In this opinion piece, sports editor-at-large Dylan Cleaver outlines the future of school sport as it enters its commercial age.
New Zealand's biggest sports news story of 2018 was a rugby yarn. No surprises there.
The fact it was about schoolboy rugby, specifically Auckland schoolboy rugby and explicitly one elite school's approach to rugby recruitment, should have been a massive wake-up call to administrators working at every level of sport.
For a while it appeared to be.
Everybody in sport from those on high to those on the ground seemed to have an opinion on whether Auckland's top rugby schools were right to boycott St Kentigern College, and whether the elite school was right to use "scholarships" to recruit top talent to bolster their 1st XV.
The school does not present the most sympathetic of faces to the world - the sign held up by St Kentigern supporters at a televised match that read "Money and Pride. What have YOU got?" will long live in infamy - but there were many inside rugby who felt the fee-paying school had been unfairly singled out.
Recruitment, poaching, enticement - it didn't matter what term or euphemism you preferred, it had been going on in various guises for generations.
What virtually everybody agreed was that the televising of schoolboy rugby had played a huge role. It "fetishised" the 1st XV genre and added fuel to the talent arms race, particularly the elite, fee-paying schools who saw sport as a valuable marketing chip for their billion-dollar campuses.
Professor Steve Jackson, co-director of the New Zealand Centre for Sport Policy & Politics at Otago University, says that story should have been a neon signal that elements of the school sport system were broken and in need of repair.
He is talking about this now because New Zealand is heading down a route that might be hard to backtrack from: the widespread broadcast and live-streaming of secondary school sport that has been amplified by Sky Next, a partnership between the New Zealand Sport Collective and Sky TV.
Jackson said this country's size and nimbleness means it has earned a reputation "as a world leader for doing things differently", he said, however we should also be a "leader in learning the lessons of other broken systems".
Whether the widespread coverage of school sport has come about as an inevitable result of the digital revolution, through entrepreneurial opportunism or a lack of legislative or regulatory oversight, it appears New Zealand was doing little to apply those lessons.
"The negatives of televising school sport are not hard to find," Jackson continued. "There's little doubt that as soon as you professionalise or commercialise school sports there will be implications and negative consequences."
One of those consequences will almost certainly be an extension of that talent arms race from rugby - which has been televised on Sky and streamed on other platforms for more than a decade - to many other sports.
It should be noted that rugby is not part of the Sky Next package, but the lessons to be learned from the 1st XV game are more vital than ever.
"Already students and their parents think they have to go to certain schools to get noticed. We are compounding that by this overexposure," says Auckland Grammar principal Tim O'Connor, the loudest critic of the concept and one of an influential group of educators who refuse to cede any ownership rights of school sport to national sporting organisations.
If what O'Connor notes is true, then it's a game with the odds rigged heavily in favour of fee-paying schools who can dangle places at their school like they're winning lottery tickets.
And if that's true, then we are killing an idea once fundamental to New Zealand: that you can make it from anywhere.
To saddle up the oft-ridden cliche, let's say the horse has bolted on screening school sport.
That is the position of both School Sport New Zealand (NZSSSC) - a service organisation formed to "act as guardian of the heritage and the values of secondary school sport" - and Sport New Zealand.
Sport NZ chief executive Peter Miskimmin says those who say the horse needs to be put back in the stable, most notably Heath Mills of the Athletes' Federation, have been unable to offer any suggestions as to how this might be feasible.
Miskimmin, who leaves his role at the end of the year, said in terms of the coverage of the NZSC issue, "our view has not been represented fairly".
"Sport NZ was not party to this arrangement and only became aware of it after contracts had been signed with 34 sports," he said.
Miskimmin was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement with NZSC founder Rob Waddell before the latter would discuss the project.
"Since then our actions have been to ensure that this initiative, and all other streaming of secondary school sport, protects the interests of young people and does not run counter to our Balance is Better principles and integrity framework, and we will continue to do that."
So, in the interests of moving the topic forward, let's take the position that the broadcast of secondary school sports will remain unchallenged and open for business on the Sky Next platforms.
We'll ignore, for now, who owns the rights to school tournaments.
We'll also ignore the implications of who profits, and the rights and wrongs of that.
We'll also put to one side all the specific concerns raised in last week's story - social media vilification, early specialisation, steroid use and other integrity issues - and consider them successfully mitigated.
Let's instead take a step back and look at what this brave new world looks like. In the search for clues, go no further than back to the top of this story.
Now apply what's already been happening in rugby to a whole range of sports. From the national game to rowing, from basketball to football, from lacrosse to cup-stacking, if national championships mean anything to a school - and to some they clearly do - then win-at-all-costs and the resultant angst and suspicion is the future.
Glen Denham once told a story that bears repeating.
He was a Tall Blacks captain and widely regarded as one of this country's basketball greats.
More importantly he is an educator of note and as principal is charged with creating an aspirational environment at decile four Massey High School.
He has "no doubt" televised school sports will increase the talent drain away from low-decile schools to both traditional and new-money sporting powerhouses. It's already happening under his watch. He has already seen "ambitious parents" nudge their kids in the direction of schools that are more likely to feature in championship games.
In 2019, he watched the school's best rugby player go to St Kentigern College.
"The sporting side of the equation is immaterial," he said. "He was a beautiful kid who we loved having here. We didn't lose a rugby player; we lost a big chunk of our school community and student leadership.
"Should the rest of us just run up the white flag? If we do that it will be a disaster for New Zealand sport."
Every time a good kid leaves a school for what they consider to be a high-performance environment, this is what is left behind.
Miskimmin says the question of whether school sport was high-performance was "interesting", but he did not personally believe it should be viewed that way.
As an organisation, he said, Sport NZ was more interested in the 3rd XV than the 1st XV, but increasingly schools are unable to field three teams.
If Sport NZ is more interested in what's happening beneath the top teams, then perhaps they need more direct input into schools - read, money - rather than the national sporting organisations.
(Or perhaps the NZ Sport Collective is simply being used as a blunt instrument by NSOs and a pay-TV broadcaster to try to wrest control of teen sport from schools, but that's a story for another day.)
"School sport should be about providing a platform that makes kids want to continue in sport once they walk out the gates," Miskimmin said.
Yet increasingly school sport is simply a self-perpetuating platform for marketing schools and their sports programmes.
Who benefits from that?
It's not the schools who can't compete on a recruiting front.
It's not the schools who lose kids to "high-performance" programmes.
It's not the former teammates of the above kids who lose their benchmark player.
It's not the clubs who no longer get anywhere near the volume of players coming to them from schools.
It's not the NSOs themselves who no longer get anywhere near the volume of subscriptions.
It's not even the high-performance programmes of said NSOs who, in the paraphrased words of one recent All Black coach, were spending time and resource fixing broken players (he could have used the word entitled where broken was and been equally accurate).
It's not even the recruited players themselves who get a warped view of sport and who fail to realise that the reason they were recruited by schools is the same reason they would have made it anyway if they'd stayed where they were: because they're good.
The wealthy schools and anybody who benefits materially from the broadcast.
Societally, that's an expensive win.
If this all sounds pessimistic, it is so by design.
As Jackson succinctly says: "If we're not careful, things will get worse here before they get better."