A story in this morning’s Indianapolis Star called attention to the widening gap between educationally based athletics and AAU competition.
Writer Kyle Neddenriep posed an informal poll to participants at an AAU qualifying tournament. The question was: “Do you prefer AAU or high school basketball?” Of the 25 players of all ages questioned (including four current college players), Neddenriep reported that 19 picked AAU. Most of the athletes cited the ephemeral benefits of exposure, travel, freedom and style of play.
How you view this issue depends, of course, on how what you want from basketball. If the purpose is creating better basketball through a highly selective, exclusive process, then elite competition has its advantages. But if the objective is to follow through on the premise that education and athletics are effective complements, then somebody needs to pay more attention to nurturing high school programs.
High school administrators are rightly concerned about all of this. NFHS Executive Director Bob Gardner and NFHS President Nina Van Erk wrote the following in the May issue of High School Today:
“The popular theory by many parents is that by involving their children in out-of-school club programs, the coaching and preparation will be better than what they receive through the high school team and will greatly enhance the chance for a full-ride athletic scholarship for their son or daughter. We certainly acknowledge that there are a few high school athletes who may benefit from a year-round focus on one sport because they have the skills and talent to play at the next level; however, among the 7.6 million participants in high school sports, these individuals are few and far between.
“Consider these numbers: About 3 percent of high school basketball players, 5 percent of high school soccer players, 5 percent of high school football players and 6 percent of high school baseball players will play at the NCAA level. From the high school to the professional level, the odds are better at winning the lottery. For example, less than one-half of one percent of high school basketball players will be drafted by an NBA team.
“Many families incur huge debts trying to chase college scholarships for their kids – money they wish they had back for college tuition when the scholarship offers fail to materialize. Through research of articles on this subject, it is common for families to spend $5,000 to $10,000 a year funding their child’s athletic pursuits in out-of-school programs. Three years ago, the College Board estimated the average annual cost at a four-year public school was about $6,200 – very similar to the annual expenditures by many families for club sports.
“In some cases, participation in an out-of-school program in a particular sport could be beneficial, but often athletes (and their parents) are lured into giving up other sports in the high school setting – thereby forfeiting the educational component – to focus solely on one sport and to chase the dream of a college scholarship.”
Monday’s article in the Indianapolis Star did not treat high school sports and elite training/competition as an either-or proposition. Instead, the writer compared and contrasted the two approaches.
But high school athletics are threatened. Think about the pay-for-play debate that rages at the college level and then consider that many high school participants must pay to play through more frequent and ever-increasing fees. Between the lack of public support and the tug that comes from elite programs, high school athletics programs could cease to exist somewhere down the line.
If you believe in educationally based athletics – as you should if you support college sports – that would be a tragedy of the highest order.