Hargis: Delaware rule bad precedent

Hargis: Delaware rule bad precedent

August 12th, 2011 by Stephen Hargis in Sports - Columns

It was just a matter of time, I suppose, but when the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association recently voted to allow one of its member schools to actively recruit athletes and award athletic scholarships, it signaled more than just a sign of the times.

It is a warning to other prep athletic associations to be prepared for similar proposals from member schools.

Why should we expect anything less? From corporate sponsors to 7-on-7 tournaments and skills competitions, there is big money to be made from high school recruits. And any time there's money to be made, there will be people willing to look past the purity of high school sports and think only of ways to cash in.

That's what led Red Lion Christian to propose to Delaware's prep athletic rules makers that it will voluntarily withdraw from postseason tournaments in both football and boys' basketball if it can be allowed to recruit and award athletic scholarships. Essentially Red Lion Christian will not be a full member of the DIAA in those two sports but will remain in all other sports.

Red Lion Christian wants to build nationally known programs in those two sports, traveling around the country to play the best teams in other states and showcase its athletes. In layman's terms, the school wants to become a sports factory where parents, eager for their kids to be seen by college recruiters, are willing to pay whatever the tuition costs. The school also is banking on the popularity of those two sports to attract student-athletes in other sports to attend the school.

The DIAA did not give Red Lion Christian any ground rules limiting recruiting, so coaches now can attend middle school and varsity games of other rival programs and actively recruit players. Going a step further, Red Lion also will be permitted to begin spring football practice about two weeks before full DIAA member schools, and be permitted to play 13 games.

Like a line from a bad television infomercial: "But wait, there's more ..."

After an extensive six-month investigation by the DIAA, Red Lion Christian was sanctioned last year for conducting excessive practices and playing too many middle school football games. The school agreed to manage its enrollment and academic eligibility more closely after incidences of recruiting and awarding financial aid for athletic reasons were also proven.

Middletown (Del.) High School coach Mark DelPercio told media the ruling simply "legalized what's been happening there from the beginning of the [quarterback] David Sills era, which is a shame for Delaware high school football. I think it's a shame they exist and function in this state."

You may remember David Sills as the seventh-grader who committed to Southern Cal coach Lane Kiffin. Sills' father, Davis Sills IV, owns a construction company and is a large financial booster of Red Lion Christian and is believed to be behind the push for the school to become a national football power on the prep scene.

"You have parents who have a lot of money and want to find a way for their kid to be noticed or recognized, and some of them are willing to sidestep the rules to do that," TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said. "It goes against the mission of high school sports in Tennessee. If you're going to allow them to recruit, where are they getting the players from? They're getting them from the other member schools. We would adamantly be against anything like that.

"I was shocked when I heard about it, and I don't know what they're thinking in Delaware. If we ever have a similar proposal from any of our member schools, we'll be ready now."