Crime and Punishment

August 17, 2012

In my previous posting I identified three criteria that have helped the MHSAA decide what its responsibilities should be, which is worth re-reading in the context of the widespread debate about what the NCAA’s role should be in the wake of the Penn State tragedy.

In essence, my last posting stated that the MHSAA has neither the legal authority nor the resources to be involved in protecting young people at all times and in all places.  It is in the area of sports, and especially within the limits of the season and the boundaries of the field of play, that the MHSAA has a role and rules.

So obviously, if I had been asked about what the NCAA should do about Penn State, I would advise the NCAA to look at its Handbook.  If its member institutions have adopted policies and procedures to be followed and prescribed penalties to be enforced that apply in this matter, then by all means, follow the rules.  But if not, stay out of it.  You’ve got enough to do that’s not getting done where you have the requisite expertise and responsibility.

Clearly, the NCAA leadership took a different position, apparently preferring to absorb criticism for going too far rather than suffer criticism that it did too little in response to horrific behavior at one of its member institutions.

Unfortunately, in stating publicly that the severity of the penalties was intended to send the important messages that football should not outsize academics and that success on the field should not be at the expense of the safety and nurturing of athletes and that coaches should not be treated as larger-than-life heroes, the NCAA misses the point that the system the NCAA itself has created or allowed is much at fault for such excesses.

Any system that allows such lavish expenditures on the sports program and its personalities the way it is allowed in NCAA Division 1 football and basketball will continue to have serious problems, every year and at multiple institutions.  Penn State is not the first university to have screwed up priorities; it just has the most recent and tragic victims.

For its part, the MHSAA has rules designed to position athletics secondary to academics, keep the pursuit of success secondary to safety, and maintain administrators’ authority over coaches, whose pay may not exceed the supplementary pay schedule for teachers and may not flow from any source but the school itself.  We are striving to have policies now that will make it unnecessary to impose penalties later for sports programs that are out of control.

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.