The following is a guest op-ed from former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and current high school football coaches Mike Alstott and Reidel Anthony.
During our five years as teammates with the Tampa Bay Bucs, we forged a bond that will endure the rest of our lives. That’s what happens when you dedicate yourselves to a common goal and know you can rely on the commitment and character of those around you.
Now, as Florida high school football coaches, we try to pass along this same sense of honor, fair play and sportsmanship to our young student-athletes. Unfortunately, those things are under attack in the Florida Legislature. Two bad proposals would undermine the ideals that are why we have high school athletics in the first place.
The legislation would undercut the authority of the Florida High School Athletic Association, even though the organization has spent almost 100 years as the trusted authority to protect the integrity of high school sports. This would diminish the wonderful experience of high school sports, which is now shared by 260,000 boys and girls across Florida. Worst of all, it would open the door for wholesale free agency for high school athletes.
Under the proposals (HB 1279 and SB 1164), students could easily switch schools to play for a different high school sports team. All they’d have to do is meet the athletic and academic requirements set by the schools they choose. This amounts to wholesale free agency for high school athletes, leaving the field wide open to cutthroat recruiting.
We were both in the NFL, and we understand free agency. We also understand recruiting, but that was for college. There’s no place for either of these in high school football – it’s not what high school is all about.
The long-term effects of these bad proposals would hurt Florida communities, where fair competition and local school spirit will be crushed by ambitious high schools that want to stockpile star athletes. This would ignore what happens at the schools they raid for talent. The players left behind would certainly feel abandoned and betrayed by teammates and friends who felt they weren’t good enough.
What’s next – middle school scouting combines for future high school prospects? Florida high school sports would never be the same again.
The last thing kids need is a process that invites open recruiting of high school athletes. It’s hard enough for top players to keep a level head when the colleges come calling — it will be almost impossible for younger kids to resist that attention from other high schools. The idea that a kid could live in one part of town, play football for a school in another part of town, and then “qualify” to play basketball at an entirely different school, is not what high school sports is supposed to be all about.
As coaches, we have to wonder how we would encourage children in such a backwards system, where victories and personal ambition come before character building and sportsmanship. How could we have an honest conversation with them about traditional things like playing by the rules, teamwork and fair play while they are being recruited by coaches who can get away with manipulation, pressure and bribery?
We strongly object to changes that would let recruiters target impressionable young people as they finish middle school, filling their heads with dreams of championships and college scholarships. This would inflict damage on overall school spirit. When fair and friendly competition gives way to the win-at-all-costs mentality of a few high school athletic powerhouses, all notion of fair play is destroyed.
High school-aged athletes need rules, regulations and structure to guide their actions. They deserve every opportunity we can give them to succeed, but not at the expense of their values and integrity – or of a system that assures a level playing field for all. Over many years of playing football, we learned the core lessons of sportsmanship, and we will never sacrifice them for the sake of winning. That is why we believe HB 1279 and SB 1164 are bad for Florida’s children.