Consumer Corner: High School Playoffs Are a Loser Idea

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The following is another in an occasional series in which
Multichannel News tries to depict what the consumer press is saying about cable
television. The views of these editorials do not necessarily reflect those of this
newspaper. The first editorial ran in the June 1 issue
of the Cincinatti
Enquirer; the second in the May 28 edition of The Record Herald of Waynesboro,
Pa. Both are reprinted with permission.

As if teen-agers aren't under enough pressure, Fox Sports
Net wants to put them on television for a national championship football game.

No longer would national champs exist only in the minds of
a few sportswriters who help put together the high-school rankings. Instead, a new and
more accurate system of state rankings would pick the No. 1 and No. 2 teams, which would
face off in a nationally televised contest before thousands of fans.

Fox Sports Net wants to see the first game played next
December. Quiet plans have been under way for two years, but there's still a long way to
go: Every high school athletic association will have to be persuaded to change its bylaws
forbidding extra-season play.

Let's not. There's a good reason for those rules. Students
are supposed to be in school to study. They already have enough distractions from
overemphasis on sports. Extended seasons to accommodate TV have turned college
"amateur" sports into farm clubs for the pro leagues. Is that what we want for
high school sports?

The promise of a national championship os a dream scenario
for high-school players and coaches, says the network -- without acknowledging a shred
of self-interest. It'll motivate kids, promote the "virtues of high school
sports" and give recognition to deserving schools, supporters say.

They don't mention the further erosion of childhood that
would accompany such a spectacle. Teen-agers are growing fast enough as it is. The last
thing they need is a national television audience for The Big Game.

Of course, pre-game publicity would be part of the package.
This would lead to more pressure and more hero worship of teen athletes, not to mention
more trite soundbites about "just getting out there and having fun." Eventually,
one game won't be enough, and the playoffs will be extended to a post-season tournament.

Then high schools will have to have their own version of
the NCAA basketball tournament, and so on.

As early as age 5, children square off in soccer and
baseball leagues, complete with a few screaming parents at every game, and more than a few
overwrought coaches who get cranky when one of the players has to miss practice for
homework or church. If the schools play a national championship, what's next? The Junior
High Bowl? Sports scouts in sandboxes?

High school associations shouldn't let the lure of cash get
the best of them. This national championship game is television hype for one purpose
-- profit.

These television broadcasters will get rich on more
advertising dollars -- and kids will be the losers.