The Case of DeAnthony Arnett Brings Michigan High School Athletic Rules Into Question

Posted In: Sports, Local Sports,   From Issue 718   By: Mike Thompson

13th January, 2011     0

Possibly you caught a glimpse of Saginaw High football standout DeAnthony Arnett in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, a nationally televised high school all-star game that took place in San Antonio on Jan. 8.

Arnett is back in town, with a bright future. He has a full ride scholarship to the University of Tennessee, where Terry McDaniel excelled during the 1980s before becoming an All-Pro defensive back with the Oakland Raiders. Saginaw High's latest success story is All-Pro linebacker LaMarr Woodley with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

There's one problem, through.

Under Michigan High School Athletic Association rules, Arnett had to give up his eligible status in winter basketball and spring track and field in order to participate in the All-American Bowl.

It was a tough decision. The young man is not a complainer, and does not question the logic of the rule unless asked.

The issue is, should the MHSAA have forced him to make such a choice during his senior year in high school, a year he can never get back?

Almost anywhere other than Michigan,  Arnett could have gone to the All-American Bowl without sacrificing his football career at the expense of year-round basketball and track, which provide an entire experience for a young person.  But Michigan's rules are different.

Football is Arnett's meal ticket to college and, he youthfully hopes, all the way to the pros.

At the same time, DeAnthony Arnett hopes nobody will think he actually desired to give up his Trojan senior year of basketball, where he would have returned as a gifted starting point guard for one of the state's top teams, or track and field, where he has posted a state-meet qualifying 6-foot-6 high jump. He was forced under the MHSAA to make this choice.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association, says Director Jack Roberts, requires an all-star game participant in any sport during the school calendar year to give up eligibility in all sports.

Roberts says spring sports coaches originally pushed for the eligibility standard because they didn't want their multi-sport athletes missing time and risking injuries at all-star basketball games. Coaches in basketball and other winter sports coaches joined the chorus, Roberts says, when all-star postseason football showcases became popular.

Roberts says other states have similar rules, but a U.S. Army All-American Bowl representative says he had heard complaints and inquiries only from Michigan.

"Every year we receive calls (from coaches and sports reporters and family members) in Michigan, asking what is going on with the eligibility issue," says John Schmid, player personnel director for the game. "To my knowledge, we've never heard in any other state that eligibility (for basketball and spring sports) is an issue. We work with the state athletic associations and with the NCAA. Ten or maybe 15 states had that sort of rule in the past, but they got rid of it. Michigan is the only remaining state that I'm aware of."

A number of football stars from Michigan  have expressed regret and turned down invitations to the All-American Bowl, Schmid says. They say they feel they have no choice because they want to remain eligible for spring and winter sports such as basketball and track with their high school buddies

Lou Dawkins, Saginaw High athletic director and basketball coach, says, "A rule is a rule, and it's not going to change."

Can this rule change? Was there some sort of ethical reason why DeAnthony Arnett was forced to give up basketball and track, because he so much wanted to take part in the All-American Bowl?

Dawkins said that in his role as Saginaw High basketball coach, despite  Roberts' explanation of the reason for the eligibility rule, he would not have objected to Arnett missing a week early in January to attend the All-American Bowl and related activities.

"No, that wouldn't bother me," Dawkins says. "Football is DeAnthony's main sport. A lot of kids have more than one sport, and we usually can tell at an early age which sport will be their best. I don't think any basketball coach in the state would object to a player missing time to attend a football all-star game such as the All-American Bowl."

Arnett is more blunt in his feelings.

"It's one of the craziest rules I've ever heard of, and it's holding back all the high school athletes in Michigan," he says. "They're making us one-dimensional by making us pick one sport."

He cites LeBron James and Allen Iverson as examples of athletes who excelled in more than one sport in high school. James was a big, speedy pass receiver and Iverson was a cat-quick option quarterback.

"If they would change that rule in Michigan then so be it, but I've made the decision that I had to make," Arnett says, explaining why he picked the All-American Bowl

He says he hasn't addressed the topic with his former basketball teammates, because, "What would be the point?  What's done is done."

On the brighter side, Arnett is making the cover of ESPN Rise, a magazine geared to high school sports. Photos were taken last summer for the Midwest edition, and he played in the Gridiron Kings 7-on-7 football challenge at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando. That event did not harm his eligibility under MHSAA rules, because it took place when school was out during the summer.

"To be on the cover, that's a big honor. I'm humbled by it and I'm blessed by it," he says.

The Army All-American Bowl will asked players to report Jan. 2 for a week of practice and publicity before the big game on Jan. 8.

Ironically, Arnett would not have missed a Saginaw High basketball game because the Trojans have been idle for the first 13 days of January before they face Midland Dow on Jan. 14.

Past participants in the All-American Bowl include Reggie Bush, Vince Young, Adrian Peterson, Brady Quinn, Kevin Jones, Tim Tebow and DeSean Jackson.


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