Derek Taylor: Less is more when it comes to football All-State
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - If you saw the Class A football All-State list in Tuesday's edition, it might have appeared a little curious.
Then again, if you're like me and have tracked All-State football as a hobby or long-running interest, it might have looked more familiar than anything you've seen in the last decade.
The West Virginia Sports Writers Association, by way of its football All-State selection committee, decided this year to reduce the number of selections on each side of the football by two players. This cut the number of players recognized on the first and second teams by a total of eight players per class.
That's 24 fewer players receiving first or second team honors, and there is a substantial ripple effect. Since the special mention list remains at the top 30 players not to make first or second team, and the honorable mention list stays at 40, the move bumps 24 players from receiving mention at all.
But before anyone cries "foul" or spends time devising conspiracy theories as to why such a move was made, let me freely present the reasons.
First, the All-State football team dates to 1917 and is the oldest team of its kind in West Virginia high school sports. Once honorees began to be differentiated between offensive and defensive players, the traditional number of players recognized on both sides of the ball was set at 13.
These aren't antiquated traditions. They remained the number recognized until the 1990s, when the lists began to expand, just about the same time political correctness - and the increased pressure on families to find college money through athletic scholarships - began creeping into everyday American life.
It's easy to imagine the line of thought that led to the bloated lists.
What will Johnny's mother do if her son isn't a first-team All-State player? Will they protest the office building in which we work? Why don't we just add a spot to each side? What's it hurt?
And so it was. As a writer who has attended these meetings since 1998, I can say that is pretty close to the way it evolved.
The problem with this was the integrity of the teams suffered, and by virtue of that suffering, so did the integrity of the WVSWA. These are historical records, and their integrity is worth preserving. I don't foresee the International Olympic Committee adopting an aluminum medal for fourth-place finishers anytime soon.
The second reason is that there are fewer student-athletes playing football in West Virginia than at any time in the past 60 years. Minor fall sports, particularly soccer, have pulled from its ranks as have greater social and entertainment options. When I began attending selection meetings 15 seasons ago, there were 123 football-playing schools in the state. There are now 116. A mere 20 years ago, there were 134.
To keep honoring an increased number of players from the traditional number while fewer schools and students were participating in the sport had the undeniable effect of watering down the product.
Making young men - and their coaches, families and schools - happy by honoring their hard work is a positive side effect of naming an all-state team, but it is not the reasoning behind compiling such a list. The reason is to honor the best of the best not for their work, but for the results that labor produced.
There are sure to be more than a few who question why this player or that was not named a first-team selection. There always is, and I anticipate those will increase in the next week as subsequent teams are released. Class AA is released Thursday and Class AAA on Sunday.
The lists were compiled during an eight-hour session by eight writers from different newspapers in Wheeling on Nov. 30 after voting took place among roughly 50 writers and more than 90 of the state's head coaches over the previous month. In looking at the lists, I can say that the responding question to every complaint will be, "Who do you take off there to make more room?"
They're that solid, and that's the way an All-State list should look.