For linemen, football is big, maybe too big, study shows

Two stories that slipped under the radar recently, one hopeful, one not so much, provide yet another window into the soul of where high school athletics are and where they might be headed.

A new Iowa State University study of 251 Iowa high school football teams found that 9 percent of the linemen on those squads in the 2005 season had body mass indexes (or BMI) that could qualify as adult-class obesity, which suggests that we're willing to put our kids' health at risk earlier and earlier in the name of supposedly making them better.


This report comes on the heels (no pun intended) of a University of North Carolina study showing that 56 percent of all NFL players could be considered obese.

The Iowa State study, published in the Jan. 24/31 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that 7 percent of the linemen had a BMI that would be classified as adult class II obesity, while an additional 2 percent were in the class III category.


Not surprisingly, the biggest linemen came from the biggest schools. Players tended to become bigger with age, with seniors having the highest BMI and freshmen having the lowest.

A person's BMI is determined by dividing his weight in kilograms by his height in meters squared. A BMI of 30 or higher is thought to be obese, while a measure of 40 or higher is considered morbidly obese.

There is, to be certain, disagreement in some medical circles about the value of the BMI, but there isn't or shouldn't be any disagreement about whether high school football players should be NFL-sized before they actually get to the NFL.

Look around most big-time high school football programs these days, and you're likely to see linemen who tip the scales in excess of 275 pounds. While many of those players are hitting the weight rooms in greater numbers, a lot of them aren't, and that can't augur well for the future.

Kelly Laurson, an Iowa State graduate student who co-authored the study with Joey Eisenmann, an Iowa State professor, told the Iowa State University News Service: "We obviously suspect these linemen are being pressured by coaches to gain weight or may want to gain weight because when you watch the NFL, you see these big linemen. So they may desire to be big. They may have been big before starting high school football, but may desire to be bigger as they go through the sport."

Laurson, who played high school football in Iowa, asked the relevant question that flows from this study, namely, "What happens to them when they stop playing football?"

What, indeed?

Meanwhile, one of the best pieces of news to emerge from high school sports lately came with the announcement that basketball impresario Sonny Vaccaro is ending his annual ABCD summer camp, designed to parade the nation's best boys high school players before college coaches and agents, not to mention sneaker company representatives, eager to get their first taste of the young talent before it aligned somewhere else.


The result was a toxic brew that more often than not alternately perverted and trivialized high school basketball, turning the game on its ear in the name of hooking up talent with willing buyers.

The free-wheeling nature of summer-league basketball, and its emphasis on flash and dash, essentially pushed the high school coach and his quaint preaching of the virtues of passing and defensive skills to the side.

And no one was a greater champion of the summer game than Vaccaro. The 67-year-old, who got gigs with Nike, Adidas and Reebok, always held himself out as nothing more than a facilitator. That would be something akin to the way a pimp facilitates transactions between "customers" and "clients."

If there's any good news out of the NBA's decision to require high school players to wait a year before turning professional, it is that they might actually have to spend some time learning to do something other than shoot long-range jumpers and dunk.

The bad news is that Vaccaro is talking about forming a basketball academy, where the best young players could go to learn the game. Kids would be wise to read the textbooks in that school carefully.