Boring Impartiality

January 6, 2017

Some people – like our U.S. President-Elect and, apparently, like the NCAA Division I Football Playoff Selection Committee – seem to believe that all publicity, no matter how negative, is good publicity. If it draws attention to your candidacy or championships series, no matter how embarrassing, it’s okay – even good.

That’s not the belief of the Michigan High School Athletic Association. As an organization that must too often do unpopular things, like enforce rules that others don’t and impose penalties that others won’t, the MHSAA prefers to avoid creating controversy where there are options to do so.

The structure of MHSAA tournaments provides some options.

Tournaments which exclude no teams or individuals provoke less controversy than those with a limited field. Tournaments which favor no teams through a seeding scheme cause fewer arguments.

If our only purpose were to increase revenues, there is much we could do to gerrymander MHSAA tournaments in order to shorten, smooth out and straighten the tournament trail for the teams with the best records and biggest crowds during the regular season, like the NCAA women’s and NIT men’s basketball tournaments do.

But if fairness – blind, boring impartiality – is more important to us, then we will not force the teams with the poorest regular season records to face off in bracket rat-tails and we will not provide the teams with the best regular season records a tournament trail that avoids similar teams for as long as possible.

This approach opens us to criticism that we are dumb to be different and stupid to reject the revenue-generating practices of major college and professional sports organizations. But no one can claim we are unfair.

It’s not unfair to treat all schools the same. The unfairness begins – and real controversy follows – when an organization tries to favor some teams over others.

Cheering for Sportsmanship

July 31, 2018

(This blog first appeared on on January 8, 2013.)

I try to start each new school year at the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association summer camp at Michigan State University. I talk briefly about who the MHSAA is and what it does; and then two or three dozen high school newspaper editors and writers ask me questions; and in doing so, they give me clues to what’s going on in our schools and what’s important to our students.

Several years ago, when I opened the session to questions, one young man asked: “Mr. Roberts, what’s your job?” I paused, and then said, “I guess I’m the head cheerleader for high school sports in Michigan.”

So then this precocious student asked: “Okay, what do you cheer for?”  With a briefer pause, this is some of what I said:

  • I cheer for sportsmanship that’s not merely good, but great.

  • I cheer for sportsmanship, not gamesmanship.

  • I cheer for playing by the rules, both the letter and the spirit.

  • I cheer for maximum effort to try to win each and every contest.

  • I don’t cheer for winning at any cost; I do cheer for learning at every opportunity.

  • I cheer for losing with grace and for winning with even greater grace, with humility and modesty.

  • I cheer for the lessons of victory and the even greater lessons of defeat.