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Sports Talk: Pay to play has no place in high schools

I recently read a newspaper report that some school systems in metro Atlanta and north Georgia are considering participation fees for students that play high school sports. The high cost of operating an athletic program is taking its toll during the current economic crunch.

Football is the sport that is taking the most heat. It is by far the most expensive sport. It involves the most players and coaches and very costly equipment. There is also the liability, team travel as well as the high cost of game management.

With this high cost some school administrators are proposing fees of $100 or more to play football. They suggest that football costs more, so the player should pay more. What about teams like cross-country and volleyball? I've read figures like $10 to $20. After all, those sports don't cost the school as much.

School systems should have seen this coming. Even in the best of economic times, the cost of operating an athletic program was constantly rising. Back when Georgia was seeing money practically falling from the sky, schools went bonkers adding programs. Title IX had a lot to do with it by requiring schools to offer equal participation opportunity for females. This led to an influx of new minor programs to provide these opportunities. I'm all for girls having the chance to participate. It cannot be denied; however, in a business sense Title IX is a barrel of red ink.

The soccer boom also contributed to the addition of programs. Most schools of any size now field not one, but two soccer teams. The coed squads eventually gave way to a team for both boys and girls. I don't have a problem with soccer, wrestling, softball, swimming, diving or any other sport. But if we are looking only at the bottom line, these are activities that seldom break even. The cold, hard fact is the public, other than parents and family, will not pay to watch these games or matches.

I am not advocating the elimination of minor sports to save money. The law would never stand for it anyway, especially since school systems have created this beast mostly on their own volition. To charge a kid any amount of money to play football, or basketball for that matter would be absurd.

Football is the cash cow in Georgia high schools. Why would you even consider killing the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg by charging a kid to play? This year $100, next year $125, and so on. I can't see asking a kid to practice four hours daily July through November, lift weights year round and then charge him for the experience.

I've always felt that the GHSA is already using children to make money by allowing four teams from each region to make the state playoffs. It has created another financial windfall, albeit in most cases, a small one. To be fair, this led to expanded playoff fields in other sports.

High school athletes are volunteers playing for fun, and most of them can't, or won't, pay to volunteer. Many would have to depend on fundraising for their entry fee, and there's plenty of that going on already.

Football is my favorite but my preferences aside; it is the sport that brings home the bacon. Without football, most school's athletic booster support groups would be nonexistent. That would mean no gate receipts or donations either, all of which supports an entire program.

Free participation is essential for all sports. Sports serve a great purpose in our schools but unfortunately they are expensive. Next week, I'll toss out a thought or two that might help prevent pay to play from becoming more than just an idea.

Web posted on Thursday, May 13, 2004

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