Fit to Fly

I suppose I’ve flown more than a half million miles on commercial or chartered aircraft. Nevertheless, it still amazes me to witness a large passenger jet lift off the earth and take to the sky.

Sometimes it has occurred to me that, with enough thrust, almost anything can be made to fly. Of course, the more aerodynamic the object, the less power is needed to send the object into the sky and keep it there.

The metaphor is obvious.

If there is enough force behind it, almost any idea can take flight. However, the best ideas take flight with little effort . . . they have been fitted for the intended purpose and the environment . . . while bad initiatives require extraordinary effort to get up and keep going.

This doesn't suggest that leaders should always take the path of least resistance. But it does mean leadership should count the costs. Is the amount of effort required to launch an initiative worth the collateral damage? Is the amount of energy required to maintain an initiative worth the results?

The image some people have of the current proposal to seed Boys and Girls District and Regional Basketball Tournaments is of an ungainly object being thrust into the air. It can be done, but should it be done? Will the result be worth it?

The proponents want the Michigan High School Athletic Association to adopt and modify a system used to seed the NCAA Division 1 Men's Basketball Tournament. That's a tournament limited to just 68 of 350 universities that sponsor Division 1 men's basketball programs. One person collects the scores of all the games involving those teams and enters the data to compute the strength of each team’s record and schedule.

But the MHSAA tournament involves 750 varsity teams for boys and nearly the same number of varsity teams for girls which together play approximately 27,500 games in a single season. There are often more than 350 high school varsity basketball games on a single evening. One person is NOT going to be physically able to collect all those scores and enter all that data. And the MHSAA would be foolish to think that it could be accomplished, and irresponsible to have the basketball tournament experience depend on such a scheme.

Well-intentioned people have unrealistic expectations about this. They don't appreciate the amount of resources the MHSAA would have to put into making this thing fly. We could do it by mandating that every school use the same schedule and score software and conditioning a school’s tournament participation on 100 percent compliance with score reporting.

But even if we launch it and apply even more force to keep it in the air, we have to wonder about the fairness and outcome of easing the path in the MHSAA Basketball Tournaments for teams which had the best regular season records, at least up to some point before the end of that season when the number crunching would have to stop and pairings and sites would need to be announced.

Three of the four state high school associations that border Michigan have seeding for their high school basketball tournaments (basketball crazy Indiana does not). But those three state associations seed only the first round of the tournament, and those three use no fancy formula . . . they have the coaches of the teams assigned by geography to the tournament site meet to separate the better teams in the earliest games.

If there is to be seeding in MHSAA Basketball Tournaments – and that’s a big if – our neighboring states’ approach is more practical and better fitted for an all-comers tournament at the high school level. That might fly, and stay in the air without excessive force.


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About the Author

Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts has been at the helm of the MHSAA as its Executive Director since 1986, implementing programs and overseeing tournament administration and regulations for the Association which boasts 1,500 member schools, 10,000 registered officials and 13,000 head coaches.

During the last 45 years, Roberts has spoken to educator and athletic groups, business leaders and civic groups in almost every state and five Canadian provinces. He is one of the nation's most articulate advocates for educational athletics.

Roberts has served on the board of directors of the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), is in his second term on the board of the National Federation of State High School Associations, and is the first chairman of the NFHS Network board of directors. He has been board president for the Refugee Development Center for nine years, and is a past-chair of the board of directors of the Michigan Society of Association Executives. He is chair of the board of trustees for the Capital Region Community Foundation for 2018.

He is a 1970 graduate of Dartmouth College, where he played defensive safety for the Ivy League's winningest football team during that span, and he sang in Dartmouth's close harmony vocal group.

His wife, Peggy, has retired from a 30-year career in social services, and is serving as president of the board of the Fenner Nature Conservancy in Lansing.