No Rules?

We like to say that school sports is “educational athletics,” but this does not mean athletics and academics should be treated exactly the same.

Competitive athletics is not like the composition or algebra classroom. Competitive athletics requires two opponents playing by the same rules that govern who can play and how they can play.

In 1907, William James put in writing a series of lectures he had given in Boston the year before titled “Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking.” Included in the third lecture is this gem:

“. . . the aim of a football team is not merely to get the ball to a certain goal (if that were so, they would simply get up on some dark night and place it there), but to get it there by a fixed machinery of conditions – the game’s rules and the opposing players;”

This to James was a given, cited to help him make a more profound point.

But the point here is profound enough for us. Without rules, and opponents playing by the same rules, there is no validity in moving the ball to the goal. Without rules, there is no value in sinking the putt, making the basket, clearing the bar, crossing the finish line. Without a regulatory scheme adhered to by all competitors, victory is hollow.


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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.