Part 3 -- Wednesday - the meet starts in 2 days - What's going on?
I know Mr. Johnson and I like him. But I find this troubling. Yes, anti-nationals language has been in the rules for a long time. The bit about not being able to use performances from the school season is new, however. It is also seriously crazy. I would love to hear from any lawyer who thinks it is defensible in court. The MHSAA does not own athlete performances. Check out this article that Jacob Tanner brought to our attention.
Here's the other crazy part. The MHSAA is basing its threat of possible enforcement on whether an athlete uses an in-season mark as a qualifying mark.However, the MHSAA has no way to know what mark someone used to enter the meet. That only appears on the entry form, which is a private contract between the athlete and New Balance Nationals. Unless the MHSAA suddenly has the surveillance capabilities of the NSA, it doesn't know what mark was used to enter the meet. The world will see the seeding marks that NBN uses on its start sheets. But seeding marks are not qualifying marks. NBN can use anything they want for seeding marks--state finals marks, estimated marks, Yahtze scores.
In other words, as near as I can tell, this is an unenforceable, hollow threat. Two other factors make even more unenforceable.
1)A few coaches--not all--report something that sounds like special treatment in telling us that MHSAA employees verbally told them it's okay to go as long as they use "estimated" times (whatever those are). Other callers are just being told to reread the rules. Others report extremely vague responses. Unless the same rules and the same message is given to everybody, the MHSAA will be vulnerable to lawsuit if it attempts to punish athletes. That's why I tweeted out this: <<MHSAA callers now are reporting vague answers being told to read the regulations. Because clarity & honesty are too much to ask for.>>
(By honesty, I mean this: there are only 2 possible honest answers the MHSAA could give when asked by an athlete if they can go. They can say, "Yes, we don't like it, but we don't have the power to stop you." Or they could say, "No. We are planning to suspend every single underclassman who goes." Anything in between is disingenuous game-playing, and the hard-working athletes, parents and coaches in our sport deserve better.)
2)The second reason the rule unenforceable (in my opinion). The MHSAA has a rule on its books for 30+ years and it hasn't punished a single athlete in that time for competing in track nationals? Do they really have a lawyer who thinks they can start doing that now? (Follow-up question: what are the odds that lawyer was not in the top 90% of his/her law school graduating class?) This is Law 101: rules that are not regularly and uniformly enforced can easily lead to lawsuits and court judgments against the organization in question.
Sadly, I know of two schools now that have canceled their plans to go, because their athletic directors told them they can't. (Wait--why is the AD part of the loop on a non-school, non-season matter? As I advised one school, the reason the MHSAA is not being more clear on this issue is fear of litigation. And some of you have ADs who think it's a good idea to put themselves in the firing line of a lawsuit that the MHSAA is trying to avoid? I would think those ADs might want to share this article with the school district lawyer. From a liability standpoint, the smart AD would say, "This is a parent-driven issue. Let them make the decision. I'm going golfing."
I also know of many programs that are going to Greensboro. If any of them hear a peep from MHSAA about this afterwards, grab the popcorn. I think we could easily see another class-action lawsuit like the volleyball case 10 years ago that nearly bankrupted the MHSAA. And the smart money is still not going to be on Jack Roberts' chances.
Part 2 - the statement I published when I took my original article down, because I felt that MHSAA had backed off and the feisty tone of my article (part 1 below) might only inflame the situation
We are getting reports now that sometime on Friday the MHSAA changed its response to inquiries about the New Balance Nationals and is allowing teams to compete as long as they use "estimated" times for entry. As yet I haven't confirmed this with multiple sources, but I felt it important to call the dogs off. I suspect the MHSAA has been getting a lot of online negatives once this story went viral (which ironically happened after the MHSAA response had changed). We will share more information once we have it confirmed.
For now, however, it appears the crisis might be resolved.
Part 1 - my original article, published after the crisis went viral on Twitter
Michtrack Speaks: The MHSAA's Attempt To "Fix" Something That Isn't Broken
The news that the MHSAA is making a concerted effort to stop Michigan preps from competing at New Balance Nationals is going viral fast. And the public opposition to the stance is strong.
First, the facts. This is what MHSAA posted on its track page:
Background: the MHSAA is an athletic association that most Michigan high schools belong to. Membership is voluntary. Unlike some other states, there is no State of Michigan government oversight.
The decision to oppose national championships in any sport is nothing new for MHSAA. It has long been a major focus for Jack Roberts, who has directed the organization for 32 years. In 1999, when arguing against a football national championship, he said, “We are in a desperate battle to keep high school sports within an educational framework and to avoid the abuses and excesses of other levels of sports.”
In 2015, an article in Athletic Management quotes him as feeling so strongly about athletics not taking priority over education that he has misgivings about even having state championships. “In fact, I think we already push the envelope by holding state championships. They interfere with classroom instructional time and cost schools, communities, and fans money. We'd be smarter to scale back rather than place even more emphasis on sports in schools.”
He added: "If we want to add to existing conflicts with academic programs, recruiting scandals, budget problems, and commercial influences, national championships are a way to do that. But if we want to stop those problems from getting worse, we should keep national championships out of our programming altogether. That's Michigan's strong position, as it is in many other states."
What coaches and athletes choose to do about this enforcement remains to be seen. We have heard word of lawyers being hired and of teams planning to defy the MHSAA.
While I have friendly working relationships with a number of good people at the MHSAA, it would be wrong of me not to share my opinions as someone who has seen our sport grow and flourish dramatically in Michigan since my long-ago days as an athlete. My thoughts:
Bottom line: this is a scare tactic. But no one knows how MHSAA will respond if athletes and parents choose to challenge the rule. One thing is sure: if MHSAA were to try to ban more than a few scapegoats, it will be a huge public relations disaster. They’d also find themselves back in court.
And really, why? Why does the MHSAA feel compelled to attack a summer event and the college scholarship opportunities of so many promising athletes? We have come so far in the sport in this state—must we take a huge step backward? One that could lead to court cases that will still be bouncing around long after Roberts takes his overdue retirement?
It makes no sense. Unless you can think like a vindictive, controlling, paternalistic angry old man who wishes we could all magically go back to some idyllic version of the “good old days”—then it makes a lot of sense.
In the meantime, he’s going to try to stop kids from going to New Balance. And he’s going to yell at them to stay off of his lawn.
Jeff Hollobaugh is the founder & editor of Michtrack. In his day job, he is associate editor of Track & Field News magazine, the bible of the sport since 1947. As a journalist he has covered 7 Olympics and 12 World Championships. He is the author of How to Race the Mile and The 100 Greatest Track & Field Battles of the 20th Century. He also coaches distance runners.