An interesting story is brewing around high school football in my home state of Washington. Archbishop Murphy, a small private school located about 40 minutes north of Seattle, is finding it hard to play games every week. Not because they can’t field a team, in fact they field a fantastic team of top athletes and Division I college prospects. The problem is other teams in their league are forfeiting games and refusing to play them. There are two reasons why teams are turning out the lights on Friday nights. First, coaches and teams site player safety. And second, the Cascade League is worried about competitive imbalance. The whole story has divided the high school sports community and earned a little bit of national attention.
It’s hard to argue with the concept of player safety. Who doesn’t want kids to be as safe as possible while playing a collision sport? Even the NFL has taken major steps to keep its athlete’s safe so we can’t really argue against that at the lower levels. With a line weighing about 1500 lbs, Archbishop Murphy is a big team. And they are loaded with talent from around the Everett/ Seattle area; many will go on to play college. Now, the teams in their league are small, not just from small towns but their players are small in stature. Granite Falls has freshman starter who weighs in at about 170 lbs. And many of the kids play both ways because of low turnout and injuries. In fact, one of the teams that forfeited a game, South Whidbey High, only had 14 active players. So there may be some validity to the safety argument when we put a bunch of neighborhood kids up against the high school version of The Monsters Of The Midway
Here’s where it gets tricky. Other teams within the league are refusing to play Murphy because of what they call a competitive imbalance. As a private school, there isn’t anything to stop them from enrolling/recruiting kids from any geographic area. This of course isn’t true of public schools that are limited to district lines etc. So, maybe the private school has competitive advantage.
Whats the truth? Is it sour grapes or player safety? I’m guessing it’s a little of both. How do you fix it? In my opinion, the private schools in the area should be within a league of their own. Let them battle it out for their own league title and then have them face off against the other teams in the district and state tournaments.
It will be interesting to see where this story ends. There will be another team or two that refuses to play Murphy. Murphy will win their league and make a deep run into the playoffs. But what about next year? More of the same? Or will this story be the beginning of change when it comes to high school football and regaining competitive balance? Time will tell, and hopefully sooner than later.