COMMENTARY: Cali recruiting pool shrinking?

COUGAR FOOTBALL, and college football as a whole, is enormously popular. Indeed, it's the No. 2 most popular spectator sport in America, right behind the NFL, according to Forbes. But amidst all of the ceremony and gargantuan TV deals, there are troubling signs coming out of the prep ranks. And those high school football programs are what college football and the NFL are built upon.

In a New York Times article ahead of Tuesday's midterm elections, the newspaper reported; "Blue America — particularly the highly educated Democratic-leaning areas of major metropolitan areas — is increasingly deciding that it doesn’t want its sons playing football."

Let's forget about the (timely) political party angle in the story. Nationally, when you combine all the red states and blue states, the decline in boys playing high school football has been larger over the past six years than the decline for any other major boys’ sport, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

For the Cougars, their recruiting lifeblood lies with California, (as does every Pac-12 school.) And the number of boys playing high school football in California over the last six years has fallen four percent. Minnesota and Wisconsin are down 15 percent, Colorado has dropped 14 percent and New York is down 7 percent. In the 2006-07 football season in the state of Washington, 22,198 boys participated in high school football. In 2012-13, the latest year figures were available, 21,278 participated, a decline of 1 percent.

Don't misunderstand the declines. More than 216 million viewers tuned in to watch college football regular season games last year. The Power Five conferences are projected to nearly double their financial haul to $470 million in the College Football Playoff's first season compared to the final year of the BCS.

Conclusion: People love college football. Conclusion No. 2: But they don't want their sons playing it, not in the same numbers as before.

The primary reason is plain -- the awareness of brain injuries in football has exploded across the national landscape the last few years. People know what CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) means these days.

High school football games and seasons are being cut short in 2014 in greater numbers across the country, the newspaper reports. Madison High in Portland forfeited their final game of the season due to injuries. At Cheyenne Mountain High in Colorado Springs, the season was cancelled as the roster went from 45 players to 12. Cheyenne High has an enrollment of 1,300 students. Eight players were out with either concussions or other serious injuries.

The National Football Foundation says college football fans, (defined as "very, somewhat or a little bit interested in college football"), number 44 percent of all U.S. adults. But the smallest segment of that group: 12 percent between the ages 18-24. Nearly three times as many, 32 percent, are 55 or older.

Those 12 percent are the coveted trend-setters. The 32 percent are busy yelling at those damned kids to get off their lawn. They're the elevator music to Taylor Swift.

Nationwide, only 55 percent of respondents in a recent RAND poll said they would be comfortable with their sons playing football. The poll numbers for baseball, basketball, soccer and track were all above 90 percent.

College football is riding high in 2014. But all the warning signs are also present. They have been for awhile.

Unless a fix is agreed upon and put in place to significantly combat the potential for brain injuries in football, the numbers and talent level in the prep ranks will continue to fall, and the other sports will rise. The trickle-up effects will follow.

Oh, maybe not next year or even a few years from now. But there are consequences to what has been an inadequate response by the powers-that-be to the concussion crisis. And those consequences, they're coming.

If you remain unconvinced, if you still believe college football is impervious to decline given it's current popularity, you have but to revisit history.

In the first half of the 20th century, horse racing and boxing were two of the top three sports in America, (baseball was the third.) Football wasn't close.

When was the last time you went to see the ponies?

Perhaps the New York Times makes the most apt comparison when it comes to the effect the growing number of head injuries -- and the reporting of said -- is having on high school football participation, (and therefore the stores of college football players who in turn stock the NFL.)

"Think about smoking or seatbelts. They’re relevant analogies because exhortations to stop smoking and wear seatbelts were once largely relegated to liberal eggheads. As the evidence mounted, though, those causes went mainstream," the article reads.

Smoking rates have been in sharp decline since the 1970s. I don't know anyone who doesn't wear a seatbelt. Do you?


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