The growing market for All-Star football games at the city, state, regional and national levels is bringing to light a long-standing rule in the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association constitution that has become a point of contention for parents across the state.
The rule prevents football players in the 7th-11th grades who played for an OSSAA-member school team from participating in an All-Star game or with a non-school team for the duration of the school year.
Since most of these national competitions and “All-America” games are played in December and January, rather than during the summer, these athletes' OSSAA eligibility is threatened by choosing to play in such a game.
“It's a rule that's been in place as long as I've been with the association, and that's been over 16 years,” OSSAA associate director David Jackson said. “It simply says that if you have represented your school during the current football season, then you're not allowed to play unattached with another team until after the school year.”
Former Oklahoma quarterback Charles Thompson recently got involved with local teams in Football University, or FBU, an organization tied to the U.S. Army All-America game, which holds national tournaments for players starting in 6th grade.
Two Oklahoma FBU teams had been formed, one for 7th graders and one for 8th graders, with 140 players in all. But the teams learned of the rule that required them to withdraw from the competition.
State players have been selected for other national games, like the Eastbay All-America game, the Offense-Defense All-America Bowl, and the National Underclassmen Combine games.
Looking through rosters for these games, it would seem that Oklahoma is one of the few states preventing such participation.
“I think the rule is absurd. It's totally unfair and biased against football,” Thompson said. “They allow club soccer, AAU basketball, softball and baseball to compete in non-sanctioned events throughout the year.
“I think this is an old rule that needs to be addressed and looked at. When I was in high school 25 years ago, there was only one All-America game. Times have changed.”
The OSSAA membership has been trending in that direction with recent updates to this set of rules.
Previously, individual players were prohibited from participating in a camp, clinic or combine during the school year, but now can do so with school permission.
And until about 10 years ago, even seniors were prohibited from playing in All-Star games during the school year. That means Gerald McCoy or Barry J. Sanders or any of several other high school stars selected for the U.S. Army or Under Armour All-America games would have been prevented from playing.
Like it or not, the landscape of high school — and even junior high — football is changing, with parents who see a need to get national exposure for their child.
“I think it's unfair to me as a parent to not be allowed to let my kid participate in something outside of the OSSAA that I want to pay for,” Thompson said. “I think kids should have the opportunity, if the parents deem it necessary, to go showcase their talents across the country.
“It could help a kid catapult himself — people laugh about 7th and 8th graders positioning themselves for the future — but it could help him be positioned in high school to gain more national exposure.”
The timing becomes the primary issue. A game being played in January violates the rule, where the same game played in June does not.
Still, the OSSAA is simply following the rule that was initially approved by the membership, and the association would have no qualms with adjusting the rule if it was a change the member schools wanted. In fact, Jackson expects the issue to be discussed when the OSSAA meets with members of the Oklahoma Football Coaches Association.
“The rule was developed by the membership. They want us to enforce it, so that's what we're doing,” Jackson said. “At the end of January, we'll meet with the football coaches' advisory committee, and that will be one of the topics that we discuss to determine whether or not that is a rule change they want to pursue.”