Sex scandals, stadium sponsors, national TV, and more reasons to boycott big-time high-school football.

The stadium scene.
Sept. 14 2007 7:35 AM

Sex Scandals, Stadium Sponsors, and National TV

Just three of the reasons to boycott big-time high-school football.

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Northwestern is ostensibly regulated by the Florida High School Athletic Association. Every state has a similar group. The FHSAA, which on paper resembles the National Collegiate Athletic Association, can penalize most Florida high schools when cheating occurs. Yet the FHSAA rarely investigates anybody. "There is a cadre of enforcement officers out there who are supposed to make sure their organizations follow the rules," FHSAA director Ron Davis once told me. "Those people are known as the principals of our member schools."

There's the rub. Principals can have egos. Some of them like to wear state championship rings. Some principals, living an educator's often unglamorous life, like it when their schools appear on national television. Human beings, given enough incentive, tend to cheat. Airing high-school games on national television provides tremendous incentive.

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Last year, right when Northwestern was trying to book a televised game against a major out-of-state opponent, a sex scandal emerged at the school. There was a 14-year-old girl and a school bathroom, more than one adult, and more than one incident. The girl's mother complained to school system police and to Northwestern principal Dwight Bernard. Nothing happened. After four months of stonewalling, she happened to run into a city of Miami police officer at a coffee shop. Northwestern's star running back, Antwain Easterling, was immediately arrested and charged with lewd and lascivious battery.

School system rules mandated Easterling's suspension from the team for 10 days. Unfortunately for the Bulls, the state championship was less than a week away. Fortunately for the Bulls, principal Bernard chose not to suspend his running back. Easterling rushed for 157 yards in the title game. Once Northwestern won the state title, ESPN greenlighted the September game against Southlake Carroll.

That would have been it, normally. In an extremely unusual move—I still can't believe it happened—the state attorney stepped in. Principal Bernard was arrested for "failing to report the allegations of an unlawful sex act" to police. He no longer works at the school. Neither do 20 others who helped in the cover-up.

To recap: The FHSAA never got involved in this scandal. Somehow, for some reason, Northwestern's principal never saw fit to blow the whistle on himself. That's the way it works in high-school sports. Absent the public fireworks of an arrest or a news story, it's a free-for-all.

Can anything be done about this? If high-school teams are going to be on national TV making money for international corporations, and if coaches are going to leverage their national profiles into lucrative college jobs, then there needs to be a huge national bureaucracy policing high-school sports. I'd argue for the creation of this bureaucracy if it didn't strike me as wholly ridiculous. Who would pay for it? ESPN? Burger King, sponsor of Kirk Herbstreit's Ohio vs. USA Challenge? Kirk Herbstreit himself?

Stopping these national games would be a good first step. What exactly do we gain by pitting the top team in Texas against the top team from Florida? The kids don't need the exposure; there's not a scout in America unaware of the talent in Miami, nor at any of these ranked schools. Settling for a state title should be enough. The adults behind these national programs need to settle for being mere high-school coaches and teachers and principals. And ESPN? They're allowed to broadcast these games, I guess. It's legal. That doesn't mean it's right. High-school football should be as local and small-time as possible. My favorite team has enough problems as it is.

Robert Andrew Powell is the author of We Own This Game.