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Talk with D-Rok

Apr 07, 2014
Photo by: Journal file photo Derek Helling

Changes are coming to college sports and one of the things I am most interested to watch is how those changes will affect prep sports. It may take years before the effects will be fully realized, but what’s certain is that things won’t be the same.
The first change that seems inevitable is the separation between the large schools and small schools in college football. A deal that would allow the schools with higher revenues to give their athletes a stipend seems imminent. That will change the landscape of not just football, but all college athletics. Naturally, there will be a trickle-down effect on to prep sports. The question is, exactly how will it affect prep sports?
It’s very hard to prognosticate all the possibilities. The first that comes to mind is that schools may cut some of their non-revenue sports to create room in the budget for these stipends. At a school like the University of Iowa, men’s gymnastics may be cut (Iowa is one of only 19 colleges in the nation that still has a men’s gymnastics program).
The cutting of non-revenue sports could result in a reduced amount of high school graduates receiving athletic scholarships to attend college. The ripple effect of that could be reduced interest in the sports by high school students because of the lack of exposure and any plausible future in the given sport. Reduced interest could result in high schools cutting sports as well.
A possible positive effect that the introduction of stipends could have on prep athletes is what I call the “tantalization effect.” An example of the principle is that when you’re hungry and you can’t afford the filet, the fast-food cheeseburger looks a lot more tempting than it does when you can afford better or you’re not as hungry.
Smaller schools who can’t afford the stipends that the larger schools can will be more apt to offer scholarships to high school athletes whom they wouldn’t have when the playing field between schools like LSU and Eastern Illinois was more level.
A second but less certain to become real change is the possible unionization of college athletes. The demand that the Northwestern football team, who is the catalyst in these proceedings, has made is not cash or stipends. Rather, the Wildcats have for the time been granted the ability to form a union in order to demand that the university carry workman’s compensation insurance on them, as it would any other employee. While the National Labor Relations Board has sided with the team for the moment, appeals by Northwestern are pending.
If the appeals uphold the current decision, it will likely result in more than just the football players at Northwestern being classified in the eyes of the federal government as university employees. That will likely become a broad denotation applying to football players, and college student-athletes everywhere, being given the same status. What possible effect could that have on prep athletes and prep sports?
Again, it’s difficult to accurately hypothesize the entire scope. Possibilities include more hoops that prospective recruits will have to jump through to play collegiate sports.
The high school seniors and graduates would not only have to satisfy the demands of the school or in this case employer, but also of the union that he/she would be entering. What would happen if a prospective recruit wishes to play for the school without being part of a union? Would this result in colleges again cutting programs to avoid the additional expense of the insurance and other demands these unions would make?
With the spectacle of the NCAA men’s college basktball national final scheduled tonight, it’s clear to see that this cash cow has gotten fat and money has forever changed the NCAA. All you need do is turn on your TV tonight to see how much of a business college sports have become.
Decades passed with the commercialization of sport having little effect on the structure of college sports. Now, however, it seems the evolution of sport in our society is finally taking shape on the collegiate level. It’s impossible that prep sports will remain unaffected. How prep athletes and teams handle those changes will be paramount to competing in the new world of high school athletics.

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