TopOfTheCircle.com

Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

Sept. 5, 2015 — Upsetting the apple cart

Last weekend, I flipped through the channels and came across a football game featuring a name and a team that could be one of the greatest threats to competitiveness in high-school sports.

The name is IMG, International Management Group. It is one of the most powerful entities in world sport, right up there with Adidas, Nike, FIFA, and the International Olympic Committee.

IMG runs many sporting events around the world, represents many athletes in contract negotiations, and is a major TV rights holder. In other words, the company is so all-encompassing, it can make money off several revenue streams for the same event.

Several years ago, IMG bought the Nick Bolletieri Tennis Academy and opened it out to encompass many different youth sports. The rebranded IMG Academy has started exercising its influence on football by scheduling teams in Florida, Texas, Maryland, and New Jersey. And this has raised the hackles of some observers.

“I certainly see that point and somewhat agree with it,” Plano Prestonwood (Tex.) football coach Chris Cunningham tells The Dallas Morning News. “What they are, I wouldn’t put us in that category in any way, shape or form. As I see it, they are an athletic entity that offers some education. We’re an educational entity that offers athletics as a part of that education process.”

The thing is, what IMG has done mimics what has happened in basketball, where Las Vegas Findlay Prep (Nev.) is only nominally a school that prepares an elite group of basketball players for their one-and-done college experience on their way to the NBA. In what’s become a Wild West kind of mentality within basketball recruiting, shoe companies, coaches, and rich boosters have flipped the notion of education upside down and have created schools for their basketball teams rather than assembled a basketball team from its student body.

Abuses have occurred. In a mad scramble to try to position future NBA star Amare Stoudamire, he attended six high schools in an eight-month period.

There are now some super-prep teams in lacrosse. Four months ago, two of these teams met in a boys’ game between IMG Academy and Hill Academy from Vaughn, Ontario.

The final score was Hill 21, IMG 20. Yep, all of that recruited talent managed to rack up 41 goals in a regulation game.

The concept of the community-based high-school sports team has been enervated in recent years by the rise in private-school education, the school choice movement, and home-schooled students exercising their right to play.

But the super-prep takes it to another level in terms of putting education down the list of priorities. And that’s not the best message to give to young people.

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