Penalty Points

August 26, 2016

The five years that followed the adoption of a tougher transfer rule in the early 1980s were the busiest ever for Michigan High School Athletic Association lawyers. The tough rule made sense to parents until it applied to their own children, and was defended by coaches until applied to their own players.

The most recent five years have provided the most significant toughening of MHSAA rules in the 30 years since the contentious early ‘80s, most notably (1) adopting the athletic-related transfer rule (“links law”) that doubles the length of ineligibility for some transfer students who do not make a full and complete residential change, and (2) lengthening the maximum penalty for undue influence from up to one year to up to four years for students and adults involved.

Predictably, the recently enhanced rules have led to increases in challenges to the enforcement of those rules. What were good rules in theory sometimes have been challenged when put into actual practice. Ironically, the MHSAA has received criticism from some insiders that penalties have been too severe, and from a few outsiders that penalties have been too light. Which means we are reading these situations just about right.

It is MHSAA policy not to issue statements at the time penalties are assessed unless the penalties have a direct and immediate effect on MHSAA postseason tournament eligibility or progression. This is fitting for a voluntary association of schools which have the legal responsibility of enforcing rules as to their own students, coaches and others. The MHSAA does not want to embarrass member schools; and in those rare instances when it is necessary to issue a public statement of an action taken or to clarify an MHSAA policy or procedure, the MHSAA avoids identifying minor students and most adults who are the subjects of penalties.

While these procedures have served school-sponsored sports well in Michigan since the founding of the MHSAA, it is possible that the increase of 24/7/365 electronic communications produced by decreasingly professional/experienced/ethical personnel requires change. Taking full-body slams by media who have less than half the facts is not just a nuisance to the MHSAA, it’s disparaging to the goodness of the school sports brand.

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.