It has been often said, and it’s well documented, that school sports is a great bargain, involving large numbers of the student body but needing a small fraction of the school budget to support a program that provides the kind of educational experiences that the classroom usually cannot provide as often or as well.
Because Michigan laws have allowed general funds to support school sports budgets, our schools have stayed in good control of interscholastic athletics. But as less and less money flows from general budgets to athletic departments, and more and more flows to athletic departments from outside funding, we worry that we will lose our way – lose our school-centered focus and the values we believe in for educational athletics.
Without being overly dramatic, the battle now at the local school level is not just over the funds for school sports; it’s over the very soul of educational athletics.
Decisions being made in desperation today – like cutting loose middle school sports to community organization or condensing JV and 9th grade programs into a single team – may fundamentally and forever change the potential for schools to reach the community and teach its young people.
As school districts are forced to make deep cuts, they are making bad decisions educationally by cutting programs; and they’re making some bad decisions legally by cutting personnel and services, like transportation: asking students to find their own way to and/or from off-campus practices or to and/or from away games. Tragedy awaits for these understaffed, under-served programs; and deeper financial difficulties will follow.
This means the MHSAA’s leadership challenge is threefold:
- First, of course, our challenge is to remove every possible Handbook rule and tournament policy that increases expenses for schools without direct, positive effect on fundamental fairness and participant safety. Now is not the time for new tournaments, additional classifications or relaxed travel limitations. Now is not the time for non-essential uniform and equipment rules changes.
- Second, our challenge is to raise revenue in new ways and to share almost all of it with local schools, plugging revenue holes in ways that are consistent with the mission of interscholastic athletics.
- Third, our challenge is to preach and to teach the value and values of school sports like never before. Please see our page entitled, "Stating Our Case," for a myriad of resources.
Almost all that we do in preparation for the 2010-11 school year, and in the foreseeable future beyond, should be designed to answer one or more of these challenges. An insolvent state budget and an irresolute legislature make this a necessity.