NFHS could be latest to conduct high school national championships
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
That might best describe the attitude of the National Federation of State High School Associations these days. According to this USA Today story, the body which oversees high school sports said recently it could conduct national prep sports championships in select individual sports -- like tennis, golf and cross country -- starting in 2011.
Really, the NFHS would simply be following a trend which has gained more and more traction the last few years. Corporations like Nike and ESPNRise sponsor "national championship" events in prep sports like basketball and cross country. Earlier this year, marketing giant IMG announced it was working in conjunction with the National High School Coaches Association to host national championships in as many as 20 sports at IMG's Bradenton, Fla.-based academy.
I've gone on record saying I strongly dislike the idea of high school national championships. But in this case I can sympathize with the NFHS.
Let's face it, the culture of high school sports has undergone an irreversible change. Websites like ESPNRise and Maxpreps routinely set about ranking prep teams from across the county in a range of sports, from basketball to volleyball to soccer. It used to be winning a state championship was the ultimate prize. Not anymore. Not in an age where it's possible for prep teams on opposite ends of the country to compare resumes and records with the click of a mouse.
Such a trend, coupled with the ongoing commercialization of high school sports, make prep sports attractive business for everybody from shoe companies to deodorant manufacturers (Old Spice sponsors high school basketball games televised on ESPNU). The formula is simple: Invite some of the best high school teams in the country to a tournament, slap some combination of the words "national" and "championship" on it and watch the money roll in.
Such a trend isn't going anywhere. So if you're the NFHS, the body which actually oversees and manages high school sports, why sit back and allow corporations a monopoly on these events?
I don't want this to devolve into a crusade against IMG or Nike or any other company -- no doubt the events these companies conduct have some benefit for the athletes which compete in them. But the idea that IMG, a marketing giant, would host these events if there wasn't a significant financial benefit involved is laughable. So is the fact IMG would try to brand its events as the "official" high school national championships. So why whould the NFHS, the "official" high school sports governing body, allow that to happen?
I'm not naive. Conducting national championships, even in a few sports, would give the NFHS a nice little financial boost. But bottom line: I trust the NFHS to keep students' best interests in mind more than I do a shoe company.
If anything, the NFHS might be too altruistic. According the USA Today piece, the organization is only looking at holding national championship events in the summer. This is because it doesn't want students missing any school time.
Admirable. But as the article points out, the timing would making conducting a cross country championships -- which has a fall season -- nearly impossible. You can't crown a national champion before a sports season starts.
Think Nike would have such moral pangs? Me neither.
The arguments against high school national championships are well worn. They would devalue state championships, extend already-bloated sports seasons and pull kids out of school. But its also obvious that such events aren't going away.
At this point, it's a matter of who I would rather control the message. In that case, I'll go with the NFHS.