The Imperative of Institutional Control

March 13, 2018

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.

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.