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“Mr. High School Sports” – Editorial: There’s a Time and Place for TV

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ROOT Sports announced Wednesday it would televise seven WPIAL regular season football games, along with live coverage of playoff and championship games, for a seventh consecutive season. (Image credit: ROOT Sports)

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By Matt Popchock

(mpopchock@kdka.com)

My philosophy on televising football, whether it’s high school, college, or the NFL, can be best described by sharing my philosophy on beer and pizza (or pizza and pop, as it were):

More is not always better.

That’s why I support a recent decision by the NCAA to forbid team and/or conference networks from televising high school football games, citing a previous decision by the University of Texas to do so.

Yes, you read that correctly: the NCAA had the guts to say no to a high-profile school with lots and lots of greenbacks. As Sir John Gielgud said in (the original) “Arthur,” I’ll alert the media.

Anyway, it’s their job to protect its member schools from themselves, and to promote an atmosphere of healthy competition. With Ohio State and Miami being in the news for the wrong reasons, and questions of accountability rightfully being raised, it’s easy now to overlook that last week, in one instance, the NCAA acted responsibly.

Television is a very effective recruiting tool, and it’s a tool that should be universally accessible, so I can’t blame Texas A&M for making a stink when Texas wanted to monopolize it with its pending launch of The Longhorn Network later this month.

If you have the same zest for reading between the lines as I do, you’ll agree this was a case of Texas, which has already established itself as the New York Yankees of the Big 12 Conference, discreetly trying to use a college station to further stick it to College Station.

TLN entered into a very befitting partnership with ESPN; if there were ever an expert on amassing too much power across the college football landscape, it’s the “Worldwide Leader.” There’s nothing stopping the Four-Letter Network, however, from televising high school games throughout the country.

I don’t have a problem with that, nor do I have a problem with the business practices of ROOT Sports, which announced on Wednesday it will broadcast live and tape-delayed WPIAL football regular season, playoff, and championship games for a seventh year in a row, starting with Thomas Jefferson’s visit to Woodland Hills Fri., Sept. 2.

What’s the difference? The kids playing in those particular games, and the coaches coaching them, aren’t getting any added exposure that one particular college can afford, while others can’t. In other words, Penn State, for example (or Pitt, or West Virginia, or what-have-you), can’t use the allure of playing exclusively on cable or satellite television as a Pied Piper for all the top talent in the WPIAL.

People who tune into either ROOT or ESPN can see some of the best players in western Pennsylvania and beyond with the peace of mind that the networks carrying those games are above the influence of any specific team. Both networks typically cover a broad sphere of teams each season, without regard to where their recruits want to play.

I’m also glad ROOT Sports is continuing its partnership with the WPIAL because being on TV is a privilege for those who work hard all summer and earn the right to call themselves varsity football players. Televising all four championship games, for that matter, is a nice reward for those who earn the right to play in them, and for those who won’t necessarily make a living out of the sport, it’s an even nicer one.

Furthermore, both parties were wise to keep marquee games on Friday nights this year, and to institute flexible scheduling to make sure they are, in fact, marquee games. Although the ones they’ve shown have generally gotten more watchable over the years, the Thursday night games gave the teams–and media–one less day to prepare, they could distract fans from other equally attractive events (i.e.: the Penguins, or the occasional Thursday night Pitt game), and they forced ROOT/FSN to compete for viewers on the busiest night of the television week.

Besides, anyone who has lived in these parts knows what a meaningful tradition Friday night football is every fall. There are some things in the world of sports that should be done simply because they’re the right things to do. Let’s preserve that great western PA tradition and play the games on Friday, when high school games are meant to be played.

(Hey, there’s a reason they didn’t call the show “Thursday Night Lights,” right?)

There’s a time and place for television in high school football. It belongs on networks that don’t choose sides in recruiting wars. It doesn’t belong on a network designed to allow the filthy rich to get richer.

It belongs where it can be consumed in moderation…like beer and pizza.

(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)

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