At some point, everyone is going to wake up to the reality that college sports is big business, which is starting to bring a whole new meaning to college prep.
IMG is at the forefront. It is trying to enhance its academy brand with football, perhaps the most visible sport. And it is applying a business model to the gridiron that has long been profitable for tennis and has expanded to golf, soccer, baseball, basketball, lacrosse, and track and field. The academy has nearly 1,000 students from more than 80 countries enrolled in prekindergarten through 12th grade and postgraduation. About half the students are international.
The school, 45 miles south of Tampa, recruits football players from around the country, offering high-performance training, college preparatory courses, coaches with N.F.L. playing experience, facilities that resemble a small college more than a high school, and a chance to play a national schedule and on national television on ESPN against some of the country’s highest-rated teams.
Though IMG Academy has fielded a varsity football team for only three seasons and, as an independent school, is ineligible to play for a Florida state championship, it is stocked with six of the nation’s top 100 senior recruits. The roster has players from 21 states and six countries. This month, IMG flew to Texas for a game. On Saturday, it will travel to New Jersey to face another power, Bergen Catholic High School.
The full cost of tuition and boarding for a year of football at IMG Academy is $70,800, although need-based financial assistance is available. School officials would not provide specific figures, but they said that payments by families could range from tens of thousands of dollars to a competition fee (between $3,750 and $4,500) to nothing.
Team helmets are adorned not with a lion or a tiger but with IMG’s corporate logo.
Nice. So is this.
IMG officials are upfront about their profit motive. And they have been backed financially by powerful state lawmakers who justify the assistance by citing the academy’s economic impact to the region in training more than 12,000 athletes yearly from the youth level to the pros and in hosting numerous amateur and professional sports competitions.
Although it is private, IMG Academy has received more than $7 million from the Florida state budget over the past two years, according to news accounts. An additional $2 million was pledged by lawmakers in June but was then vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott.
Ain’t amateurism grand?