Wednesday, February 06, 2002

Prep football

Time to get real about recruiting

        Moeller's guilt is undeniable. Bob Crable's culpability is undisputed.

        But before the Crusaders' football coach is crucified for the heinous act of distributing leaflets, let us pause to consider whether this really qualifies as a crime.

        Why is athletic recruiting accepted in higher education and forbidden in high school beyond narrow borders? Why should a coach be censured for pitching his product to prospective students?

        Just so we're clear: Rules-breaking is wrong. When a school violates rules in pursuit of competitive advantage, it should be punished.

        Moeller may have deserved stiffer sanctions than the $1,000 fine and the toothless probation meted out Monday by the Ohio High School Athletic Association. Yet that doesn't mean high school recruiting is inherently evil. Neither does it mean recruiting prohibitions are necessarily good.

        Recruiting rules do not exist for the benefit of the individual athlete so much as to protect the presumed territory of particular schools. It's a subtle form of socialism, a means to artificially restrict the ability of a coach to sell his or her program and prop up those programs with less to sell.

        The purported aim is competitive balance. The net effect is negligible.

Parents want the best

        Parents are not much interested in competitive balance. They are interested in securing the best education for their children and, increasingly, in using sports to defray college costs.

        To that end, many of them sacrifice to pay tuition to private schools. Some juggle multiple jobs and arrange complex carpools to provide opportunities for their offspring. A committed few relocate for the right to attend specific schools.

        “My daughter played on a select soccer team,” Wyoming athletic director Jim Berre said Tuesday. “The parents were basically trying to put their children in the best (high school) situation for their soccer. If it means moving, they'll move.”

        When Crable hands out a flyer extolling Moeller's virtues, this is as likely to sway a decision as a $10 rebate on a $20,000 car. He's dealing, in the main, with more sophisticated consumers.

        They steer their children to schools such as Moeller and St. Xavier because of all the attributes of which the brochures boast, not because of some high-pressure huckstering.

All-American principles

        LaSalle football coach Jim McQuaide likes to think of high school sports as a competition among neighborhoods — “my street against your street.” Oak Hills football coach Steve Sheehan believes the intention of high school sports “is giving enough kids the opportunity to play.”

        Yet their romantic ideals are in stark contrast to the reality of prep football as it is played in Cincinnati. Moeller customarily has more coaches than Taft has players. No amount of legislation can square that discrepancy.

        So long as different schools operate with different resources, efforts to achieve a level playing field are as doomed as a sand castle at high tide. Good players always will gravitate to good schools.

        “I think competition forces people to get better,” Colerain coach Kerry Coombs said. “At Colerain, we're not afraid to compete against anyone. We should all be about making the best schools we possibly can.”

        That's the American way. Socialism lost.

        Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456 or e-mail:


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