This newsletter is all about high school football
Good morning! Thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points.
Last weekend, I had a few of my SB Nation colleagues visiting Chicago for some meetings. A quirk in the schedule let us do something we basically never get to do…watch a college football game in the stands, instead of the press box. I took my team to the Ohio State at Northwestern game, where we watched the Buckeyes disembowel the hapless Wildcats.
One of those colleagues was the manager for our Michigan site, Maize N Brew. I can’t confirm if HE had fun. But I certainly did!
I realize that it’s impractical for most reporters to do this, but I think getting out of the press box and watching a football game just like everybody else is an important thing to do, especially now that topics like attendance and fan support have become significant stories. How can we write about how schools can bring fans in if we forget what their experience is actually like?
I intellectually understood a lot of the reasons why a fan may be less excited about actually going to a college football game, and especially at a place like Northwestern, with traffic and weather concerns. The biggest thing I had forgotten about was just how long those TV timeouts and play stoppages feel. The weather was still surprisingly decent for almost-Chicago in October, and I was busy making friends with a bunch of Ohio State fans, so I didn’t mind it too much, but if it was ten degrees colder…the experience would have been a lot less fun, especially since the product on the field was…well, you know.
Also, I assume Pat Fitzgerald is the reason why nobody had any cell service. Would that have prevented any of us from going to a game? No. Was it noticed by our cadre of overly online bloggers? Yes.
I’ll give Northwestern and Evanston some credit. Traffic around northern Chicago and Evanston can be brutal under the best of circumstances, and that’s without tens of thousands of Ohio State fans who don’t know how to use the subway system. But any logistical problems were handled about as well as they could have been. A Friday night game, where perhaps the biggest fanbase in the country visited one of the smallest (and most urban) in the Power Five, was going to be hard no matter what, though.
And it wasn’t worth it for anybody!
The frustrating part about this entire experience is that nobody really benefitted. Lots of college teams play occasional games on Fridays, especially mid-major type programs that badly need the exposure, or TV money.
But the Big Ten isn’t some mid-major that would get drowned out during a conventional Saturday. The league is full of the biggest brands in college football. Nobody in the league needs the money, or the extra TV boost.
But Fox calls the shots, they wanted extra Friday inventory, the coaches complained and nobody listened, and lo and behold, Ohio State and Northwestern were scheduled for a national FS1 broadcast on a Friday.
But then the Yankees/Astros game, originally scheduled for Thursday, was postponed until Friday. And since Fox already had Wrestlemania, they couldn’t put Ohio State there. So this game was pushed to BTN, exactly where it would have been had the game been played on Saturday. Nobody won.
Some people lost more than others, which is saying something, because Northwestern lost the football game, 52-3. Ohio high schools, for example, were really put behind the eight ball. Even in football-mad Ohio, it’s tough to ask folks to pick watching the local high school instead of the Buckeyes, and that gate money is way more important if you don’t get a $50 million dollar TV check.
Schools from across the state, from the Toledo area, to around Columbus, and elsewhere, moved some games to Thursday, to avoid a conflict with Buckeye football. But replicating a Saturday game on a Thursday is impossible. Even if a high school made every possible accommodation to avoid direct competition with Ohio State (or Nebraska, or Penn State, etc), their local athletic budget is taking a haircut.
I hope the Big Ten doesn’t make this mistake with their next TV deal in a few years. I’m sure the money will be there again, but it shouldn’t be worth compromising relationships with local high school programs, and keeping their coaches off the recruiting trail on a night when most kids are playing in games of their own. Fridays ought to be for the preps, Saturdays for college football, and Sundays for the NFL.
Rutgers is asking prep coaches who should coach the program next
Building relationships with local high school football coaches is important for every college gig, but for some FBS programs, it’s absolutely mission critical. If you’re coaching at say, West Virginia, you don’t want to burn bridges with the local coaching community, but 90% of your recruiting class each season is coming from out of state, so it wouldn’t be the end of the world. But at a place like say, Texas, or USC, if you can’t get the best kids from your state, you have no shot.
Perhaps nowhere is that principle more true than at Rutgers, the hardest job in the Power Five. The only thing Rutgers really has going for it is the fact that New Jersey produces lots of quality football players. Per the 247 Sports Composite, there are eight blue-chipper New Jersey kids in the class of 2020, and 23 have a composite ranking of at least .85.
