Michigan State Association's Bylaws Creating Controversy

Nearly a year ago, East Kentwood High junior Khance Meyers ran the race of a lifetime at New Balance Nationals Outdoor, landing a 20.78 second time in the 200m dash to finish second overall in a field against some of the nation's best sprinters. 

At the time, it was a big boon for a Michigan athlete. 

But behind that performance, there was also an understanding when it came to national high school track and field meets held outside the state. As long as athletes didn't wear school-issued uniforms and weren't competing under the umbrella of a school, they wouldn't lose eligibility by the Michigan High School Athletic Association. 

Meyers, who was a junior at the time, entered having run a 21.11 seconds that spring for East Kentwood during a meet at Comstock Park High. But had it actually been used by Meyers as a qualifying entry time, he could have lost his eligibility as a senior.  

This year, the MHSAA made a preexisting wrinkle clear when it came to competing at national meets (it was actually an old rule that just was recirculated in plain sight this time): Athletes can't use their high school performances as qualifying entries... ever. 

Michigan Student Athletes May NOT use any time, height or distance achieved in the high school season or the MHSAA Tournament for entry in to competition without loss of eligibility. Link

But why? 

That's been the question posed consistently since, mostly because of the implication: Does the MHSAA own athletes' times, leaps, and throws?

"It's ridiculous," said one high school coach whose athletes compete at national meets. "A lot of these prehistoric rules are in place, and it's a way to disassociate Michigan from national competition. But the thing is, because school is out, it's not a school issue anyway." 

Some believe Michigan's rigid bylaws are a product of its executive director, Jack Roberts, who's been leading the state's athletic association for 36 years. 

In 2015, after the Northville High girls cross country team qualified for NXN, the team was prohibited from going at first. The parents of the team threatened to sue and the team was ultimately given the green light -- it finished 17th that year. 

But Roberts was a big proponent of the season ending after the state championship meet. He even wrote a blog three weeks after Northville finished fourth at state and titled it "Respecting Rules." 

According to Jeff Hollobaugh the founder and site editor of MichTrack.org who's followed Roberts' career, he's long believed the executive director has directly opposed national competitions. 

"We have one of the most paternalistic state association in the nation," Hollobaugh said. "Officials at New Balance have told me no state works harder to keep their athletes out of nationals than Michigan." 

While the rule doesn't impact departing seniors, it ultimately would jeopardize the careers of underclassmen without prior knowledge of the rule and/or athletes who choose to enter their high school times as qualifying entries, anyway. 

The MHSAA's rules are tricky when it comes to out-of-state competition. Athletes and teams can choose to register for competition in any bordering state, but they can't travel beyond a total of 300 miles outside of state. 

There are some exceptions that allow for an athlete to compete at an event like the Adidas Boost Boston Games Dream Mile -- that rule permits an athlete to go to two meets outside that 300-mile radius -- though that doesn't work "for the normal kid who wants to run at the Penn Relays," the coach said. 

Teams and athletes from Michigan have not been able to compete at Arcadia Invitational, the Mt. SAC Invitational, the Penn Relays or the Texas Relays, among other meets. 

Many coaches in the state believe Michigan is being held back by its archaic bylaws. 

"We've never really had a problem until now," Hollobaugh said. "We've had athletes go for decades. Every year, I would guess more than 100 athletes go, many of them underclassmen, but it's the newcomers who aren't wired into the coaching circles.

"They likely called the MHSAA offices and asked for permission, and they got mixed messages. The only thing that changed this year is that the MHSAA put a notice on its site and it went viral." 

Ultimately, Michigan athletes do continue to attend meets like New Balance Nationals Outdoor every year. Because Michigan has a strong indoor season, club teams that compete over the winter often have marks that can translate over to national events.

But some coaches still want to see change. 

In Greensboro this weekend, coaches from the state will meet to work on a proposal to bring change to the existing bylaws of the MHSAA, according to a coach with knowledge of the impending meeting.

"We want to see what we can do," the coach said. "We want to figure out how we go about this and solve it."

The question they want to answer: Shouldn't an athlete have ownership over his/her own performance?