Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

A Sane Island Surrounded: Interscholastic Sports Programs in the U.S. Face Increasing Pressures from the Pervasiveness of Sport in American Life. How Can School Sports Programs Stave off the Negative Effects of the Combined Pressure of Commercialism and Professionalism? Mr. Roberts Details Michigan's Approach

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

A Sane Island Surrounded: Interscholastic Sports Programs in the U.S. Face Increasing Pressures from the Pervasiveness of Sport in American Life. How Can School Sports Programs Stave off the Negative Effects of the Combined Pressure of Commercialism and Professionalism? Mr. Roberts Details Michigan's Approach

Article excerpt

THE HEADLINE for the cover story of the sports section of USA Today on 9 February 2007 asked: "Do prep basketball teams go too far?" Underneath, a one-sentence summary read: "Long-distance trips, whirlwind schedules mean missed class time but more TV exposure, money." The story recounted six days in which the boys' basketball team of Lakewood Artesia High School of California played five games, including one game in North Carolina. Over the years and across the nation, administrators of school sports programs have wrung their hands in worry and frustration over this sort of thing, which they believe is an example of the damage being done to interscholastic athletic programs by major college and professional sports, combined with nonschool sports programs for young people. However, all of these outside influences combined have not been as damaging to interscholastic athletics as the too frequent lack of creativity and courage on the part of those who are actually in charge of these programs.

A combination of commercialism and professionalism has become a powerful force undermining the wholesome nature of amateur athletic programs in the local secondary schools of America. Meanwhile, those of us responsible for promoting the proper principles of school sports and protecting them from blatant attacks and insidious erosion have, for the most part, put up a pitiful defense. In some cases, we have simply retreated in full gallop. And we have gotten what our feeble efforts have deserved.

But the seductions of commercialism and professionalism in scholastic sports were not created in a vacuum. The growth in popularity of professional sports in America parallels--in fact, has been primarily powered by--the introduction of television, and it has been the pervasive influence of television on American life that has driven content-starved networks to televise all kinds of sports, every day of the week, at all hours of the day. And this constant bombardment of the public psyche by a commercialized and professionalized version of sport has had its effect, first on college sports and, more recently, on scholastic sports.

Numerous books have documented how and why men's basketball and football at the Division I level of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) have been seduced toward commercialism and professionalism.(1) The seduction of scholastic sports in the same direction is less spectacular and has been the subject of fewer books.(2)

In recent decades, school sports programs have found themselves under assault not just from the levels of sports above (major college and professional sports), but also from those below: nonschool community youth sports programs. The Amateur Sports Act of 1978 removed the stranglehold of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) on the U.S. Olympic Committee and the participation by U.S. athletes in international sports. The law empowered newly created individual sports federations, in sports ranging from basketball to gymnastics to soccer, to organize and to some degree to regulate a sport from top to bottom, except for the programs of schools and colleges. The growth of these programs eventually led to a proliferation of youth sports camps, leagues, and tournaments across a wide range of sports.

These generally well-intentioned single-sport organizations understandably see the world almost exclusively from the viewpoint of their own sport. Over the years, these organizations have pushed athletes toward competition at ever earlier ages and in ever longer seasons. One unintended consequence is that, with rare exceptions, their calendars--if not their codes--have promoted specialization in a single sport year-round.

Another unintended consequence of the 1978 legislation is that the AAU, no longer able to serve the international interests of dozens of sports, lowered its sights and aimed its efforts inward: not just to grass-roots youth sports organizations, but also to leagues, camps, and tournaments for basketball teams for players aged 8 to 18. …

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