Academics v. Athletics

ACADEMICS V. ATHLETICS: What Should Receive Top Priority?



When the State High School Athletic Association Spurns Academics

By Doug Abrams


Every so often, a news story appears about some state legislature considering a bill so commonsensical that we wonder why the lawmakers even spend their time on it. Bills proclaiming “State Tulip Week,” or declaring the turnip as the “Official State Vegetable,” come to mind.

If you didn’t know better, you would think that Rep. John W. Scibak introduced a time waster in the Massachusetts House of Representatives on June 20. Rep. Scibak’s bill would prohibit the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA), which oversees high school sports, from scheduling games and other competitions on mornings when the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) or the ACT examination is administered to high school students nationwide.

The bill’s seriousness rises above tulip weeks or state vegetables, but scheduling interscholastic games to assure full, unfettered access to college entrance examinations should be a no-brainer, even without legislation. The bill is really about respecting students’ academic well being, and it attracted 62 co-sponsors in its first four hours.

The bill been assigned to the Joint Committee on Education, which reportedly will hold public hearings on it this month. Unless the MIAA commits to putting the SAT and other college entrance examinations first, the bill deserves to sail through the state legislature with bipartisan support. High school sports are “extracurricular” activities; the curriculum comes first.

 “For Academic Reasons”

Controversy arose a few days before Rep. Scibak introduced his bill, when the MIAA scheduled a rained-out Division I North semifinal baseball game for Saturday morning, June 7 at 10:00, smack in the middle of the SAT’s nationwide administration.  The semifinal pitted Chelmsford High and Methuen High, whose rosters included ten players (seven from Chelmsford and three from Methuen) who had signed up to take the SAT that morning. Most or all were juniors taking the exam for the first time as they prepared for their senior year.

Superintendents, principals and coaches at both schools requested the MIAA to move the semifinal game for a few hours, or a day or so, because fields were available and, as Methuen’s athletic director put it, “we are all here for academic reasons.”

When the MIAA refused the request, both high schools allowed individual players to choose between their academic futures and the playoff game that they had earned. It was a choice that no teen should have to make. Methuen’s coach said that he urged his juniors to take the SAT, and the two schools considered boycotting the game and taking forfeits.

The teams ultimately played in Lowell on Saturday morning with both rosters depleted, Chelmsford by four players and Methuen by three. But that is not all because college entrance examinations are rigorous intellectual exercises that demand a student’s undivided attention. We can only surmise whether the MIAA’s intransigence may have compromised the futures of test takers who, having wrestled with dual loyalties to academics and their teams, underperformed as their minds drifted to the playoff game a few miles down the road.

Two other high school teams, Turners Falls and Hopkins Academy, faced the same “SAT or baseball” conflict that Saturday morning because the MIAA scheduled them to play their WMass Division IV championship game at 10:30, also smack in the middle of the SAT. All affected players chose the game over the exam. For years, the MIAA evidently has also forced athletes in other sports to grapple with similar scheduling conflicts that should not arise in the first place.

Present Test-Taking and Future Effect

College entrance examinations are serious business. By assuming a significant role in the college and university admissions process, they can affect high school students for the rest of their lives. The SAT’s June administration is critical for juniors because the exam and its subject exams will not be administered again until October.

With the June scores, juniors and their families can most efficiently plan summer visits to schools that draw their interest, including ones some distance from home. Sitting for the SAT in June also enables juniors to take the exam a second time in October if they want to try to bolster their score. Knowing that they can retake before the application season heats up in the autumn may reduce tension on some June test takers, and thus improve their performance.

Receiving the ultimate SAT scores as early as possible enables students to spend maximum time applying to colleges and universities that offer not only suitable academic programs, but also realistic prospects of admission and possibly financial aid. Students who apply to colleges and universities with a rolling admissions process, or who apply early decision or early action, may receive earlier acceptance than students who sit for the exam for the first time in October and then contemplate a retake.

“An Extension of the Classroom”

The MIAA embarrasses public education in Massachusetts and sullies its own mission statement when it forces teens to choose between the classroom and the locker room. The MIAA website says that “[t]he goal of interscholastic athletics is to give young people the opportunity to expand their educational horizons” through “commitment to the educational nature of interscholastic athletics.” Interscholastic sports “in an educational perspective,” adds the MIAA, “is an extension of the classroom.”

We teach young athletes that “there is no ‘I’ in ‘TEAM.’”  There is, however, an “I” in “MIAA.” The “I” stands for “interscholastic.” As in “scholastic.” Now that the state association has shown that it does not take its own mission statement seriously, vindicating the core purposes of public education is a major reason why legislators hold their official positions.

Dropping the Ball

P.S.  Bravo to the Chelmsford and Methuen players, who, according to the Boston Globe, “honored their missing teammates by laying out their jerseys on the field during the national anthem.” High school sports fulfills its mission best when the role models are the adults and not the players, but the adults running the MIAA committed an error by dropping the ball.

With their on-field display, players on both teams sent an unmistakable message about team unity, respect for their absent teammates, and the proper roles of academics and sports. I hope that younger kids in their communities were watching. I even hope that the MIAA elders were watching because they could learn plenty from the teens. The players acted silently, but with dignity and force that set the standard high, where it belongs.

[Sources: Douglas Moser, Proposed Bill Would Avoid Playoffs vs. SATs, Gloucester (Mass.) Daily Times, June 12, 2014; Joseph Saade, MIAA Won’t Budge on SATs: Game Will Be Played, Boston Globe, June 7, 2014; Joseph Saade, Chelmsford Tops Methuen in Game Clouded By SAT Controversy, Boston Globe, June 8, 2014; MIAA, Sportsmanship, ]


    Well another mindless decision made by the people who are supposed to be fostering academics and athletics, in that order. The fact that legislative action would have to be taken to assure that this situation does not arise again is reason enough for the people who were involved in the decision making process should all be relieved of their jobs. Even I have enough sense to not schedule any AAU related basketball activities on a SAT week-end since my girls are too focused on the testing and too mentally worn out afterward. I would like to think that the MIAA would have the same thought process, but apparently they do not. Did they even try to justify their decision for not moving the game? Not that it would make any difference, but it would be interesting to get these people to stand up and justify such an absurd ruling. I applaud the teams, coaches and school administrators from both schools for proving that “the child is the father of the man”. Thank you Rick, for bringing this the attention that it deserves and not buried some place that people would never hear about it. Phil Cortina Hamilton NJ

    • Doug Abrams

      Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts.

      Doug Abrams