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Hugh Millen is both right and wrong
Rebuttal to Millen's article
By Malamute, Posted 9 February 2005

It’s hard to believe that former coach Rick Neuheisel was fired for just lying, especially since he came clean the same day he lied. In fact his boss, Barbara Hedges, praised him for being forthright that same day. And then there are the other reasons for firing him mentioned in his termination letter.

In the lawsuit, it is Washington’s contention that Neuheisel was fired for lying. Neuheisel says he was fired for participating in a high-stakes auction and shouldn’t have been fired because a university memo gave permission for such gambling. It is Neuheisel’s contention that the UW decided to fire him for lying when it realized it wouldn’t be able to jettison him based on the gambling charge alone.

If the jury believes that Neuheisel was fired for lying, the UW wins. If it believes he was fired for gambling, then Neuheisel wins because of the now-infamous memo and collects, perhaps, some megabucks.

In his latest article appearing in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, former UW quarterback Hugh Millen makes an argument for Neuheisel’s having been fired for lying based on elementary logic, that is, by modus ponens (method of affirming). [Millen, Wikipedia].

Modus ponens:

If P, then Q
Therefore Q
If it's raining then the streets are wet.
It is raining.
Therefore the streets are wet.

The above is a correct syllogism, that is, affirmation of the antecedent makes for a valid argument.

Millen’s logical argument is based on a discussion Neuheisel had with acting school president Lee Huntsman in Maui, Hawaii on February 28, 2003.

Millen writes, “In February 2003, following Neuheisel's admission that he had lied about his interview with the San Francisco 49ers, then-university president Lee Huntsman had multiple discussions with Neuheisel in which the coach was told that, regarding his dishonesty, he had ‘no slack left,’ and that he was, ‘standing on the precipice.’”

In Neuheisel’s case presumably the argument is as follows:

If you lie again, then you will be fired.
Neuheisel lied again.
Therefore he was fired for lying.

Millen writes, “Just as it is true that, as indicated, the streets must be wet if it is raining, so is it also inarguably true that if Huntsman's position was reflected in his warning to Neuheisel, and if Neuheisel did lie subsequent to that warning, then it must follow that Neuheisel was indeed fired for lying.”

Millen appears to have made an unimpeachable argument. Years ago, I took two courses in logic at the UW, one in the math department and one in the philosophy department, so I stake my claim as a logician -- er hum.

With all due respect to Hugh Millen, elementary logic does not altogether apply in this complex case – otherwise, Neuheisel would never have taken the UW to court.

If modus ponens ruled our days, life would be so simple. However, there are always extenuating circumstances obstructing life’s flow towards its eventual portal, whatever that may be.

In Neuheisel’s case, those extenuating circumstances involve the termination letter written by former AD Barbara Hedges and the testimony at a King County Superior Court in Kent, Washington, where Neuheisel’s lawsuit is being adjudicated.  

That termination letter cites "serious acts of misconduct" that when "taken as a whole" show conduct "seriously and materially prejudicial to the best of interests of the university and its athletic program."

The actions “taken as a whole” involve his poor judgment (for entering the pools and for his NCAA violations both at the UW and Colorado); his admitted participation in the two Calcutta-style basketball pools; his lying about a job interview with the 49ers; his initial lie to NCAA investigators; his participation in two small office pools in 1999; and his lack of remorse for his NCAA violations at Colorado as expressed to the American Football Coaches Association, which censured him.

"The truth of the matter is you fired Rick Neuheisel for a series of events," lead attorney Bob Sulkin told Hedges at last week’s proceedings.

"That is correct, but the major reason was dishonesty," Hedges replied, testifying as an “adverse” witness for the Neuheisel side. [Bruscas].

According to another press report, “Sulkin then noted that Hedges’ memo to university leaders mentioned gambling, but not dishonesty. Six times, he asked Hedges whether the word ‘dishonesty’ appeared in the memo. On the seventh turn, Hedges answered, ‘No.’” [Robinson].

Also, UW attorney Karin Nyrop testified she told the NCAA the main reason former football coach Rick Neuheisel was fired in June 2003 was for "impermissible high stakes gambling." This, in an effort to show the UW had been penalized enough by the national association. [Bruscas2].

Former UW compliance director Dana Richardson also testified that the university told the NCAA that Neuheisel was fired for "impermissible high-stakes gambling."

Based on that testimony, can we throw modus ponens out the window? Not entirely. 

Millen is both right and wrong; you can make a cogent argument that dishonesty was the reason for termination based on Neuheisel’s chat with Huntsman; however, the termination letter and Nyrop’s and Richardson’s testimony seem to throw "horse feathers" on this logic. In other words, Millen does simplify too much.

A few days after the gambling story broke wind, NCAA honcho Miles Brand was quoted as saying, "That's terribly troubling...That's unacceptable behavior." Brand, a former president at Indiana University, was asked how he would handle such a situation if it occurred at a school where he was president. "Hypothetically, I would find that incompatible with continued employment."

So, for example, Brand's comments provide another instance of modus ponens, providing the UW, heretofore, was listening to Brand, to wit:

If you are involved in high-stakes gambling, the NCAA says you should be fired.
You are involved in high-states gambling.
Therefore you are fired based on the opinion of the NCAA.

Of course, the NCAA did not have the power to fire Neuheisel, and this syllogism is also an over-simplification -- like Millen's -- considering the complexities involved.

Brand is not altogether the bad guy as far as Neuheisel must be concerned. Shortly after the gambling story energized electrons that turned into readable matter, Brand told The Seattle Times, "it was admirable" that Neuheisel admitted his involvement when confronted."

As a side note, the NCAA bylaw on gambling is vague, as we have steadfastly maintained. One press report notes that “Sulkin introduced a 1997 interoffice NCAA memo that would have prohibited ‘participation in a pool or fantasy league where there is an entry fee involved.’”

The wording was never amended. Here’s some more simple logic. If NCAA bylaw 10.3 (the one on gambling) had entertained these three words, “No sports pools,” or something to that effect, this trial would never have occurred, at least as far as the UW is concerned.


[Wikipedia]. From Wikipedia, the free enclopedia: Modus ponens: “The argument form has two premises. The first premise is the "if-then" or conditional claim, namely that P implies Q. The second premise is that P, the antecedent of the conditional claim, is true. From these two premises it can be logically concluded that Q, the consequent of the conditional claim, must be true as well.”

[Robinson]. Robinson, Sean, “Hedges takes the hot seat,”, “The News Tribune, 2 February 2005, 

[Millen]. Millen, Hugh, “Commentary: Neuheisel's main thrust defies logic,” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 7, 2005.

[Bruscas]. Bruscas, Angelo, “Hedges: Lies cost Neuheisel his job,” the Seattle Post Intelligencer, February 3, 2005.

[Bruscas2]. Bruscas, Angelo, “UW attorney grilled on firing,” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 8, 2005.

[Korte]. Korte, Tom, “Former compliance officer didn't review all information,” AP report, February 7, 2005.

Richard Linde (a.k.a., Malamute) can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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