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Hunkins: The Mountain West punts-who called the play?
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Hunkins: The Mountain West punts-who called the play?

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In early August, the Mountain West Conference (“MW”) announced an adjusted football schedule for the fall of 2020. Just five days later the Conference Board of Directors, citing concerns over health and uncertainties, overrode the decision and informed the public there would be no fall sports and no football season, a season that held much promise for our Cowboys.

The repercussions from the MW decision were immediate and severe. It is estimated the decision will cost the University of Wyoming 10 -15 million dollars in lost revenue; this at a time when Wyoming state government generally, and the University specifically, are reeling from the combined effects of the corona virus and the collapse of Wyoming’s energy economy. The announcement dealt a blow to the morale of all concerned.

Sally Ann Shurmur, in her Aug. 16 column on these pages put it this way: “This is not something we will ‘get over.’ We are not being ‘ridiculous,’ ‘small minded’ or ‘selfish.’ This is a tragedy.” Sally’s eloquent eulogy for a lost football season reflects the feeling of many.

This was more than a decision about athletic competition. It was a public policy decision made by unelected higher education administrators, all but one from states other than Wyoming. The MW’s Board of Directors, comprised of the presidents of the 12 member institutions, made the decision. If it turns out the presidents made the wrong decision, they will not be accountable to most of the people and many of the institutions they have harmed.

“Where there is a will, there is a way,” is an adage for the ages. Six of the ten FBS conferences had the will and found a way to play football. The service academies are playing. BYU is playing. Even our Wyoming high schools are playing.

Are we to believe the schools that are playing football were negligent or uncaring in making their decisions? These schools say they can provide a safe environment. The Mountain West – at least the presidents who made the decision – did not have the will, and therefor didn’t find a way.

There isn’t much transparency as to how or why the presidents’ decision was reached. Many questions are raised by the curious way in which the decision came about.

For instance, why did the Board cancel fall sports such a short time after it had approved an adjusted football schedule for fall play? Who moved that the season be cancelled? What reports and written materials were given to the presidents? Who were the medical experts consulted and what advice did they give? Were there differences of opinion among the medical experts or among the presidents? Did the presidents consult with the athletic directors, coaches, and governing boards of the institutions before voting on the motion to cancel the entire season? Can the transcript of the meeting (and minutes) be released and if not, why not?

The president of San Jose State University, Mary Papazian, is currently the chair of the MW Board of Directors. She answers to a “chancellor” of the California State University system. So do the presidents of the other California universities that are members of the MW. The Chancellor answers to a Board that includes Gov. Gavin Newsom and three other California politicians.

It could be argued that President Seidel of the University of Wyoming deserves some slack. On the job for a month before being called on to cast such a consequential vote, he might not have had all the background and knowledge needed. Nevertheless, he gave a lengthy defense of the MW Board’s decision and seemed to place himself in the deliberations from the beginning.

Reporter Davis Potter, in a room that appeared to be devoid of anyone else, interviewed Wyoming’s new president, dapper in suit and matching Coved 19 mask. The interview was posted on YouTube. Unfortunately, the President’s words were muffled and garbled by reason of mumbling through the mask.

From what could be discerned, President Seidel asserted the Board’s decision was unanimous and based on the unanimous recommendation of medical experts advising members’ athletic departments. According to the president, there were warnings of potential heart problems for athletes who might catch the virus. No details were given.

In an interview posted on the MW website, Commissioner Craig Thompson seemingly contradicted Seidel by asserting the rational for cancelling the season wasn’t anything more than “continued unknowns.” The commissioner went on to state the obvious regarding health concerns: “Different studies show different things, and it’s amazing that intelligent people can reach different conclusions.” In a statement on their website, the MW stated, “numerous external factors and unknowns outside our control made the decision necessary.”

The MW Board chose to adopt a conclusion that other conferences and schools rejected. Why? What “external factors” influenced the Board’s conclusion? The decision of a group external to Wyoming is causing significant damage to the state.

The people of Wyoming deserve a full explanation of the MW Board’s decision. We need to know what “external factors” influenced the decision. We need the truth. Gov. Gordon should see to it.

Ray Hunkins is a former President of the University of Wyoming Alumni Association and was named a “Distinguished Alumnus” of the University in 2005.

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