There’s a reason why so many fans of football were enthralled by Auburn’s intrastate win over Alabama last November, yet had no interest at all in the battle of Ohio the following day between the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns. And it had nothing to do with anyone thinking the Tigers or the Tide could stay within 30 points of one of those pro teams if they were to face off.
It’s the same reason why the 17-14 win by St. Paul’s over Briarwood in the Class 5A state championship game in December was so much more compelling than the Mountain West title game two days later between Boise State and Fresno State. And it had nothing to do with anyone thinking the state high school champions from Mobile could stay within 50 points of the Mountain West champs.
No, fans follow college football not because they think it’s the best football being played. It’s not. But what it lacks in overall athletic talent it makes up for with the pageantry and excitement that will never be duplicated at the pro level.
The same is true for high school football. The commitment of the players in our neighborhoods who, in most cases, aren’t much bigger and faster than most of us were at that age provides the high school game its unique appeal.
So it should be obvious to the powers that be in high school football that trying to be the NCAA or NFL defeats the purpose of what the high school game has to offer. The same is true for college football trying to become the NFL.
High school and college football need to embrace their strengths and not worry about trying to be like the higher level of play. That’s going to be a losing proposition every time.
That’s why it’s so obvious that the Alabama High School Athletic Association is making a mistake by implementing instant replay into high school games starting next fall. Alabama will become the first state to have this level of instant replay in high school games.
At first glance, it might seem to be a logical and positive step. Who doesn’t want every call to be correct?
But the problem comes when we start to examine the funding. The first problem is that nobody at the high school association is willing to talk about the cost for schools.
UMS-Wright coach Terry Curtis, appearing on “The Opening Kickoff” on WNSP last week, said the estimate would be about $5,000 the first year and $1,500 every year thereafter.
I would ask, if someone walked into the office of your local principal and said “here’s $5,000 to improve the lives of your students and their high school experience,” would anyone say that money would be best spent on a replay system for a high school football game?
Even if the person with the $5,000 gift is from the high school booster club and he’s dropping off the donation on the desk of the athletics director, do you think that money would be best used by sinking it into a replay system?
I’d much rather see it go toward new equipment, more coaches, better pregame meals or even better field maintenance.
Of course, if the money were spent on those things then DVsport wouldn’t be getting its cut on this deal. DVsport is a company from Pittsburgh that has entered into an agreement with the AHSAA to provide the replay equipment for every Alabama high school that elects to participate in the replay system.
The AHSAA has provided an opt-out for any school that can’t afford or doesn’t want to shell out the money to DVsport for the equipment. Those schools simply wouldn’t have replay available to game officials at their home game.
The logical answer here is to not have instant replay in high school games until the state association is prepared to pick up the cost for every school to have the same system, or until we reach the state championship game level and all the cameras and instant replays are already being produced by a top-level crew televising the game.
I’m all for improving high school football. But you don’t do that by trying to make it more like the NCAA or NFL. You certainly don’t do it by extending high school games an extra 10-30 minutes every Friday so officials on the field can look at a replay and fans in the stands have nothing to do but grumble about the missed call.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.