One of the reasons football is my favorite high school sport to follow is its high-stakes nature. The higher the stakes, the more excitement there is at gametime, and getting to walk on the sidelines next to the players just wouldn't be that fun if there weren't hundreds of people in the stands, if there weren't cheerleaders and marching bands and pomp and ceremony. Also, if not for those hundreds of people, there wouldn't be any need for me to walk those sidelines. Those hundreds of people are the only folks who are going to read my articles. So generally, I want the games to be more popular. But as Eric Sondheimer notes in his LA Times prep sports column today, popularity does have its drawbacks.
Moving from Northern California to Southern California, it's pretty clear that the games are more popular down here. I think the teams are generally regarded as better, too--and I have lived one personal anecdote that confirms that: I met a mom on one football sideline who had moved her kid from out-of-state to Southern California, because this is more of an area where college scouts will get a glimpse of you.
Again, if that means better players on the field, well that's great. That's a benefit. But of course there is also a cost. With lots of athletes moving around looking for the best place to get a college athletic scholarship, there is also going to be heavy recruitment of those athletes at different high schools, and then you have the specter of recruiting violations. And if you don't think there's anybody willing to pay players (or provide them with other illegal incentives) to get them to go to a certain high school, well, you're probably wrong. Certainly, there are high schools willing to pay coaches plenty to get them to come to a certain high school. And then the pressure on those coaches to win is so high that they are sometimes fired within a couple of years if they fail to do so. At least, that is the recent trend, according to Sondheimer.
It wasn't like this in the areas I covered in Northern California. At Novato High, head coach Travis Brackett turned the football program from nothing into something, and I think he gets paid a stipend of like three grand a eyar; he has to teach four or five social studies classes to make a living. Meanwhile, the Daily News' Gerry Gittelson has said that the Crespi High job pays six figures. A lot of that is public versus private; up north, Ken Peralta, Brackett's counterpart at Marin Catholic probably makes more than Brackett does. But I know Peralta has to teach P.E. too, and up north there was also enough sanity to allow Peralta to survive a couple of down years ('06-'07).
Every athlete and every coach typically wants to make it to the big time. I guess, my point is, be careful what you wish for.