As I have prepared for October’s Update Meetings at seven sites across Michigan, I returned for guidance to the following words that were actually handed out at the 2007 meetings, titled “From Contradictions to Consensus”:
“Barry Lopez is an American essayist, one of modern America’s great ecology writers. His book Arctic Dreams has this line: ‘. . . if all contradictions were eliminated at once, life would collapse.’ I believe that’s a law of physics.
“The world of athletics is full of contradictions too. One of the most obvious and disturbing was to watch telecasts of college sports sponsored by alcoholic beverage companies, seeing as how alcohol is the No. 1 cause of college dropouts.
“But even the world of high school sports has its contradictions. One of them is conferring upon a single organization – like the MHSAA – the roles of both promoting and protecting high school athletics. That’s a difficult balancing act. But perhaps if we were without that contradiction, school sports as we know it would collapse upon itself.
“As we look at some of the issues before interscholastic athletics in Michigan, we see many contradictions, delicate balancing acts, that require a deft touch, a steadying hand to assure we don’t tilt too far in one direction or another.
“Consider the following:
Starting sports in August, well before academic classes begin . . .
seems to conflict with the fundamentals of educational athletics;
allows many days of practices and competitions to be scheduled without conflicting with classroom instructional time.
It also increases the likelihood that schools will allow students to participate in contests before their eligibility is confirmed.
“Or consider this:
School sports seem to demand too much of the time of coaches and athletes . . .
non-school coaches and programs move in to fill every void created by schools’ out-of-season coaching restrictions and shortened school seasons.
“There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer to these kinds of issues, but there is one approach that is more likely than others to produce a good answer. It is the approach that invites input from sources great in number and diversity, even ‘outsiders’ whose very lack of experience may provide the freedom to see things in a novel way. This approach invites in-the-trenches ‘insiders’ to discuss and evaluate ideas and filter them through their experienced perspective, one that may be able to see down the road and around the corner for unintended consequences of policy or scheduling changes.
“This approach eventually finds consensus – not perfection but compromise. And this approach then explains the consensus – and frankly, tries to sell it – to an ever-expanding group of people, even to those ‘outsiders’ consulted at the start of this process.
“This approach allows people some ownership and understanding of the policies or procedures being developed, which tends to promote compliance and enforcement of the final product of this process.
“This is how the MHSAA has operated. This is how we are now dealing simultaneously with out-of-season coaching rules, calendar considerations and new mechanisms for sports seasons schedules. Sometimes the work on these three topics seems contradictory, which makes life interesting; but sometimes the ideas run parallel and sometimes the solutions intersect, which makes the work very satisfying.
“We seek to disenfranchise no one during our handling of these contradictions, least of all student-athletes. Keeping our programs relevant to them and useful tools for their schools is our core pursuit. We can accept – in fact, we can embrace – any answer that promotes and protects those goals.”