen to attend their local public schools, stay there, and graduate from there.

Texas collegiate coaches do not want high school players leaving the state to spend even one year at an out-of-state prep school.  We ask that our college coaches go even further. Tell underclassmen not to transfer to sports-first recruiting academies. Tell your junior commits to finish what they started. Tell them not to miss out on the greatest experience of their lives – playing their senior year for the coaches who got them there, in front of the crowd and close to the community and family that has loved and supported them for years.

Team first – family first – community first. Think of yourself only afterward. This is what high school team sports should teach our young men.  This ultimate lesson is threatened by the “me-first, teenager as free-agent” model.

We will not sit idly by and let it happen. To high school coaches, our message is clear – do not schedule these academies. Do not support colleges in recruiting players who attend these types of private schools, and thereby encourage their mission of taking away players from your community. Do not play in 7-on-7 tournaments or combines sponsored by prep schools who recruit athletes away from your community.  These events are a tool to locate and recruit your players.

To our outstanding Texas college coaches, we ask that you actively demonstrate your support for our cause. Be proactive – tell recruits to show their loyalty and play all four years at their home town high school. Tell them to begin cultivating the same loyalty you will want them to embody when they play for you.

 

The Texas football family can come together and accomplish these goals. Please join us.