MPSSAA's heads-up move deserving of a tip of the cap

On High Schools

April 28, 2006|By MILTON KENT

With all due credit to Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report for the concept, it's time to hand out some tips of the cap and wags of the finger.

Let's start with a conditional tip of the cap to the Board of Control of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, which passed and sent on to the state superintendents and Board of Education a proposal to move the beginning of football season and practice earlier.

The change, as explained by MPSSAA executive director Ned Sparks to The Sun's Lem Satterfield, would move the start of summer practice up a few days to facilitate a Labor Day weekend launch of the football season.

In turn, the end of football season in December would wreak a little less havoc on the beginning of basketball and wrestling, allowing football players who participate in winter sports a little more breathing room between seasons.

This is a solid idea, generally, though it may crimp the styles of families who want one last long free summer weekend before the school schedule kicks in for good. Let's just hope that this little move doesn't start a trend toward expanding the season and adding games. The season is long enough as it is. Any longer would make a mockery of the concept of student-athletes.

In that vein, a big wag of the finger goes to ESPN, which continues to attempt to corrupt high school sports with its intermittent telecasts of football and basketball games filled with big names but little context.

The self-proclaimed "worldwide leader in sports" kicked this ugly little trend into high gear a few years ago when the name of LeBron James became prominent in hoops circles.

The channel turned Dick Vitale and Bill Walton loose on Akron, Ohio, James' hometown, and on his St. Vincent-St. Mary's games, paying the school a nominal fee for the privilege of putting the wunderkind and his teammates under the national spotlight.

ESPN has taken its cameras to Texas football games, ahead of the release of the movie Friday Night Lights, the film adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about the culture of high school football in the Lone Star state. The book and the movie were, at least, illuminating. ESPN's telecast was a lot less so.

During this current school year, ESPN ventured to The Palestra in Philadelphia to air a January game between a suburban school and a city school. The fact that two of the kids playing in the game would be going to Duke and North Carolina next year, and that ESPN was carrying the Blue Devils-Tar Heels tilt a few weeks later and that an interview between the kids aired at halftime likely had nothing to do with showing the high school game, right?

In the next school year, ESPN reportedly has been in negotiations with an Indianapolis school to play in one game that would pit two of the nation's most highly recruited juniors against each other and another involving the son of Michael Jordan.

It doesn't take a deep thinker to understand what ESPN and the schools get out of this. The schools receive attention and a quick payday, while ESPN gets cheap programming featuring players it can promote for years to come when they play in college or professionally.

And ESPN has every right to try to produce compelling and interesting programming for its viewers, and under the proper circumstances, say, a state or local championship game, a high school telecast could be enlightening and gripping.

But ESPN has already had a serious misstep this school year when it dropped former NFL great Dick Butkus onto a suburban Pittsburgh high school football team for a reality show, then watched him walk before the end of the 1-8 season. ESPN probably should wait until high school kids get to college or the pro ranks before they start exploiting them.

A big tip of the cap goes to the MPSSAA's Board of Control for getting the wheels moving toward a statewide swimming championship as early as next February.

Assuming the proposal gets the go-ahead from the local superintendents and the state board, state public school swimmers could be backstroking and freestyling for titles in two classifications. This sounds like a good idea, again, so long as student-athletes aren't overtaxed.

And, for a change, city school kids, who have been swimming in their schools for years -- provided the pools are open, of course -- may have an early advantage over potential competitors in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties, who don't have varsity programs to date.

One last wag of the finger goes to the city school system, which still hasn't publicly explained what happened to the Douglass football team, which was forced to forfeit its season and give up a state playoff berth over the presumed use of an ineligible player.

Indeed, the recent removal of Douglass principal Isabelle Grant one day after she appeared before an MPSSAA appeals panel only raises more questions about what occurred with the team. A full public accounting is way past due.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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