A Rite of Spring

March 21, 2015

It is inevitable in March, as predictable as May flowers after April showers, that the weeks of District Basketball Tournaments will bring criticism, and calls to seed those tournaments so top ranked teams don’t face one another in early round games.

The MHSAA’s tournament has been unseeded for 90 years; and while we should never be slaves to the past, we should always be respectful and appreciate that smart people of previous generations had many of the same discussions we are having today; and they determined that the blind draw was best.

While the preference for the blind draw has prevailed in recent years, the almost addictive attention of the media and public to the “bracketology” of NCAA basketball tournaments appears to have improved the chances that some form of seeding will eventually be applied to the MHSAA Basketball Tournament and, in doing so, join a half dozen other sports for which the MHSAA employs at least a limited seeding plan for at least one level of those tournaments.

The challenge before us is not intellectual – seeding tournaments is not rocket science. No, the challenge is political – forming consensus for a plan that does not lead to extra travel and expense for participating schools, and that can be easily understood and simply administered at multiple sites. We are talking about 256 District tournament sites – 128 each in the Girls and Boys Basketball Tournaments. The problems and pitfalls of seeding tournaments of this magnitude are nothing the colleges have tried to tackle.

And no one should be deluded that seeding is a “no-brainer” that “everyone supports.” That is not accurate. There are many people who enjoy the fact that there are top-notch matchups every night of the District tournament weeks, and not all delayed to the nights of District finals. And there will be little enthusiasm from poorly seeded teams which are forced to drive past a closer opponent to get clobbered by a more distant opponent.

While postseason tournaments are the MHSAA’s “bread and butter” program, tournament seeding is not a defining or fundamental issue of educational athletics that requires our urgent or concentrated attention. Promoting participant health and safety, for example, demands much more attention. I’m not opposed to seeding; I just don’t give it the same importance as so much else we are challenged to do.

Cheering for Sportsmanship

July 31, 2018

(This blog first appeared on MHSAA.com 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.