It may appear that I am drifting a little off topic today, but I actually think it has a lot to do with what 9 Kid Fitness is all about. Those of us who are my age were some of the first females to really benefit from the opportunities that sports opened up to women in college and beyond. Although I did not (nor do most) go on to play college athletics, organized sports continue to have an impact on our lives in a positive way. And many of us now have kids playing high school and college sports. I am worried that the athletic pursuit for young women (and men) might be squeezed out or at least impacted by what is happening with college football.
We have been hearing a lot lately about the possible realignment of many of the bigger college sports conferences. Although I am fairly (if not totally) ignorant about all that’s going on, I do understand that what is driving a lot of it is the popularity of football in terms of fan support and TV revenue. Just like most Americans, I like football, but as a cross country coach and as a parent of “non-football sport” athletes, I also have to wonder how it will ultimately affect the other sports, and frankly amateur athletics in general. At a recent cross country meet I started to wonder about all of this when I saw a young man run like the wind.
I noticed him before the girls varsity race was about to start. He was running what looked like an extremely fast workout. I watched him as he ran around the lake and ducked into the woods, following the 5k course in front of the girls. He made it look easy; he was graceful and smooth and his stride seemed almost perfect. He didn’t even appear breathless as he came out of the woods after about two miles of running, and he kept moving almost effortlessly to finish three miles. What amazed me the most, however, was that as I saw the varsity boys lining up to start their race, this runner ran towards the starting line and joined the others lining up for the race. When the gun went off, the group of varsity boys took off in unison, and the young man was in the front of the pack…his first 5K was just a warmup!
Sure enough, as we all waited to see the first of the runners to come off the hill and run around the lake to begin their third and final mile of the 5k, he was still way out in front of the pack. The crowd of parents who came to watch their kids run that day and all of the coaches witnessed this amazing example of pure talent and strong effort. Even on this, his second 5k, he didn’t appear to be struggling. His graceful stride and strong running gait was even more remarkable given that he was now actually racing, and with each stride, he seemed to distance himself from the other runners pursuing him. Even if cross country is not your sport, anyone witnessing this kind of running can only be impressed. For all who were watching, it was a thrill to see him finish his final minutes around the lake. Crossing the the 3.2 mile run in 15:23, he didn’t falter in his stride. As he slowed it down, he put his hands on his knees and stopped to catch his breath. It was the first time I saw him look behind him to see if anyone was there – there wasn’t anyone for at least 30 seconds.
To me, this is the beauty of high school sports. Kids are still in it because they love it and the competition is pure and exhilarating. And it seems to me also that there is an underlying value in this kind of athletic pursuit and competition. It certainly is not unique to running. I’ve seen it at swim meets, basketball games and lacrosse matches, and it should be true for all amateur sports, even college sports. Since ancient times there has been the idea that athletic competition can provide an arena for the practice of virtue and for the development of excellent character. However, all the talk recently about the realignment of college sports conferences seems to be stretching the definition of pure competition. I realize that colleges have been realigning themselves for a long time, but the recent jockeying for position seems to exhibit a lack of “amateurism” to me. The domination of football is understandable in this country, but it makes me wonder what the ripple effect will be for all the other sports, and even for this young runner. What will be his future as a runner when so many colleges are vying for position and left wondering what will come of their “non football programs”? Will some of these colleges even have cross country if they just see it as a “non-revenue” sport? I am forced to think about this since our son is a senior in high school and looking to swim in college.
Some in the press a seem to be questioning what it all might mean to amateur sports, and what is the motivation behind the realignment talk. Woody Paige had a piece in the Denver Post recently about this whole conference realignment thing, and he didn’t paint a pretty picture. Paige said,
“I don’t like what is happening, but we might as well stand on the south side of Interstate 70 at the Genesee exit in front of a runaway 16-wheeler and complain for all the good it does.
In the mid-1970s, I wrote a column predicting that one day the NCAA would be reduced to a few super conferences.
More than a quarter century later . . .
Conferences are losing their identities, their traditions and their rivalries, and selling their souls.
They’re doing it for money, and the bottom line is the bottom line…
People who want a true national championship in college football in the worse way will get one.
In the worse way.”