I have been amazed at how much better the world of sports seams to run down under. Sure they have problems with sports stars over stepping their bounds here, or getting the odd occasional DUI there but by in large they have an amazing system. The idea of taking a young boy or girl and helping them to mature into a seasoned pro athlete is so much more honest and above board than what we have in the US.
Here a kid plays on traveling teams, and AAU teams and is pushed and pulled to chose this school or that one, but all the while they have to masquerade as students. When they pick a college (or a high school as is the case in modern grade school to high school recruiting) the are asked to put up the facade of being students first. The TV networks show their major next to their stats, if you can call some of them majors. Sure, 99% of those who are involved with the NCAA, or even big time high school sports will never be pros. And I know that the vast majority of those student athletes get an education opportunity they may never have received if they weren't great at throwing, catching, diving, running or shooting. But lets face facts, the NCAA and big time high school sports programs cater to the 1% and do harm to the others in doing so.
How would you change things Greazy? I'm glad you asked. Take the case of David Wirrpunda (WEER-a-POUN-da) who last year was named to the All Australia team as a defensive player in his 10th season in the AFL. The ripe old veteran was 25 years old at the time of his honor. That is because for the rest of the world sports in high school and College is used as an extracurricular activity, not big business.
While there was afooty team at Wirrpunda's high school it was not the prime focus of his or any one's life. There were no high pressure visits from the larger than life coach of the University of New South Wales to try and talk David and his folks to commit to UNSW rather than take the chance of being happy at home at the University of Melbourne. The minutia and posturing of the American system is eliminated for a novel concept: Honesty.
In David Wirrpunda's world no bones are made about sports being big business, and to that end the stand outs are incorporated into the machine at a much younger age. He was 16 when he was drafted by the West Coast Eagles footy club in 1996, and the same age when he made his debut as a pro 5 rounds into the fixture. Over the years Wirrpunda has moved from the more visible position of Forward to the back line of defense, but he has become a integral part of his sport, and later today he will play in his 150th game with the Eagles.
Here is one instance where the big business part of the sports world can merge with what is good and right about sport. With this milestone Wirrpunda becomes a life time member of the Football Club, thus linking him, and potentially his family, with the club. Even if he would play for another club in the next few years before rapping up his wonderful career somewhere around the ripe old age of 32 or 33 the club can choose to continue the tradition of having a Wirrpunda in their jumper.
If any of his sons choose to play AFL Footy the Eagles can acquire their rights under the league's Father - Son Rule which allows a Club to take the son's of any of their life members prior to the start of the amateur draft. The son has the choice to continue the family tradition or opt to enter the general draft and go elsewhere.
Think of the Orioles being able to take Ryan Ripken before the draft ever starts because his old man was a life time Oriole. This way generations of players are united with clubs, city's and states. One of the greatest footy players of all time, Gary Ablett, played in the close knit South Victoria town of Geelong for the Cats to throngs of adoring fans. Now his sons, Gary Jr and Nathan are cats players and are loved not only for their play, but also for their tie to there team and town.
I have to say this all sounds like some good work out of the AFL, and I wish we could discard the pretense from the way we operate here in the US and just call a business a business and amateur sports amateur sports and keep the two separate.