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Guest Editorial By MHSAA Executive Director John E. "Jack" Roberts:

Best Of State Tournament A Bad Idea

EAST LANSING, Mich. - August 20 - Some in the National Federation of State High School Associations are trying to develop a proposal for a national summer basketball tournament between all-star teams of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. They color it as a camp program but call it "Best of State." It would involve over three weeks in July statewide camps and the selection of teams to participate in a regional tournament and, if victorious, in a national tournament.

The party line is that this effort will promote the educational purposes of interscholastic athletics and the good things we do in school sports, provide a healthier alternative to existing summer camp and competition experiences for students, and restore the role of high school coaches in the recruiting process for intercollegiate athletics.

However, the source of the proposal is an ad hoc marketing committee, a group whose function has been to study ways to market the National Federation, make money for the National Federation and promote the "national presence" of the National Federation. The Best of State proposal, regardless of the window dressing of other reasons, will forever be tainted with those commercial and crass primary objectives.

Moreover, the window dressing will not be accomplished. Best of State will not eliminate AAU programs, will not reduce NIKE and Adidas influence on school and college basketball, will not remove agents, promoters and recruiting abuses, and will not restore high school coaches to a place of prominence in the recruiting process.

Only when the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the National Association of Basketball Coaches change the policies that caused the problem -- only when they eliminate summer recruiting and, while they're at it, eliminate freshman eligibility and early signing -- will that problem be properly addressed and potentially solved.

The Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan has studied the problem of summer recruiting abuses and loss of influence of the school coach in the recruiting process, and BCAM has published a position paper that concludes with only one recommendation: BCAM does not want the summer basketball camp and tournament program; and BCAM proposes elimination of summer recruiting as the only solution that will really solve the problem.

BCAM is correct. The only solution to summer recruiting abuses is the elimination of summer recruiting and evaluation periods. And as long as the National Federation is discussing this Best of State concept, the NCAA and NABC don't have to get really serious. They won't have to solve the problem they created.

We doubt the National Federation's Constitution and Bylaws give the National Federation authority to conduct a summer basketball tournament; and to do so would cause the National Federation to violate its founding principles. Many National Federation Handbook changes would have to be made.

Many changes in the Michigan High School Athletic Association would also have to occur. Whole pages of the MHSAA Handbook would have to be ripped out and thrown away. And after all of these changes in philosophy and policy, and all the additional staff time and expense to run these camps and select these all-star teams, what would we really have?

· More exposure for state high school associations and the National Federation? Yes.
· Fewer basketball camps? No, there would be more.
· Requests for the same kind of program in other sports? Absolutely, including most obviously volleyball and soccer.
· Less AAU involvement? Unlikely. Less NIKE and Adidas influence? Unlikely. Fewer agents and promoters? Unlikely.

We seriously doubt the NCAA could adopt a rule which limits summer recruiting to only the events run by state high school associations and the National Federation. And if such a rule were adopted, we are even less sure the NCAA could keep such a rule in the face of political, legislative and judicial scrutiny. The NCAA will lose another anti-trust suit, and this time we would be co-conspirators.

These plans should be scuttled, and we should send this message to the NCAA and NABC: "Solve this problem that you caused, and only you can fix. Return recruiting to the school year; prohibit recruiting in the summer."

Of the 700 plus high schools which sponsor basketball in Michigan, fewer than 70 have anything close to a Division I basketball prospect, and most of them have only one such prospect. For more than 90 percent of our schools and more than 99 percent of our basketball players, this initiative is irrelevant and meaningless.

Moreover, a national summer all-star basketball tournament not only will not promote local, school-year, school-based basketball programs, it would contradict the essence of programs.

The Best of State is an initiative to promote a national organization more than local programs. It is not an initiative that alleviates a significant problem for a significant portion of our constituency. Summer basketball recruiting abuses is not a problem that affects the heart and soul of high school basketball across most of Michigan.

In Michigan, as in most of America, the problem the National Federation is pretending to fix does not exist. This is a problem for a few elite college-bound basketball players; so the college authorities ought to fix it. They caused the problem by allowing summer recruiting and evaluation periods. They can solve the problem by eliminating those periods.

As for the interscholastic level, the need is for meaning more than money; for a clear message about our pure, wholesome, local programs, more than marketing of a national organization.

Best of State is a bad idea . . . one of the worst ideas in the history of the National Federation, which was formed to halt others from doing the very sort of thing it's now talking about doing itself: namely, exploiting students for corporate gain. Educational athletics are not made more wholesome by conducting under the label of schools what we oppose under the label of private promoters.

In 1937, Lawrence University President Henry Merritt Wriston said, "The institution which exploits youth for profit or publicity betrays its calling; it impairs or destroys its capacity to fulfill its function."

Addressing college athletics today (including the debasing recruiting process and the year-round pressures on coaches and athletes), Drury College Soccer Coach Rick Burns wrote in the June 29, 1998 NCAA News: "We are losing our way. We need to find a way back from this athletics excess . . . It's unheard of in our society for someone to say, 'Stop now, that's enough.'"

For high school athletics in Michigan, and we think in many other states, we are still able to say, "Stop now, that's enough."