Blurring the Lines Between Professionals and Amateurs
The National Collegiate Athletic Association continues to enforce rigid guidelines between amateurism and professionalism. Students of all levels can lose eligibility for a variety of reasons. Accepting free gifts is a colossal no-no in the overarching and critical eyes of the NCAA. Major high school football camps this summer would lead you to believe otherwise.
The past two months have been sprinkled with prep football camps that nearly rival NFL preseason training. The schedule has included The Opening, in which the top 150 football players showcased their athleticism at the Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon; Elite 11, in which the nation’s most lauded two dozen quarterbacks competed in Southern California; and finally, Gridiron Kings 2012, which displayed 65 skill position players last weekend at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
Several student-athletes competed in all three. In the past, most high school athletes were elated to get out of class and leave town for the day, maybe even get to spend a night, for a sporting event. Now, in this modern time, many 16- and 17-year-old athletes are taking transcontinental trips like flight attendants — all for the sake of sports.
The Opening was a spectacle only the joint forces of ESPN and Nike are capable of when it comes to high school sports. The players were clad in the newest and best Nike had to offer, from cleats to gloves, while ESPN aired the 7-on-7 competitions. The NCAA states, however, players can and will lose eligibility if they accept complimentary stuff. (See: Bush, Reggie.)
It’s unsure what the 150 players actually got to keep, but Nike made sure to cover its tracks. There was a customized t-shirt maker in the players’ lounge in the Tiger Woods building that they actually had to pay for. As for the rest of the apparel? One of The Opening participants said on Twitter: ‘They give you a lot of stuff. They spoil you.’
Spoil is an understatement. The players’ locker room included big screen TVs and copies of the video game NCAA Football 2013, which had yet to come out to the public. They also had a barbershop so the young stars ‘could look fresh on camera’ and a Nike+ setup where they could test their physical abilities against the myriad pro players who attended.
Perhaps Nike supports such events to foster brand-allegiance at an early age, hoping if any of these players hear their names called in the 2016 NFL draft, they will sign with the Swoosh that was there from the start. This is especially important, in a business sense, given the recent astronomical rise of Under Armour and its heavy pull with youth. But it’s still not an excuse for such pampering.
In this modern era, filled with media avenues constantly grappling for consumers’ increasingly dwindling attention spans, we’ve seen coverage of high school football expand immensely. It has ranged from instant social media to 24-hour television stations, yet it has not come without some backlash. (See Network, Longhorn.)
Such ostentatious illumination of teenage football has precipitated into equally eye-popping recruiting efforts. This spring, college coaches landed in helicopters on a Missouri high school campus to entice the top-ranked wide receiver prospect, Dorial Green-Beckham.
High school football players may not quite be among the ranks of professionals, but they have certainly surpassed amateur status.