But Rutgers doesn’t have a commitment from anybody in the top 20 statewide, and that’s mostly been the case under Chris Ash, which is a big reason why Rutgers is at the bottom of the Big Ten, and Ash isn’t the head coach of Rutgers anymore.
So the school is quietly asking prep coaches around the state who they think should be the next coach at Rutgers. Via NJ.com:
It would appear many of the NJ coaches agree with the conventional wisdom, that in order to be competitive, Rutgers needs to hire an established name in coaching circles, and ideally, somebody with deep ties to New Jersey.
Many mentioned former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano, but others, like Boston College head coach Steve Addazio, former Miami head coach Al Golden, former Wisconsin and Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema, and ex New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan, were also mentioned.
This approach may not make sense for everybody, but I think it does make sense for Rutgers. This job is so difficult that no matter who they hire, there is a good chance that the school will still struggle to consistently make bowl games. But if they bring in a coach that can’t sell the program to in-state programs, then the odds of success are absolutely zero. There simply aren’t enough other quality football players in New England, or Florida, or anywhere else you may want to recruit, to complete with Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and others on an annual basis.
I could see an AD of a university in Texas, or South Florida, or near Atlanta, doing something similar. High school coaches shouldn’t have the final, or only say. But if the key to your success runs through securing players from those programs, I don’t think you can ignore them. Chris Ash did, and look what happened to him. He got squashed by Kansas.
What’s behind the football boom near Atlanta? Among other things, a ton of money
Most football fans probably know some of the biggest recruiting battlegrounds in the country. Chances are, your favorite college football team has to recruit greater Los Angeles, or the DFW Metroplex, or South Florida, no matter where the school is located. Another city that’s recently joined that group is great Atlanta, and the AP went down to investigate why.
That’s a pretty huge number!
Part of that spike probably comes from the fact, as the story notes, Atlanta’s population has blown up over the last 20 years. When you take a city that already had a strong football tradition, and give it a ton of transplants (many of whom move from places like Ohio and Pennsylvania, that also have strong traditions) and money, and you’re going to see some pretty solid results on the field.
The money part is significant. 44 Georgia high school football coaches make six figures . Granted, some of those coaches are athletic directors, or experienced high school teachers, so their salary numbers are boosted by essentially having two jobs, but not all of them. And $100,000 is more than a lot of position coaches at the FBS level, to say nothing about FCS.
If you’re able to pay enough money to staff multiple full time, or quasi-full time coaches, and enough to recruit coaches away from Florida, or South Carolina, or hell, maybe even the college ranks, you’re going to see improvements on the field at the high school level.
Russo notes that even programs with modest financial resources are sending preps to FBS colleges, which makes me think money isn’t the whole story, but affluent communities throwing tons of money at their prep programs, either from booster clubs or property taxes, certainly looks like it helps.
Also, from the article:
I think, beyond pure population loss, this is the biggest reason why elite level talent isn’t developed in the midwest quite as much as it was a few decades ago. Multiple coaches, trainers, weight rooms, etc are expensive. If your community is struggling to pass operating levies, prep sports is going to suffer.
Whether public school districts should be spending this kind of money is a different, and important, question. I understand that circumstances in each state and district vary, so sweeping statements may not be helpful.
I can at least understand the argument for spending big on college athletics, even while a college may have significant needs, since, non-profit status notwithstanding, colleges are essentially businesses. They say they need college sports to help serve as a marketing arm to help recruit students, and in many cases, the athletic department is a profit center (no matter what the books say).
That relationship just isn’t the same for a public high school. And this is the former educator in me (one who can’t send his kids to school right now because Chicago teachers are on strike, in large part because they lack basic operating resources) talking…but something about a community being able to staff multiple coaches at big money in a state with major educational disparities rubs me the wrong way a little bit.
Is it a good use of money, either taxpayer or private donations? Further research required, I think. Does it help give your town a really good high school team, one that can send lots of players to college?
Yes. I’d say that’s true.
And that’s probably good news if your favorite program recruits from this area.
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Please send all questions, comments, feedback, and Rutgers head coaching suggestions to [email protected], or @MattSBN on Twitter dot com. I’m currently in Washington D.C for additional meetings, but will return to Chicago on Tuesday night, so look for more Extra Points later this week.