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Column: CIF takes big step in eliminating games against some sports academies and prep schools

Miles Reed of Corona Centennial runs against IMG Academy in a 2016 prep football game. California teams won’t be able to play sports factories like IMG starting in fall 2019.
(Francine Orr)

There seems to be a disconnect among some parents about the main goal of participating in high school sports.

The debate picked up steam last week after the CIF Federated Council voted unanimously to approve a new rule that, starting in the 2019-20 school year, will ban California teams from playing schools around the country that don’t compete in their state championship playoffs.

That means Florida’s IMG Academy, Nevada’s Findlay Prep and Virginia’s Oak Hill Academy won’t be eligible to play California teams.

“Again, the main goal is supposed to be to get some of these kids scholarships,” was the tweet of one parent in response to the decision. “If a kid shows out playing Oak Hill that alone could put that kid on the map. The win or loss doesn’t affect their high school district record or chances, so what’s the problem?”

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Here’s the problem: Those other schools are not playing by the same rules as the schools competing for state championships. They’re allowed to recruit. They’re sports factories.

“Their balance between academics and athletics and the way they attract kids is not consistent with what you see in traditional high schools,” said Terry Barnum, a member of the Federated Council. “Playing these kids doesn’t fit with our mission as an organization.”

Barnum, who’s head of athletics at Studio City Harvard-Westlake, acknowledges the rule will eliminate marquee matchups once it takes effect.

“That is the downside,” he said. “Some of the marquee matchups we enjoy, we won’t have them in about a year.”

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Games scheduled for 2018-19, such as the September football matchup between Santa Ana Mater Dei vs. IMG Academy, won’t be affected.

What’s wrong with leaving the decision to play an IMG Academy up to individual schools? They know what they’re up against and want the experience of playing a top team.

Roger Blake, executive director of the CIF, said, “This new business model, we’re not going to support by playing them.”

The best argument to me is that parents need to be reminded what playing high school sports in California is supposed to be about.

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“The main goal is to develop the young man’s work ethic and skills to be a productive adult,” said Mike Herrington, football coach at Newhall Hart. “You’re trying to build a team where people work together and get along like they will have to do when they get into the job market. Scholarships come with athletes who can qualify. If there’s an athlete out there who has skills, size, demeanor and academic performance, they’ll get an athletic scholarship. It has nothing to do with opponents they play.”

Parents who don’t believe in Herrington’s philosophy can pull their son or daughter out of the traditional high school setting and go find one of the programs selling themselves as a sports-based training academy.

The pendulum has been moving too far toward making education-based high school sports closer to college and pro sports. This rule change is a small but important step toward reminding everyone to slow down.

ESPN and others won’t be able to use California teams to create their made-for-TV national championship events. They’ll have to settle for club, AAU programs and prep schools, where there are few rules and lots of salesmen rather than educators. That’s fine. Go enjoy the competition and playing for mythical championships.

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There are enough powerhouses in California to have quality teams, quality competitions and quality championships without having to erode the fundamental mission of high school athletics.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: @latsondheimer


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