Law and Order

I have no knowledge of the rumored wrongdoing associated with the athletic department at Baylor University except what I’ve read in leaks and news reports for well over a year. One thing I’ve noticed is the different approach the NCAA is taking now compared to its high-profile involvement when the scandalous wrongdoing at Penn State began to surface just a few years ago.

In both situations, we are not talking about violations of rules directly related to the conduct of an intercollegiate athletic program. Apparently in both cases, there are crimes involved, for which society has a system to adjudicate guilt and, if found, to assess penalties.

In the earlier case, the NCAA jumped ahead of the judicial system to find guilt, and it vaulted over its own Handbook to fix penalties. Some of those penalties have since been modified or vacated. They were based on public opinion more than the published policies and procedures for governing NCAA operations.

Perhaps the NCAA’s lower profile now indicates it has learned from its earlier overreach that, however heinous the behavior, some things are beyond the authority and regulatory responsibility of a voluntary, nonprofit athletic association – no matter how powerful it may seem.

While I’m not aware of anything remotely resembling these situations in Michigan high schools, it is not infrequent that the Michigan High School Athletic Association is asked by a well-intentioned person to terminate the athletic eligibility of a student who has broken a public law but not a published rule of his or her local school or the MHSAA. We can’t.

The MHSAA does not have rules that duplicate society’s laws or seek to exceed them. Even with a budget 1,000 times that of the MHSAA, the NCAA has discovered it doesn’t have policies and procedures to do so consistently or well.

We already know that the MHSAA must allow local schools, law enforcement agencies and courts to deal with transgressions away from school sports. Our job is to stay focused on sports and a sub-set of issues that address participant eligibility and safety as well as competitive equity between contestants.

The MHSAA is an organization that cares about young people but recognizes its limitations, both legal and practical. The MHSAA has neither the legal authority nor the resources to be involved in regulating young people and coaches for all things, at all times and in all places. In the area of sports, and especially within the limits of the season and the boundaries of the field of play, the MHSAA does have a role, and it’s to help provide an environment that is sportsmanlike, healthy and consistent with the educational mission of schools.

Posted in: Technology


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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.