Several years ago, when the Pac-12 began scheduling football games on Friday night, Rob Younger, then the coach at Sweet Home, Ore., and other high school football coaches in the state were bothered.
Facing head-to-head competition from the big boys would hurt high school team’s gates and cost them potential volunteers, Oregon high school coaches were concerned.
Complaints to Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott went unheeded because it was too hard for the conference to turn down ESPN television money. However, when Younger and 32 other state high school association directors complained to the American Football Coaches Association, things changed.
“All of a sudden, because the we had that voice, the number of Friday night college games was greatly reduced,” Younger said.
The hope for a unified voice is giving rise to the National High School Football Coaches Alliance, USA Football will announce today.
While there already is a National High School Basketball Coaches Association and a National High School Baseball Coaches Association, the Alliance is the first such group for high school football coaches.
It comes at a time when the sport has been threatened by concussion and CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) concerns. The most recent participation survey by the National Federation of State High School Associations shows the participants in football (6, 8, 9 and 11 player) in 2016-17 was 1,086,748, are down 25,503 from 1,112,251 in the 2015-16 season. Youth football numbers are declining in many areas as well. According to the Chicago Tribune, the Chicagoland Youth Football League is down to 7,500 players compared to nearly 10,000 a decade ago.
“We need to have consistent messaging,” USA Football CEO Scott Hallenbeck said. “The football community feels we are evolving, giving players different entry points and options to the sport. We need to let people know of our concerns for safety and coaching education.”
The Alliance grew out of a meeting at a national conference put on by USA Football two years ago. A task force, involving six high school association directors, was formed and this January, at another USA Football conference, coaches from 37 states agreed to create the Alliance.
J.T. Curtis, of John Curtis Christian (River Ridge, La.), the winningest active high school football coach in the country, said the Alliance could help coaches address other concerns, such as problems with college recruiting.
“High school football is one of the last pure forms of amateur athletics,” Curtis said. “Progression and money have had an impact on the game, and not necessarily in a positive way. If the Alliance can help us have a voice with the NCAA, that would be a good thing.”
The Alliance’s physical and digital platforms will be powered by USA Football, the sport’s national governing body and Younger, now retired as a coach, will be the Alliance’s executive director. The only major football state missing is Texas.
Younger said that while some concerns are regional, there are a lot of common problems facing the sport throughout the country.
“Each state is unique but we really do share a lot of goals and concerns,” Younger said. “We need a progressive proactive approach to the game of football.”
Follow Jim Halley on Twitter at: @jimhalley