Limitations of Rules

November 15, 2013

Those who make rules ought to have knowledge of the limitations of rules, lest they overreach and over-regulate.

Dov Seidman writes in how:  Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything:  “Rules fail because you cannot write a rule to contain every possible behavior in the vast spectrum of human conduct. There will always be gray areas, and therefore, given the right circumstances, opportunities, or outside pressures, some people might be motivated to circumvent them. When they do, our typical response is just to make more rules. Rules, then, become part of the problem.”

The NCAA is under constant criticism for its voluminous rule book which seems to pry into myriad of daily activities of athletes, coaches, boosters and others with so many rules it’s impossible for people to know them all. So university athletic departments must hire compliance officers to guide people – effectively absolving the people in the trenches from knowing the rules and committing to their adherence; and the NCAA office must hire investigations to sort through all the allegations of wrongdoing.

While much trimmer than the NCAA Manual, the MHSAA Handbook is much larger today than its original versions. Still, every year in December when the MHSAA staff conducts a series of meetings that kicks off a six-month process of reviewing theHandbook, there is a concerted effort to “make the rules better without making the rule book larger.”

We know that unless the rules address a specific problem and are written with clarity and enforced with certainty, rules do more harm than they do good. “This,” according to Seidman, “creates a downward spiral of rulemaking which causes lasting detriment to the trust we need to sustain society. With each successive failure of rules, our faith in the very ability of rules to govern human conduct decreases. Rules, the principal arm of the way we govern ourselves, lose their power, destroying our trust in both those who make them and the institutions they govern.”

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.