Beyond Fairness

One of the lessons I learned decades ago when I was employed at the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), is that sometimes the playing rules are not fair.

The NFHS is the publisher of playing rules for most high school sports, and its rule books govern competition for most of the contests for most of the high schools in the US.

But the NFHS doesn’t publish the most fair rules. On purpose.

The rules for the high school level attempt to do much more than promote competitive equity, or a balance between offense and defense; they also attempt – without compromising participant health and safety – to simplify the administration of the game.

Unlike Major League Baseball, where umpires officiate full-time, and professional basketball, football and ice hockey where they officiate nearly full-time, the officials at the high school level are part-timers. They have other jobs. This is their avocation, not their vocation.

So the NFHS develops and publishes rules that minimize exceptions to the rules. In football, for example, there are fewer variables for determining the spot where penalties are enforced.

At the high school level, the rule makers intend that the rules be – for players, coaches and officials alike – quicker to learn, simpler to remember, and easier to apply during the heat of contests.


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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.