The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association's new rule regarding the use of video cameras at high school sporting events should be rated "R," for ridiculous.
The MPSSAA, acting on concernsvoiced by members of the state football committee last spring, is convinced some teams have gained an unfair scouting advantage through the proliferating -- and, they say, sometimes secretive -- use of videotape.
To curtail such abuses, the state has passed a resolution that prohibits teams in all sports from taping an opponent without that team's permission. Calling the practice of taping without consent "illegal and unethical," the state says it will penalize rule breakers.
The state says guilty teams will be eliminated from the state playoffs. MPSSAA officials mention other possible penalties, such as the forfeiting of regular season games and the suspension of guilty coaches.
They talk about preserving the integrity of athletics, about encouraging sportsmanship and cooperation and about putting pressure on those coaches who forced the rule to be considered in the first place. They say the rule does all these things.
The county's high school football coaches, who began preparing for the fall season last week, have agreed to tape each other's games freely, as they've done in thepast. This mutual agreement, also done in other counties, is fine with the MPSSAA.
County coaches greeted the new rule with shaking heads and shrugging shoulders, calling it silly, stupid and a few things family newspapers like this cannot print.
The resolution should be known as the "Swiss Cheese Rule," in honor of the many holes in its well-intentioned but lightweight logic. Come to think of it, the rule even smells like Swiss cheese about a week past its prime.
Whatbetter hole to begin with than the issue of enforceability? Rules are generally passed with the idea of catching offenders. How will thatbe done in this case?
MPSSAA Executive Secretary Ned Sparks concedes it probably isn't possible. Football committee chairman John Cox concurs. Everyone I've talked to on the committee labels the rule unenforceable.
At least they're being realistic on that count.
Anyone who has been to a high school game, particularly football or basketball, in the past three or four years has probably noticed the video age is in full swing.
Video cameras in the bleachers or near thesidelines have become as common a sight as cheerleaders. Parents bring them all the time. Some are taping their kids. Some may be testingtheir cameras. Some may be taping the game for the team's review. And some of the camera toters may be opposing scouts.
The fact is, videotape has become an indispensable part of scholastic sports, just as it has at the professional and college levels.
Videotape's roleas a preparation tool is invaluable. Its value in recruiting is tremendous. College coaches can get a good look at a prospect just by spending some quality minutes with the player's coach and his VCR.
Videotape also serves as an excellent substitute for a knowledgeable scout.
A person doesn't have to know a stitch about football, but aslong as he finds a decent vantage point and can load and operate a camera, all relatively simple tasks, a scout isn't needed at that game. The camera also can serve as an equalizer to teams lacking the scouting numbers of others.
Getting back to the enforceability question, how will schools control the presence of video cameras at games? Suppose a stranger shows up at the gate with a camera, plunks down histicket money, but the host school doesn't recognize him. Suppose thecoaches involved in that game have not given prior consent to anyoneto tape the proceedings. Can that person be turned away?
Don Disney, the county's Supervisor of Athletics, feels that the rule gives him that option. "If we feel someone is violating the spirit of the rule, we'll take our chances and deny them (entry)," he said. "If they want to get an attorney and get into that, we'll do it."
Disney cuts to the heart of the big-picture issue here. Does a public high school have the right to deny admission to law-abiding, paying customers? And by admitting some people with cameras but turning away others, is the school committing a discriminatory act?
Does a public high school own the rights to their home games?
It seems to me the taxpayers -- who ultimately carry the public school system and pay the salaries of teachers, coaches and officials like Ned Sparks and Don Disney -- carry the most weight here. It would be interesting to see howthe rights question would be resolved in court if a spurned camera operator sued the state Board of Education.
The state should recognize the weaknesses in the rule and not permit the debate to come to that. A competent lawyer could reduce the case to Swiss cheese as well.