Out of whack sports

Jan. 28, 2014 @ 03:59 PM

Even as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill struggles with the damage to its reputation for the integrity of its sports programs and its balance between athletic and academic success, there are multiple signs of questionable perspectives that arise from the contorted business of sports.

This past Sunday, The New York Times reported on an increasingly common phenomenon: college coaches recruiting future prospects before they are out of middle school.

“In today’s sports world, students are offered full scholarships before they have taken their first College Boards, or even the Preliminary SAT exams,” wrote the Times’ Nathaniel Popper. “Coaches at colleges large and small flock to watch 13- and 14-year-old girls who they hope will fill out their future rosters.”

Yet another example of the frenzied chasing of the dream of collegiate athletic success and the often imagined but rarely realized big pro payday has emerged right here in our area – as well as in countless other communities.

Bull City Prep Academy in Carrboro one might think, given its name, is a school.

Nope. The two-year-old outfit is hardly that.

As The Herald-Sun’s Greg Childress reported Sunday, it’s a for-profit outfit run by Darryl Harris. He fields two basketball teams that carry the Bull City Prep Academy name. One is for players who have completed high school but not yet landed a college scholarship, but hope some more organized competition will give them another shot. The other consists of high-school age students who join the team and enroll in PACE Academy, a charter school in Carrboro facing possible closure by the state.

Many player/students come from out of state -- some from as far away as Nigeria. But because Harris obtains legal guardianship, they are state residents entitled to a free education at the public charter school.

State charter school officials say nothing appears illegal. But last week, as Childress began raising questions about Bull City and its relationship to PACE, the state office of charter schools wrote PACE asking for detailed information about its relationship with the team.

PACE officials have said it has no relationship with Bull City Prep, for example, but the team’s website lists PACE as a sponsor. “Discuss what it means to be a ‘sponsor’ or ‘staff high school’ on the (Bull City Prep) website,” Joel Medley, head of the state charter school office, wrote to the school.

It’s hard to fault students who come here looking for an opportunity to better their chances at landing a college sports scholarship. Darryl Harris could argue he’s an entrepreneur filling a need, or a least a desire, for more intense coaching and more exposure to college coaches than many of the kids might get back home.

And PACE could argue it is simply opening its doors to legal residents looking for a charter-school education. 

Like recruiting 14-year-olds to college teams, though, this just doesn’t seem to fit with any rational view of the scholastic sports experience.