STOVALL: Keep the 'student'; in student-athlete in high school, please

While sitting in the Atlanta airport Friday morning waiting to board a flight to Houston, Texas, I overheard a conversation between two college football enthusiasts about the infamous discussion of whether college athletes should get paid.

I heard the same old arguments. College student-athletes shouldn’t get paid because they’re already getting free scholarships, free room and board and a free education at some of the most prestigious schools in the nation — sometimes even the world.

Then, of course, the flip side. The “student-athlete” moniker is a joke. Not so much to the student-athlete, but to the NCAA and the gaming companies and the school presidents, etc. that pocket beaucoup bucks through the likeness and image of these players.

How can we continue classifying these athletes as “amateurs” when they are moneymakers for large schools and entities run as corporations?

Ironic that I thought about these things while on my way to Texas — a state widely considered as the nation’s capital for high school sports.

During my time driving around Houston, I stumbled upon several high school football stadiums that could’ve easily passed for NCAA Div. II joints. I sat with wide-eyed wonderment at high school stadiums that seated almost 20,000 fans.

Sunday while sitting at dinner with a buddy of mine from my University of Nebraska-Lincoln days who knows lives in the Houston area, he told me of how high school coaches in the state are just that — coaches.

Unlike Georgia, Nebraska, or every other place I’ve been, there are actually some high school coaches in Texas that get paid only to coach, not to double as the P.E. teacher or the World Civ instructor.

My friend told me of one coach who was being sought after to take a high level assistant job at a mid-major Div. I football program. And to my disbelief, the high school coach had to actually determine whether or not the move would be a step down, or a lateral move.

That’s because he was making close to $150,000 per year as a high school head coach.

It all got me to thinking. As I cover high school sports, I notice a growing parallel between the college game and the high school game. Everything from training, conditioning and offseason work, to growing media hype, thanks to the obsession with recruiting.

I know it sounds silly to say now, but could we ever see a day where the discussion of paying college student athletes trickles down to the high school level — in the same manner that virtually everything else has or is already doing?

Don’t laugh. Thirty years ago, nobody knew that the college football gaming industry would be as big as it is. Nobody realized that recruiting coverage and National Signing Day coverage would rival some professional sports’ draft day coverage.

Nobody could’ve forecasted the amount of money people make from college students playing football in various ways.

And since you’ve already got high school football coaches specializing in their jobs on the field without having to be dually responsible as a teacher in the classroom.

Since you’re already seeing high level prep football programs mirroring their college counterparts, and since the popularity of high school ball is rising like never before, who’s to say that it’s going to stop traveling in that direction any time soon?

I, for one, hope it doesn’t happen. I hope the “professional” aspect of sports stays in the professional ranks. I hope student athletes can still remain students.

But if EA Sports comes out with a high school football game, I can’t promise I wouldn’t buy it.

Gabriel Stovall covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald newspapers. He can be reached at gstovall@news-daily.com, or on Twitter @GabrielStovall1.