The countdown to the start of the 2008 prep football season is almost complete, as schools across the state will participate in endowment games this weekend.

Back in 1999, the Utah High School Activities Association decided to give football teams the opportunity to participate in an extra game each season, and the association and the schools have been benefiting ever since.

Patterned particularly after North Carolina and other states, the UHSAA, hoping to establish a foundation to benefit its members, allowed schools to participate in an endowment football game at the beginning of each season, with 50 percent of the revenue generated from the contests going toward the schools and 50 percent going toward the UHSAA.

The program was implemented for football in 2000 (and later extended to basketball), and nine years later, the UHSAA is about to reap the benefits of its initiative.

The Activities Association reached its goal of raising $1 million for the foundation last year, and it will soon commence operations.

"Years ago," said UHSAA executive director Dave Wilkey, "we would've never dreamed this was possible."

Yet it's about to become a reality.

The UHSAA has already appointed a four-member committee to oversee the foundation, which will operate off the interest gained from the $1 million, in addition to revenue gained from future endowment games.

According to Wilkey, the foundation will be used to benefit individuals, programs and schools — in that order, he noted — and the committee will get to work as soon as the endowment fund has cleared the IRS.

Wilkey jokingly pointed out that could take some time.

"If it's as long as it takes them to do my taxes, it could be a while," he said.

Clearly, the establishment of endowment games has been mutually beneficial to the UHSAA and to its member schools and teams, as coaches have reaped the benefits of having an extra game each season.

Back in 2000, Bountiful and Lone Peak cancelled their endowment football game with each other because the schools wanted to host what amounted to a glorified scrimmage and the UHSAA wouldn't allow it.

The vision of an additional game caught on, however, and after having just 41 schools take advantage of it back in 2000, 92 schools will participate in an endowment game this weekend.

Moving forward, Wilkey says the UHSAA plans to continue to host endowment games in both football and basketball, with the hope that increased revenue will broaden opportunities for the foundation.

TOP 25 WATCH: Despite the fact it lost virtually all of its starters from a season ago, returning 5A champ Alta High has been ranked No. 1 by the Deseret News in the paper's preseason Top 25 rankings.

The Hawks' main rival, Bingham, checks in at No. 2, while Timpview, with a 23-game winning streak in tote, is ranked third.

From top to bottom, there are 13 teams from 5A in the rankings, 10 from 4A and two from 3A.

SITE SWITCH: Because newly-renovated Ron Thorne Stadium isn't yet complete at Bingham High, the Miners will instead play their season-opener against Skyline at Skyline High.

Those two schools met last fall at Skyline High, with Bingham prevailing 34-7.

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