Football’s Rags To Riches Story at Risk

CNU football headshotBy: Wes Austin

In recent years, the focus on recruiting high school football players has shifted from solely watching film. Both the NFL and college football make tons of money from football. As money continues to play a big role in the NFL and college football, it has begun to play a role in football recruiting. With camps, prep schools, and recruiting videos becoming big factors in the recruiting of high school players, this gives an advantage to players to get recruited; however, not all players can afford these resources. These advances in recruiting serve as a disadvantage to the lower class. Today, many of the NFL’s great players come from the lower class. As recruiting becomes more focused around prep schools, and camps, the lower class football player could become extinct to college football and the NFL.

Material circumstances is a theory that states there are the economic conditions underlying society. I will apply this theory to football and recruiting. To understand this new era of football recruiting one needs to understand the economic state of football in the college and the NFL. In the 2014-15 season, the NFL brought in $7.24 billion in revenue. The University of Texas and Michigan’s football programs bought in $138.8 million by themselves in the 2014-15 college football season. Football is very profitable, and not only the NFL and the NCAA are aware of this. Football camps, and prep schools are a great tool for getting high school players to the next level but it is also a way to generate revenue. Although these advances in recruiting help high school players get to the next level, they may also hurt players who do not have the money to use these services.

Football is affordable to play for all social classes. Some sports are expensive and make it hard for someone from the lower class to play the sport. For example, baseball has become more expensive over the years and is not as accepting towards the lower class player. The cost of baseball equipment adds up and can be a burden to the budget of a lower class family trying to get everything their child needs to play. Bats alone cost $200. Fielding gloves can cost up to $100. Batting helmets cost $30 and Nike batting gloves can cost $40. After that you still have to buy a pair of cleats. A $50 pair of cleats is seen as a good deal. Then to top it off, you have to buy a bag to hold all the equipment you just bought. That will cost you around $30. All of the equipment combined costs around $450. This is not including the price to join a team. The registration fee can cost over $100. One of biggest ways to get recruited in baseball is through the Amateur Athletic Association (AAU). AAU baseball is dedicated to the development and promotion of amateur sports. Baseball players that play AAU play amongst the best competition and have a better chance to make it to the next level. AAU baseball can cost as much as $500 to $6000 per year. This is a price that many low income families cannot afford.

Football does not need nearly as much financial support. There is still the registration fee that is over $100 but after that, there are not many additional purchases. In football the team provides their players with everything except their cleats. A good pair of cleats cost between $70 and $120 depending on how much you care about your looks. Players’ helmets, pads, pants, jerseys, mouthpieces, and socks are all provided for them. Many people buy more than this but for lower income families everything that the team provides is a big help. Baseball costs about four times more than football to play and this is not including the cost of AAU baseball.

For years, football’s main recruiting tool of high school players has been film. This gave everyone a fair shot of being recruited to the next level. In recent years there have become new ways to get your film out to coaches. One of the most popular websites for players to make a highlight tape is Hudl. Hudl allows players to take clips from their games and add create a highlight video, equipped with special effects and music if desired. They can do all of this on their smartphone or laptop. After the video is created it can be emailed to hundreds of college coaches across the nation in just seconds. Although Hudl serves as a great recruiting tool, some of the slower class high schools do not have the type of technology to make highlight tapes. This puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to being recruited.

Summer football camps are another way for players to get their names out there. High school players attend the camps and compete against other players in the hopes of impressing college scouts. Many scouts attend the camps and some even offer scholarships at these events. The football camps have served as a great tool for high school players to get their name out there. Although they are a great tool, players that come from low income families may not have the money to attend these camps. Some of the football camps cost money. Along with the cost to register for the camp, there is also the cost to travel. The camps are held regionally so players may not be in close proximity to where the camps are being held. The prices of travel and registration may discourage low income parents from paying for their kid to get exposure to college scouts. This is another disadvantage of towards the lower class athlete that wants to play college football.

Over the years many high school players have taken the prep school route. This route has become more popular as the years go by. Prep schools are schools that high school athletes attend in order to prepare them for college. A prep school is as close to the college experience a high school football player can get. The players are surrounded by great coaches, facilities, and receive a great education from the schools. Prep schools are well known in the national spotlight and have games covered by ESPN. Since the prep schools are known nationally, this gives the players more exposure to college teams than public high schools.

Prep schools are great for high school players that want to make it to the next level but only for the ones that can afford it. Playing football at a prep school comes with a big price tag. One of the best prep schools in the country is IMG Academy. IMG Academy is equipped with state of the art facilities and equipment that even some Division 1 colleges don’t have. In order to afford such facilities and make IMG the prestigious prep school that it is, they charge their students thousands in tuition. The cost of a year of tuition and boarding for football players is $70,800. Although they do provide financial-aid, families still end up paying thousands of dollars to send their kids to IMG Academy. Although IMG stands out from other prep schools, it is one of many expensive prep schools. Prep schools across the country cost thousands to attend. Once again, prep schools serve as a great way for high school players to make it to the next level but this is only for the ones that can afford it. What about the players that cannot afford it? The less fortunate players from the lower class?

With the rise of the new era of recruiting, college coaches focus has shifted towards camps, prep schools, and the new film technology. This is a great advantage for high school players that have these resources at hand but for the ones that don’t this can be a major disadvantage. Recruiting was once solely based on basic game film that showed the players talent. The playing field for high school players was much more equal during this time. Adding all of these variables to recruiting, puts the high school football player from the lower class at a disadvantage. No big deal right?

Wrong. Some of the best players in college and the NFL come from the lower class. With this new focus in recruiting some of the best players in the NFL may have never made it. A number of the NFL’s great players have come from lower class families. Ray Lewis, came from a low income family. He was raised by solely his mom and he helped her take care of  his younger siblings. He was a star football player at his high school and received a full scholarship from Miami. He later made it to the NFL and played for the Baltimore Ravens. Lewis led the Ravens to two Super Bowl wins and is now known as one of the greatest linebackers to ever play in the NFL.  Terrell Owens was born to a seventeen year old mom, and lived in a lower class environment. He was one of the best receivers in the NFL during his career. Devonta Freeman grew up in a family where his mom worked a minimum wage job. There were nights when he and his family went to bed hungry due to a lack of food. He was a great high school player and went on to play at Florida State University on a full scholarship. He was later drafted by the Atlanta Falcons and was top 10 amongst rushing yards in the 2015 NFL season. Demaryius Thomas grew up in a house where his mom went to jail when he was a young kid. He faced homelessness throughout his childhood. He excelled in football and accepted a full ride to play at Georgia Tech. He was later drafted by the Denver Broncos in the first round, and has been their best receiver over the past two season, and helped them win the Super Bowl in 2015.

ray lewis super bowl

The list of players in the NFL that came from the lower class goes on and on. If this new era of recruiting existed back then, would these players still be in the NFL? The focus of recruiting involves so many different resources that may not have been available to these players back then. I can’t imagine that Ray Lewis’ mom could afford to send him across the country to camps while raising him along with his four younger siblings. I can’t imagine that Demaryius Thomas could have afforded to play at a prep school. There were times where his family could not afford adequate housing. This new era of recruiting gives privileged kids a great advantage to get recruited over kids that come from low income families. Certainly no time soon, but over time if this continues we could see the disappearance of the lower class, and players like Ray Lewis, Demaryius Thomas, Devonta Freeman, and many others from college football and the NFL.

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