Derek Taylor: Board of Education was right to put off year-round sports

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A simple rule of thumb has emerged through years of keeping an eye on the goings-on at the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission.

The rule states: never get riled up about any vote until it hits the state board of education.

When the SSAC in April approved a measure to extend the out-of-season practice period to include the entire summer with the exception of the first week of July, there were opinions aplenty regarding what it could do for West Virginia prep athletes.

The state BOE said no to the proposal Wednesday, at least in a sense. The board opted not to place the issue on its agenda for the upcoming 30-day comment period, which means that it won’t be brought up again at that level for another year. As it was, the proposal would have taken effect for the 2015-16 school year, so if some version of the policy does eventually find its way onto the BOE agenda it will likely not be implemented until 2016-17.

The response was quick and mostly negative toward the board members, at least among the prep sports community, but a good bit of that angst is somewhat misguided. Most of that conversation centered on college recruiting. The argument stated that if West Virginia kids just had more practice time they would be more likely to receive the respect they deserve in the form of increased scholarship offers from larger colleges and universities across the country.

Here’s a simple response to that mindset: five more weeks of practice during the summer isn’t going to turn the average prep football player into Aaron Dobson or Ryan Switzer. They won’t transform a basketball player into Pierria Henry or Chase Fisher or Renee Montgomery or Mychal Johnson.

Unfortunately, this is a fantasy that so many parents operate under when assessing their own child’s athletic ability and potential, and this fantasy is carried over into adulthood by a multitude of players who were never offered that elusive scholarship and felt wronged by someone as a result.

The aforementioned athletes are gifted individuals. They didn’t reach the levels of success they have attained by spending more time with their high school teams in the summer. It was a combination of work ethic, time spent as individuals to improve their station and good genes.

Not every student-athlete is a college prospect, and taking away that much more of a kid’s already limited-by-sports summer is not going to transform them into one.

What was of more interest in quietly watching this quasi-drama unfold was how, if at all, it would affect education in West Virginia as a whole. It would seem that giving extra-curricular activities a year-round calendar would be an ample launching pad for turning the actual school year into a 12-month affair.

It doesn’t take much more than a connect-the-dots pattern to hear administrators debating this possibility: “Well, they’re on campus all year for sports already, why not use those days to actually impart some knowledge to the kids, raise test scores and improve funding for our schools in the process while we’re at it?”

And the next thing you know, many — if not most — of those who thought 12-month athletic training was a great, almost no-brainer of an idea would be suddenly bemoaning their inability to schedule a vacation during the summer, or claiming that their kids are too overworked as it is.

Books get your kids into and through college. The reliance on athletics to do so is a mistake. If year-round athletic training and practices are what are desired, elongate the school year first then talk about lengthening the periods in which coaches can work with their student-athletes.

There are other elements of this that also haven’t been discussed as much. How many coaches were fond of this idea, and would the payment stipend for coaches increase with the amount of time they would be asked to give to student-athletes?

Furthermore, how many programs in the state would make use of the extra time allotment, and to what extent? While it has been argued that the measure would improve West Virginia’s competitive abilities against neighboring states — and that might be true, though it’s hard to see how that should be a driving force in decision making — it would certainly increase the disparity between programs within the state.

It’s this simple, it’s easier to gather a team of student-athletes for practice in a comparatively urban area such as Charleston, Huntington, Martinsburg, Morgantown, etc., than it is to get the team together every day at school like Buckhannon-Upshur, Hampshire, Preston or in any of the 20 single-school counties in the state.

It would truly be a “rich getting richer” scenario, and the BOE did right by not allowing it to go through as it is, whether preps sports fans want to immediately recognize it or not.

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