The Trump Card

August 30, 2013

The cardinal principles for those preparing the playing rules of school sports are these:

  1. Preserve the sound traditions of the sport.
  2. Minimize risk.
  3. Provide for orderly administration.
  4. Maintain balance between offense and defense.

These were recited frequently when I was an employee of the National Federation of State High School Associations early in my career, when I was the staff liaison to the rules committees for ice hockey, soccer, swimming & diving and volleyball. These principles have been repeated many times over many years as the filter for proposals to modify contest rules in all sports.

A serious student of playing rules has known that the high school rules – enforced by part-time officials – generally have fewer exceptions than the rules on higher levels where officials have more time and training. NFL football, for example, will have exception upon exception to general principles of rules enforcement, which high school rules makers avoid. In other words, ease of administration has been more important for the high school level than a perfect balance between offense and defense in every circumstance of the contest.

It is clear now that the rules makers on all levels – from the pros to peewees – have concluded that “player safety trumps competitive advantage.” Exactly that phrase was used by some of the nation’s highest profile sports officials and supervisors of officials at high school, college and professional levels during a panel discussion closing the National Association of Sports Officials Summit in Grand Rapids last month.

More than perfect balance between offense and defense, more than ease of administration, even more than preserving the sound traditions of the sport, the rules makers are demanding player protection. In subtle ways in some sports, and smack between the eyes in football.

Go to the MHSAA Health & Safety Page, or the Football Page for more. 

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.