ESPN is televising, on its various networks, 26 high school football games this season, including 13 this weekend. With the newly launched Fox Sports 1 also running a schedule of seven games, there are nationally televised high school games on every weekend through Nov. 1, including games every day of the week except for Tuesday and Wednesday.
Is all this exposure good for high school sports?
“At the local level, I don’t mind it at all,” said North Rockland athletic director Joe Casarella, who was also the head football coach from 1980-2010. “I think it’s very exciting for the kids if they win because the channels that show it, they show it over and over and over again as filler. But at the national level, I think it’s financial. They don’t even think of the negatives of it with the kids. They’re getting paid to go on. It’s a means of revenue for the school districts, many of them private schools.”
Lakeland coach Rob Cappelli said he realizes the surrounding fanfare of playing in a nationally televised game could lead players to lose focus. He still thinks the pros outweigh the cons.
With football numbers in the area diminishing due to concussion concerns and the appeal of playing other sports, a nationally televised game could lure kids back, he said.
“I think it would be great, especially in Section 1 football where the numbers are very low right now,” Cappelli said. “Anything that can bring something positive, and maybe get kids interested, would be great for the sport. I think if ESPN wants to do that, I’m all for it.”
Santa Margarita (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.) is playing St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.) on Fox Sports 1 on Oct. 11. Santa Margarita coach Harry Welch sees the positives, but worries TV games encourage misplaced priorities.
“From a high school coaching standpoint, we’re almost prostituting ourselves putting high school games on TV,” Welch said. “It’s high school football. It’s supposed to be something for the family and friends and people come to have a good time.”
That dichotomy between taking advantage of the exposure but confronting the negatives that come with it seem unavoidable, according to Stepinac coach and athletic director Mike O’Donnell.
“I can’t imagine how hard it would be to get kids to focus on school and other responsibilities with the pressure of a game on national TV,” O’Donnell said. “I think it is too early of an age for high school kids to handle that pressure. We always need to be reminded that this is high school sports. It is similar to pressure AAU programs put on kids when they travel all over the country to play. They sometimes forget they have responsibilities to students’ academics and social life.”
One team that has received national exposure in recent years is Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., which has lured several of Rockland’s top athletes.
Casarella said the team’s presence on national TV has been a major selling point to recruits.
“If not for the kids then for the parents, many of them who are living through their kids’ eyes,” Casarella said.