Saturday, May 10, 2014

UAA descending ...

Two college roommates -- who happen to be on the women's basketball team -- develop hard feelings toward each other.  In a massive invasion of privacy, one inappropriately reads the other's phone, finds a text message she can twist, and tells another on the team in an effort to damage her roommate as part of their fight.  It happens that the message she decides to twist is from a coach, and it happens also that the teammate she tells has an ax to grind against the coach.

The teammate starts her own rumors, in this version emphasizing the coach (of course, by this time the actual twisted text message has long since disappeared).  The University hears about it, investigates, finds nothing, case closed.  Variations on the theme happen twenty, maybe thirty times a season in the college basketball world.

Except at UAA.  Fired, former Athletic Director Steve Cobb has an ax to grind against UAA.  He badly wants to restore a tattered reputation (and in a make believe world, sue UAA), but is having trouble getting anyone -- anyone -- to believe that he was wrongly treated, or coming up with a theory where UAA is at fault.  So, like the "disgruntled player" he now relies upon -- and attempting to ride on the coattails of news coverage from a recently completed NCAA investigation which he had hoped would somehow restore his reputation (by proving everyone else is wrong), but doesn't -- Cobb picks up the same story and turns it into a fairy tale, two years after the fact, where he tried to stand up to UAA and "do the right thing," but was thwarted by a conspiracy that included "statewide legal."

In a world where timing is everything, Cobb takes his story to the local newspaper, which just this week has been acquired by an entity and publisher seeking to establish a reputation for "hard-hitting" investigative journalism, and makes his pitch.  Despite not having any corroboration of Cobb's allegations -- none, other than Cobb's own self-congratulatory statements where, as Gomer Pyle used to say "surprise, surprise, surprise," he comes out the hero -- the paper publishes the story, complete initially with a false, misleading but sensationalizing headline.

(The original headline, which headed the story throughout most of the critical, first 24-hour news cycle and part of which remains as the url for the online version, was "Former UAA athletic director says ousted coach ..."  Of course, it was the athletic director that was ousted; the coach resigned to get away from a department that even then was descending from one of Dante's levels to the next.  So the truthful headline -- "Ousted and discredited athletic director (with an ax to grind) says former coach ..." -- ends up on the cutting room floor.)

And where is UAA, the one that conducted the investigation and the one that allowed Cobb to stay on even as his department descended into hell, until, of course, he finally completely broke down and called the University President "mentally ill"?  Well UAA, hiding behind a professed desire to protect students -- but really seeking to protect disclosure of how truly dysfunctional it has become -- offers some lame excuse about why it doesn't want to get involved, other than, of course, selectively to deny any allegations made directly against it.  (That seems to be the only time UAA acts these days.  Who cares what happens to anyone else.)

So, in a real, deadly version of the "telephone game," a fight that started between two, then teen-age girls in a rented apartment in East Anchorage, ends up two years later splashing across the headlines of the newly acquired Anchorage Daily News as something else entirely.

With all due respect, this never would have happened when Fran Ulmer was Chancellor of UAA.  She would have sat down, bashed heads, held people accountable -- and Steve Cobb would have been long gone before it ever got this far.  But she wasn't there, Cobb was, the Daily News is now in sensationalized headline mode and ... well, there you have it.  The current state of life in the 49th state.