If a high school basketball player is one of the 10 best in America, he could play in all-star games from now through June. Coast to coast, he could be king. There are city-against-city games, states against states, cities against the nation, the nation against the world. Truly, truly. Oh, to be 18 and able to slam-dunk. Maybe we could play on the moon next. Isn't it great?
It's wrong, fundamentally wrong.
An occasional all-star game makes sense. Tonight's Capital Classic at the Capital Centre makes sense. For three or four days, some of the nation's best high school players visit the White House, the Capitol, the Smithsonian. College recruiters are kept at a distance. A healthy part of "the gross revenues goes to an admirable charity. Perhaps 15,000 people will pay to see the show tonight.
But what if?
What if we multiply the Capital Classic by, say, 20? A senior who chooses to play in only half those games would miss a month of schoolwork. And what if the promoters of the games were business competitors? What if those promoters, in the name of holy free enterprise based on the exploitation of children, offered inducement money to the players or their parasitic agents?
And no one can do anything about it.
Once seniors are finished with their seasons, they are free of high school regulations and not yet subject to any college regulation on all-star games.
It is loophole that needs to be plugged quickly.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association has made a half-hearted stab at it. In conjunction with a national high school athletic association, the NCAA soon will send a letter to high school administrators asking them to discourage participation in all-star games. The letter will say the games disrupt academic progress and, in some instances, "primarily benefit promoters."
Such a letter, one hopes, will be taken as worthwhile advice. But, one knows, the letter will be taken as worthless. When a player is making your high school famous from Bridgeport to Los Angeles, do you force him to go to class?
Only NCAA legislation will end the proliferation of high school games.
The NCAA ought to say a player is limited to two all-star games. Play in more and he loses a year of college eligibility.
A two-game limit has, in fact, been proposed by Fred Jacoby, commissioner of the Mid-American Conference. He's been suggesting it for three years now. But only in January did his proposal ever come up for a vote at the NCAA convention. It was rejected overwhelmingly on grounds the NCAA shouldn't mess in high schools business.
That would make sense except that the NCAA already has its hand in high school affairs. The NCAA, for instance, limits a senior's recruiting visits to six colleges. It also demands he have a 2.0 grade-point average to qualify for a scholarship. And if a baseball player turns pro in high school, say, that makes him ineligible for college baseball.
Jacoby lists six reasons the NCAA should limit a senior's all-star games: 1) missed class time, 2) even more time away from school because college visits must be made during the week, the weekends belonging to the all-star game, 3) the loss of eligibility for spring sports, 4) some games exploit the players for the promoters's welfare, not the players', 5) the number of all-star appearances becomes a "status symbol," with players competing for the most invitations, and 6) an extension of college recruiting, with coaches forced to attend the games "to literally protect their prospects."
For a study of recruiting, Jacoby said he once talked to 10 Mid-American Conference freshman basketball players.
"One had played in eight all-star games," Jacoby said. "He said the first couple were all right, but after that it became drudgery. He said there'd by so many coaches, recruiters and agents outside his motel room that you had to fight your way down the hall."
Morgan Wootten, the De Matha High School coach believes there should be a two-game limit. An extended tour of exploitation is absurd, he said.
"Some of the games, without question, are just flesh peddlers," Wootten said. "Without naming the game, I once saw about 300 coaches lined up to meet the players. Each coach got 10 seconds with each player."
The Capital Classic has a lot of good things going for it, said Wooten, who has coached in the game. Besides a strict set of rules limiting recruiters' contact with the players, the "game is an educational experience with the trip to Washington and it's for the greatest charity possible, Children's Hospital."
Children's Hospital says the Capital Classic has donated $47,550 in the last four years. Of an approximate $70,000 gross last year, said Bob Geoghan, executive director of thegame, 115,000 went to the hospital.