Correctable Error?

A decade has passed since the court-ordered change in several sports seasons for Michigan high schools. Ten years has brought resignation more than satisfaction; and yet there remains hope in some places that the new status quo is not permanent, at least for those sports seasons changes that were and are seen by many people as collateral damage in a fight over seasons for girls basketball and volleyball.

Actually, the lawsuit sought to place all girls seasons in the same seasons as boys, like college schedules. The federal court did not require simultaneous scheduling; but the court did bring the intercollegiate mindset to the case. It determined, regardless of other facts, that the intercollegiate season was the “advantageous” season for high school sports. And the principle upon which it approved the compliance plan for high school sports in Michigan was that if all the seasons were not simultaneous for boys and girls, then there should be rough equality in the number of boys and girls assigned to “disadvantageous” seasons.

So, for example, from the federal court’s perspective, fall is the advantageous season for soccer, winter for swimming & diving, and spring for tennis. As for golf, the court opined that, even though it’s not the season of the NCAA championships, maybe fall was the better season. The court began with tortured logic and ended with hypocrisy. 

As a result, in the Lower Peninsula, regardless of the preferences of the people involved, girls and boys had to switch seasons in two sports to even up the number of boys seasons and girls seasons in what the court had determined were disadvantageous. Schools thought the switch of golf and tennis for the genders was less injurious than switching soccer and swimming.

In the Upper Peninsula, because swimming and golf are combined for the genders in the winter and spring, respectively, the court’s option was to switch boys and girls seasons for either soccer or tennis. The schools chose soccer as the least disruptive change.

As people count the damaging effects and think about challenging the court-ordered placements a decade later, they must understand the court was looking for balance, for having the genders share the burden of participating in disadvantageous seasons. Moving Lower Peninsula boys golf to join girls in the fall and/or switching Lower Peninsula boys and girls tennis back to what was preferred and in place before judicial interference would recreate the imbalance the federal court conjured up and sought to remedy.

Those of us involved see many advantages to conducting fall golf for both genders in the Lower Peninsula and switching Lower Peninsula tennis seasons for boys and girls, no matter when colleges schedule those sports or how impractical the court’s logic and how inconsistently it was applied. Nevertheless, correcting the court’s errors could be both contentious and costly.

Posted in: Tournaments


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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.