The Imperative of Institutional Control

Of the various criticisms about the MHSAA’s handling of transfers, these three have the ring of some validity:

  • The Transfer Rule is too complicated.
  • The Transfer Rule is poorly understood at the local level, and thus unevenly administered.
  • The MHSAA office is ill-equipped to police the transfer scene.

The language of the Transfer Rule has expanded from a few sentences to many pages over its 90-year lifetime. This is the result of changes in schools, sports and society, as well as people operating at the edges of the rule, which has led to a rule that has attempted to cover more circumstances with more specificity year after year.

This increasingly nuanced rule takes both training and time. The MHSAA does an excellent job of providing training online and in person, but local administrators are not putting in the time – they can’t! They are usually less experienced but given more non-sports duties than athletic directors of 10, 15 and 20 years ago; and they are leaving the profession after shorter careers. They often lack the training and time to do the complicated and potentially contentious tasks, including Transfer Rule administration.

Overwhelmed local athletic directors are not shy about contacting the MHSAA office for assistance in interpreting and applying the Transfer Rule. These incoming questions dominate the time of MHSAA staff who have many other duties, including the administration of MHSAA tournaments in 14 sports for each gender.

Lacking sufficient staff time and subpoena power, the MHSAA must depend on local school administrators to police their own programs, communicate with their neighbors, and report what they believe might be violations within their own and nearby programs.

While we keep working on the language of the Transfer Rule, we harbor no illusions that it will become simpler to understand and enforce. That’s just not how the modern world works . . . everything becomes more complicated. Which may only make it more unlikely that schools will dedicate the time and talent necessary to assure that the principle of “institutional control” is practiced by MHSAA member schools.

However, if we give up on that principle, no amount of oversight by the MHSAA office will ever be enough to police school sports in Michigan . . . not just to monitor transfers, but also to attend to the dozens of other elements that distinguish educational athletics.

Posted in: Transfers


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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.