A public private partnership (PPP) can be defined as “a long-term contract between a private party and a government entity, for providing a public asset or service, in which the private party bears significant risk and management responsibility, and remuneration (pay) is linked to performance.” A common example of a PPP is the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. These types of PPPs exist in many states, and in a previous post I highlighted how the Michigan company Blue Ware moved to Florida and with the help of the Florida Economic Development Corporation “swindle(d) tax payers out of millions of dollars.” The Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA), which most of us would agree is a PPP, is also failing miserably to serve many of the state organizations, in this case Michigan high schools, for whose benefit it exists. Here are five examples of how the MHSAA has failed along with a call for action.
First of all, the MHSAA has put the financial gain of its employees over those of student athletes and their families. The MHSAA receives its revenue mostly from post-season tournaments where they charge everyone, even small children, 5 to 10 dollars to attend. They also make money by selling the rights to sports broadcasts, through sporting goods contracts that essentially force teams to buy certain manufacturer’s equipment, requiring playoff t-shirts to be printed by MHSAA’s vendor, etc. According to MHSAA financial reports from 2015, the MHSAA made over 9.6 million dollars in revenue. MHSAA’s executive director Jack Roberts, who has been on the job for over 30 years, was compensated $271,978 for his services. To put that in perspective, no governor in the country makes even $200,000 a year, and Michigan’s Governor only makes $159,300 a year! The MHSAA has at least five other employees who make more than $150,000 a year. Meanwhile, the MHSAA has capped the value of an award or gift for a student athlete at $25 since at least 2005! For comparison, many states allow for gifts of at least $50, and some allow for gifts of $100 or more.
A second problem with PPPs and the MHSAA is that by State law they are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. In fact, the MHSAA fought a successful legal battle against the parents of a high school skier in order to keep their inner workings secret. That case went all the way to the state Supreme Court. This lack of transparency does not allow citizens to make sure the MHSAA is acting legally or ethically.
A third problem with the MHSAA is their treatment of students with disabilities. The most widely reported example, even ESPN covered it, is the case of Eric Dompierre. Dompierre was a student with Down Syndrome who attended Ispheming High School in 2012. Dompierre’s father petitioned the MHSAA to extend the age limit rule for an extra year so his son, and other students with similar disabilities, could play sports at the age of 19. After all, students with disabilities can attend high schools in Michigan until they are 26. Jack Roberts was on record as saying “schools didn’t want the change.” MHSAA Associate Director Tom Rashid said “I spoke with about 500 to 600 athletic directors, we discussed this widely throughout the state, and that was the general consensus. We did an opinion poll where we found 60% of the schools did not favor a change to the rule.” However, when an official vote was put to the membership a whopping 94% agreed that the MHSAA executive board should be able to waive the age rule in cases like Dompierre’s. Yet the MHSAA continues to show their ineptitude in this area as they had to be sued in 2015 by the parents of a deaf wrestler to allow his interpreter to have access to the full area around the wrestling mat.
A fourth example of the MHSAA’s incompetence can be seen in cases where the punishment of student athletes doesn’t fit the crime. For example, Grandville High School’s state ranked wrestling team wrestled one too many matches last winter. Instead of punishing the coach, the team was banned from the post season tournament and eight wrestlers were not allowed to compete in the individual finals! The Freedom of Information Act lawsuit mentioned earlier actually came about because of a similar ruling banning a high school skier over too many contests. In both cases, the penalty was too punitive. I wonder how harshly Jack Roberts was punished when the MHSAA, under his leadership, unsuccessfully fought a lawsuit for seven years over switching of the volleyball seasons from the winter to the fall. The MHSAA had to pay 4.5 million dollars in attorney fees to their opposition. Due to a lack of transparency, we will probably never know the total cost of the lawsuit or how much of that cost has been passed on to us ticket buyers.
Finally, for years the MHSAA has failed to act on data that shows private schools win a disproportionate number of state championships. Private schools only represent 14% of all schools according to the MHSAA. However, Since 2000, private schools have won 41% of the titles in volleyball, 55% of the titles in hockey, and 41% of the titles in football. Many states have responded to such data by changing their playoff system to a separate system, or by instituting an enrollment multiplier, the latest being Ohio. For more data, and to sign a petition specific to this matter, check out www.fairplayoffs.com.
How do we change an organization that does not want its internal workings subject to open records, who would rather fight lawsuits to keep students off the playing fields rather than do what’s right on their behalf, or who hasn’t had a change in top level leadership in over 30 years? It seems doubtful that appealing directly to the MHSAA will help much. Therefore, I suggest each of you write a letter to your state representative, senator, or local newspaper. Also, speak to your athletic director, high school principal, and superintendent and ask them to put pressure on the MHSAA. After all, the MHSAA will only make changes for the greater good if their hand is forced. Let’s get to forcing.