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Other Opinion: Count us among those who want the ‘status quo’ to continue with high school sports officiating

Overturning the decision would invite more athletes, families, coaches and others to take in-game decisions to the courts, eroding the ability of referees to properly and adequately officiate games.

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A case in Minnesota had the potential to create a change in high school sports that would have reverberated across athletics, reducing the ability of game officials to do their job and possibly even someday overturning game outcomes.

It started when Sam Backer, of Chatfield, Minn., was flagged for his second unsportsmanlike conduct in a semifinal playoff game against Barnesville late last month. It meant Backer – Chatfield High’s star quarterback – would not be allowed to play in the next game.

According to state rules, a second unsportsmanlike penalty in one game means the player is disqualified from that game, as well as the next.

The next game? The state championship at U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis.

Backer’s family took the case to court, hoping a judge would allow him to play. The Minnesota State High School League responded, arguing the court should deny the request for a temporary restraining order as the lawsuit "seeks to have the judiciary rewrite MSHSL bylaws to require the MSHSL to allow students, parents, and/or coaches to challenge, in court, the on-the-field discretionary decisions of contest officials." The MSHSL also said there is no “constitutionally protected property or liberty interest in participating” in an extracurricular competition.

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On Friday, hours before kickoff, U.S. District Judge Ann D. Montgomery ruled the suspension should stand.

"S.B.’s ejection and one-game suspension still allows him to remain on the football team, engage in school activities, and participate in all interscholastic athletics except the next scheduled game in the tournament series," Montgomery determined. "Even if S.B. could show a constitutionally protected property interest, he was afforded adequate process based on the demands of the situation."

Montgomery said granting a restraining order and allowing Backer to play “would change, rather than preserve, the status quo.”

Count us among those who prefer the status quo. Overturning the decision would invite more athletes, families, coaches and others to take in-game decisions to the courts, eroding the ability of referees to properly and adequately officiate games.

In Minnesota, officials must pass an exam before they are certified. Referees who wish to work in the postseason must attend regular clinics, according to the MSHSL website.

Yes, they will make an occasional mistake because they are – even though they receive pay for their work – amateurs. It’s no coincidence that they are officiating games in which the athletes are amateurs, too.

High school officials and coaches already have plenty on their plates as they try to maneuver the minefield that prep sports has become. Referees are hard to come by; they don’t need the fear of the courts interfering with their work, too.

We do feel for Backer, an athlete who by appearances was caught up in an emotional moment on the field as a defending player appeared to hold onto his leg after a tackle. Rules, however, are rules.

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The lawsuit claimed the suspension was denying Backer the right to an education. We disagree.

This headline-grabbing suspension can be an education for all athletes, reminding them of the importance of sportsmanship and also that a referee’s decision – however controversial – must be considered final and sacred.

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