These are exciting times in the world of sports, and the impact that youth brings upon sports leagues of grown men, gives us a glimpse of the best that has yet to come.
Sports has taken on a new role in the US in the last 20 or so years. The priority lists of students and parents have oft shifted from a conventional education to a focus on sports and other extracurricular activities. Though some can manage their time well enough, middle and high school sports have commonly changed from something you do after school and before you study to sports being something you do, perhaps even instead of study.
A college education can frequently be a charade, with prestigious athletic programs filled with NFL-touted college players from well-touted high schools. Today many college athletes spend their tenure at school to graduate with a Bachelor’s in NFL Playmaking.
The NFL is a $9.5 billion industry. This incredible wealth trickles down into well-funded universities that host NFL-bound athletes for 3-4 years, and even further into well-funded high-schools that feature NCAA-bound athletes for 3-4 years. Even at the middle school level, young kids that show promise on a football field are often recruited to 4-star high school football programs.
Since the early 90s when the NFL brought in close to $5 billion a year it has steadily increased as the fandom and hype about each player, team, and game grows.
Why shouldn’t it?
I’m no stranger to stating that the NFL is made up of the most incredible athletes in the world, pushing the limits of their minds and bodies to the nth degree to compete with many others doing the same. The gridiron is a 100 yard chessboard with incredible depth of strategy and displays athleticism that no one ever thought possible. Games can be won or lost by mind-blowing talent, brilliant strategy, or even sheer will and determination. It’s no surprise that a league of well-paid professional athletes giving everything they’ve got for 60 minutes, spawns collegiate contests of young men showing they can give it all as well.
Football has always been big business, since the AFL-NFL merger, and even through the USFL experiment, the income has always shown America’s interest in watching these gladiator games. In the early 90s people really began to see the trickle down effects of NFL revenue in NCAA football. The rise of the Miami Hurricanes, and the talent displayed in such games as the first SEC Championship, or 94 Orange Bowl, showed the nation what youth was capable of doing. Some players, as young as 18, were running, tackling, throwing, and catching like grown men, and even the complexity of the offenses and defenses run showed they could think at that level as well. As a result of this sudden surge of respect and buzz for NCAA football programs, college athletic budgets got bigger. Stadiums expanded, weight rooms got larger, more well-qualified trainers were hired, and the science of athletics itself grew and grew.
The influx of bigger, faster, stronger, and even smarter athletes can be attributed to a cultivated science surrounding the game of football. Whether training the footwork of a lineman or a quarterback, the break on the ball of a corner or a wide receiver, the detail and attention paid to it has developed exponentially. Everything from muscle confusion, advanced plyometrics, strict nutrition, circuit weightlifting, and there’s even a Nike Training Camp for highschool football players. Many success stories of NFL stars have laid the blueprint for young aspiring athletes to follow. Even the behavior outside of sports (which is the most common downfall of a talented athlete) is closely monitored for the welfare of the athlete (but mostly the school’s).
This sort of change may not sit well with some, but you may be missing the bigger picture. What seems more appealing or even plausible for a young impoverished student athlete from Miami:
That he could get excellent grades that will net him a scholarship to law school where he can obtain his masters and practice law for a six figure salary.
That he could continue to excel in his position playing football, get noticed by college recruiters, where he could get noticed by NFL scouts and take the field as a professional making seven or even eight figure salaries.
Obviously not all NFL players come from impoverished lives, but many do, and it does (albeit rare) offer a way out. Countless more people fall short of the law school dream with a plethora of opportunities that these kids don’t have. So a dream to play for Miami at Coral Gables and eventually be like Michael Irvin or Cortez Kennedy, is quickly becoming just as nurtured and respected as an aspiring lawyers.
For other students that may have many more doors to open, football can easily be as important to your family as church.
Picture a mother of two one boy of 15 years, and another 17 years, in Allen Texas:
Sunday: The Houston game is on at noon, they switch between that and Dallas game on their NFL Sunday Ticket, followed by a must-watch Patriots game at 3:30, then Sunday Night Football, where they get to see some of their Texas Alumni like Casey Hampton and Curtis Brown play against the Ravens.
Monday: A hyped-up Chicago and San Francisco game with plenty of 3 and outs that the boys and their dad must watch.
Tuesday: A MAC College game with a Toledo team that will show them some high-flying offense that they may run at their high school or see when they play other high schools.
Thursday: The Texans are on again, and though it should be a blow-out, the Lions will make it fun to watch. Then the Cowboys are on throughout Thanksgiving dinner. Then the guys watch the Longhorns take on TCU, a timeslot usually occupied by a Junior Varsity game that their youngest plays on Thursdays.
Friday: The whole family watches the LSU-Arkansas game. Then the Friday night lights come on in Allen, TX at their $60 Million high school stadium as the whole family, including uncles and aunts, pa-pa and mam-ma, come out to watch their oldest play his varsity game.
Saturday: It’s rivalry day. College football will be on from 10 am until 1 am.
She had better like football. This rigorous schedule is all too common for families in states like Florida, Ohio, Texas, Alabama, and New Jersey. Football is a religion, its Sabbath Day being Wednesday. I wish the $60 Million stadium part was a joke, but it’s very real. Eagle Stadium seats 18,000 of everybody and their mothers (literally) and hosts the Allen Eagles, a high school team.
As money and promise work their way down the football economy, the result is a rookie draft class way more apt to take the field in the NFL. The 2012 season has seen more rookie and sophomore quarterbacks than veterans. Their horns are a little green, but they have shown that they can play at NFL speed, and more importantly think at NFL speed. The learning curve has been thrown out. The roles of a rookie have definitely changed to a point where they are now expected to make an impact immediately. Fans and owners want to see what they have paid for. There’s very few stories of the young new prospect playing apprentice to the wily old veteran, who teaches him the ropes and shows him how it’s done in the big leagues while the rookie sits on the sidelines with the clipboard and the headset. It’s more like the veterans are wearing the headset, and trying to keep their jaws from dropping.
It’s not just quarterbacks that are making an immediate impact. Even positions that are much rarer to have rookie starters such as tackles, linebackers, corners, and safeties are seeing teams take more chances on their draft picks. For the most part, it’s paying off. There’s not much strength that needs to be worked at, not much weight to be gained, and definitely not any speed to train for.
RGIII, Luck, Tannehill, Weeden, Wilson, Wright, Richardson, Kalil, Cox, Hightower, you’re hearing all of these names on Sunday. We all loved hearing them on Saturday, maybe even watching them play on Friday. Football is only going expand until it breaks the mold much like these diaper-dandies. I, for one, am pumped to see what’s next.