I have no knowledge of the rumored wrongdoing associated with the athletic department at Baylor University except what I’ve read in leaks and news reports for well over a year. One thing I’ve noticed is the different approach the NCAA is taking now compared to its high-profile involvement when the scandalous wrongdoing at Penn State began to surface just a few years ago.
In both situations, we are not talking about violations of rules directly related to the conduct of an intercollegiate athletic program. Apparently in both cases, there are crimes involved, for which society has a system to adjudicate guilt and, if found, to assess penalties.
In the earlier case, the NCAA jumped ahead of the judicial system to find guilt, and it vaulted over its own Handbook to fix penalties. Some of those penalties have since been modified or vacated. They were based on public opinion more than the published policies and procedures for governing NCAA operations.
Perhaps the NCAA’s lower profile now indicates it has learned from its earlier overreach that, however heinous the behavior, some things are beyond the authority and regulatory responsibility of a voluntary, nonprofit athletic association – no matter how powerful it may seem.
While I’m not aware of anything remotely resembling these situations in Michigan high schools, it is not infrequent that the Michigan High School Athletic Association is asked by a well-intentioned person to terminate the athletic eligibility of a student who has broken a public law but not a published rule of his or her local school or the MHSAA. We can’t.
The MHSAA does not have rules that duplicate society’s laws or seek to exceed them. Even with a budget 1,000 times that of the MHSAA, the NCAA has discovered it doesn’t have policies and procedures to do so consistently or well.
We already know that the MHSAA must allow local schools, law enforcement agencies and courts to deal with transgressions away from school sports. Our job is to stay focused on sports and a sub-set of issues that address participant eligibility and safety as well as competitive equity between contestants.
The MHSAA is an organization that cares about young people but recognizes its limitations, both legal and practical. The MHSAA has neither the legal authority nor the resources to be involved in regulating young people and coaches for all things, at all times and in all places. In the area of sports, and especially within the limits of the season and the boundaries of the field of play, the MHSAA does have a role, and it’s to help provide an environment that is sportsmanlike, healthy and consistent with the educational mission of schools.