Wednesday, September 30, 2020

GUEST COLUMN: The Big Ten did the right thing, the wrong way

September 1, 2020
Scenes from the 2020 football training camp.
Scenes from the 2020 football training camp. —
Photo by Courtesy of MSU Athletic Communications | The State News

By: Randy Rentschler

Michigan State University ‘83

Public Policy Communications and Media Practitioner

Adjunct, University of California Berkeley, Goldman School of Public Policy.

First year Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren is learning a hard lesson that I hope he and others won’t soon forget. Big decisions, especially those of high stakes and lots of moving parts, need to be made within an open public process.

Hopefully, Mr. Warren and his staff are wise enough to learn this lesson right away as basketball season is fast approaching.

Yes, I know, public policy decisions made in the openness of plain day are much more difficult, unwieldy, awkward, time consuming, the list goes on. Often overrated, open public meetings are slow, painful and inefficient.

But compared to not doing so, instead we got the appalling duplicitous behavior of certain member school’s coaches, athletic directors and the sorry day-after-day episodes of conflicting statements including and up to the offices of the presidents and chancellors at certain universities. Mr. Warren’s open letters, news conferences and post-decision statements are all testament to a process gone off the rails — avoidable by all.

Then the hard part started. A summer deluge of destructive criticism and protests from heartbroken parents, players, err, I mean student athletes, fans and the media flooded the landscape. Maybe it will end after 40 days.

The saddest part is that this is text book simple. Even if Commissioner Warren was dead-set against open public decision making, someone in that office is, for certain, responsible for protecting him from self-immolation. If not, make that hire right away.

A decision of this magnitude loaded to the absolute hilt with financial, cultural and emotional baggage must have the actual decision makers on the public record so they have no opportunity to pout half-truths after a morning bout of buyer’s remorse sets in. If I was his advisor, I would have insisted on a public process for this reason alone.

But that’s not the real reason to insist on public decision making as Mr. Warren is paid a king’s ransom to take an arrow for the Crown. At its core, openness protects the very decision itself from becoming a home-spun remedy as this one has now evolved. And for good reason. Frankly, it's damn hard to argue with the angry mob who gets to exercise its right to ask and then confidently answer their own version of the question at hand. Hardly a recipe for consensus and agreement.

For example, the recent parents' protest made the case that amateur football could be played safely, essentially in bubblesque campus settings now devoid of students. Really? Maybe. Ask the NBA, or better yet MLB. Soon the ($)EC will answer that question, and more, in full.

But that is certainly not the problem Mr. Warren, nor those he reports to, were solving for. But how could those earnest critics get the message when the process was not done in public. The result making the entirety ripe for endless nitpicking and grandstanding. How indeed.

Other than this advice, I have no hard words for Mr. Warren. None. A pandemic without a playbook is not a thing to trifle with. Although lots of people think different.

Allow me one final thought. That for all the pain it will place on you, Mr. Warren, your staff, the athletic directors, the presidents and chancellors, I’d suggest you insist on some form of a public process. Or tell your bosses to go find a different fool to be the subject of a graduate student’s dissertation.

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