CU study finds high school football player participation is on the decline

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BOULDER, Colo. — The number of high school boys playing football is on the decline, according to an analysis published by University of Colorado professor Roger Pielke.

The numbers grew steadily from 1998 to 2009, but then began a “notable decline,” which is likely to continue, according to Pielke, director of the Sports Governance Center at the Boulder university.

“From 1990 to 2009, it was a steady increase. Football was getting more and more participants and was the king of sports,” Pielke said.

“But in recent years we have seen things shift into reverse, with each year seeing a subsequent decline.”

The analysis was commissioned by Play the Game, an international sports governance consortium.

The study looked at data from the National Federation of State High School Associations and U.S. Census Bureau data.

In 2008-09, participation numbers peaked with 1.14 million boys playing high school football. In 2016-17, the total was 1.09 million.

The percentage of high school boys playing football also declined, from 13.2 percent in 2012-13 to 12.7 percent in 2016-17.

More than 25,000 fewer high school boys played football this season than last season.

Pielke attributes a big portion of the decline to parental concern about concussions.

The study predates recent controversies such as the “take a knee” movement and President Donald Trump’s criticism of the NFL, its teams and players.

Pielke acknowledges the national declines documented in the analysis are small and overall, “the football pipeline remains healthy.”

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