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Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012

You Get What You Pay For

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Just as the Brewers blazed into the thick of the playoff race, Frank was off on another trip—and out of touch completely after a quick review of the Packers-Bears game. But a few days earlier another football topic got a wide-ranging discussion started.

Frank: Did you hear about the $60 million football stadium—high school football stadium—that a Texas community just opened?

Artie:
That's Texas for you. Who's the mayor of the town, Jerry Jones?

Frank:
The location is Allen, a high-income suburb of Dallas. The stadium seats 18,000 in two decks and has a big high-def video screen with corporate sponsorship, of course.

Artie:
Only 18,000? They'll never host a Super Bowl.

Frank:
It's not the biggest high school stadium in Texas, but it sure sounds like the gaudiest. And the town did need something new; the old home of the Allen Eagles, capacity 7,000, opened in 1976 when the town population was 8,000. Now Allen has 87,000 people and the high school has 4,000 students.

Artie:
OK, something better than wooden bleachers was needed. But sixty flippin' million?

Frank:
It wasn't a hard sell. About 63% of voters supported a $119 million bond package that produced the stadium and a performing arts center, among other things.

Artie:
That's probably about the same percentage of Texans who pack six-shooters these days, ain’a?

Frank:
It's no surprise that the land of Friday Night Lights is nuts for prep football. But I wonder whether 63% of Allen would vote to spend, say, one-tenth of the stadium cost for a state-of-the-art math and science center.

Artie:
Sure, if the "science" being taught was creationism.

Frank:
No matter how one feels about football, the stadium sure is a statement of priorities—especially at a time when government aid to schools is shrinking everywhere.

Artie:
Aw, who needs a good education these days, with all the high-paying jobs available at burger joints?

Frank:
In one TV report an Allen official called the stadium “an investment in the future of our kids.” But it's more like an investment in an endlessly repeating, pampered present; what good is the stadium to a player after he graduates? The long-term value of football comes from what he experiences as part of a team, not where it happens. And wasn't one of the themes of Friday Night Lights that the glory is overemphasized and far too fleeting?

Artie:
Ain't too many of these kids who'll make their future in football.

Frank:
An Associated Press story on the stadium included a quote from Ross Perot from a couple of decades ago, after Friday Night Lights was published: “Do we want our kids to win on Friday night on the football field or do we want them to win all through their lives?”

Artie:
Speaking of guys like ol' Ross, if Texans want to build high school football palaces, why not have all those J.R. Ewings pay for ’em? Wouldn't that fit right in with all that rugged individualism, “don't expect government to help you” blustering they do?

Frank:
Another point about “the future of our kids”: With the mounting evidence of football's long-term dangers, the stadium could be seen, as I saw in a column on Forbes.com, as “a massive, taxpayer-funded monument to concussions.”

Artie:
Most of these kids won't ever butt heads with NFL-sized monsters, but a facility like that probably ramps up their intensity, and that means hard hitting. How many collisions does it take to do permanent damage?

Frank:
The Allen stadium got me thinking about whether high school sports—football and basketball, especially—are being exploited by too much national media attention. It's one thing for Channel 32 here to show games locally; it's another for ESPN to show matchups of national powerhouses, all-star games, dunking contests and the like. Do these athletes really need to be in the national spotlight so quickly?

Artie:
Gotta fill that airtime.

Frank:
Mark Stewart had a recent column in the Journal Sentinel discussing the trend toward corporate sponsorship deals to help fund prep athletics. I don't find that too offensive as schools search for adequate funding, but again, it makes me wonder about priorities. I hope there also are corporate sponsorships for school orchestras, science clubs and art programs.

Artie:
The politicians should tell their fat-cat backers to spend their money on those things instead of all those crappy, lie-filled TV ads.

Frank:
While we're talking about exploitation, should ESPN be showing all the games of the Little League World Series?

Artie:
Seems like that topic comes up every summer.

Frank:
Dennis Krause raised it on one of his “Sports 32 Roundtable” shows, wondering if it put too much pressure on 12-year-olds.

Artie:
It's a legitimate question, but from what I see on the screen, it looks like the kids do OK. Yeah, there are some tears after a loss, but that's true even with the pros.

Frank:
This summer ESPN's promos showed kids displaying some of the mannerisms of major-leaguers: grim-faced hand slaps, chest-pounding, a little swaggering at the plate. But when I watched the games, I didn't see much of that.

Artie:
And the broadcasters go easy on the kids.

Frank:
Right, there's a real emphasis on the positive, not the mistakes. But it's worth considering whether the national attention might be harmful for a kid who makes a crucial error in a big game. When I was at the Journal Sentinel, one year a state football championship game turned on a fumble near the goal line. The next day the sports section ran a photo of the ball popping loose, and some readers objected along the lines of, “Why would you show this terrible moment for the kid who fumbled? He's not getting paid to play."

Artie:
An interesting point. But the memory is always there for the kid, photo or no photo, TV or no TV.

Frank:
To some extent it depends on the individual kid—his or her personality, family and school support—how long the pain lingers.

Artie:
Kids will feel pressure in athletics no matter what. Some handle it fine, others don't.

Frank:
I can attest that five decades later, memories of wild throws, called third strikes and missed free throws still make me wince. Would I wince more often if they had appeared on TV or in a newspaper? It's a good thing for sports journalists to think about.

Artie:
Especially since these kids are helping them fill their coffers.

 

Anxiety Gets Sacked

Frank: So all is well in Packerland now that the Bears have been humbled again.

Artie
: As bad as the defense looked against the 49ers, that's how good it looked this time.

Frank
: You predicted the Bears would have trouble protecting Jay Cutler.

Artie
: Seven sacks and four interceptions, and the picks came from that Favre-ian quality in Cutler that makes him chuck into coverage because he's under pressure.

Frank
: And on offense the Packers showed an actual rushing game.

Artie
: Cedric Benson had 20 carries for 81 yards against a darn good "front seven."

Frank
: Aaron Rodgers got sacked five times himself, but he put together a nice, efficient game.

Artie
: One thing I've noticed from the playoff loss in January and these first two games is that some of Rodgers' throws are going a little high, by a couple of inches maybe, but just enough to make ’em go off the receivers' hands.

Frank
: Maybe it seems more noticeable because Rodgers was so amazingly accurate during the regular season last year. Anyway, the Packers earned a pressure-free 10 days before the Monday night game in Seattle.

Artie
: If the Game 2 pass rush shows up, Russell Wilson will be scrambling all night.