Recently, we decided to keep our athletic teams in the Mountain West Conference. This decision has garnered significant attention, regionally and nationally, and I thought I would share some reflections on the process. First, we are grateful for the input we received from our community. Second, I wish to acknowledge Director of Athletics Jim Sterk and Vice President for Business and Financial Affairs Sally Roush and their teams for their collaborative efforts during this challenging period. Third, in response to a number of inquiries on how we go about making such decisions, I wanted to give members of our community some general insight into how we make decisions.
When considering any significant change at the university, our first step is to identify our choices and the positive and negative aspects. In a case like conference realignment, we wanted to understand how each choice affects our student-athletes’ welfare, our teams’ competitiveness, our academic programs, our fans’ interests and the financial viability of our athletics programs, among many other factors.
The individual factors are themselves often quite complex. For example, the analysis of the financial aspects of membership in a conference is much more than looking at two numbers (e.g., TV revenue for the two conferences). It involves identifying all of the factors that influence revenues and costs, such as Bowl championship series revenue, Bowl revenues and expenses, TV revenue, NCAA basketball tournament shares, Conference basketball tournament revenues, and expense differences.
Herein lies the answer to one of the most common questions we received: “Why did it take a month to make the decision?” In short, additional time is a small investment that ensures we are thorough in examining all of the relevant factors.
A big part of our review is to understand the stability of the positive and negative aspects of each choice. This is especially important in the case of conference realignment; we didn’t want to base our choice on factors that would be different next month. For example, a conference’s overall competitiveness across many sports is likely to be stable. On the other hand, a conference’s competitiveness in an individual sport can change much more rapidly. Our efforts to understand stability provide us with a much more thorough understanding of our choices.
Once we have a thorough understanding of our choices, we pursue mitigation efforts. Through mitigation efforts, we try to shape our choices – to reduce the negative aspects of any given choice. For example, if a particular conference schedule were viewed as too easy or too hard for our teams, we could alter our nonconference schedule. Mitigation allows us to create the best possible options from which to choose, rather than simply accepting options as presented.
Many mitigation efforts take place in negotiations with partners. While negotiation is commonly viewed as a process in which we have to “be tough” or “play hardball” with our partners, it also is a process in which partners search for mutually beneficial approaches (e.g., approaches that help one partner without hurting the other significantly). This was the rule for our conference realignment discussions, and we are grateful for the cooperative spirit of all partners.
When all this work is done – all factors identified, positive and negative aspects of choices analyzed, stability considered, and negative aspects of choices mitigated as much as possible – we are ready to make a decision. If we have done our work well, and I believe we did so in this case, the work clarifies the choices and makes the decision an easier one.
Often, most of the significant known factors point to one choice over another. When some factors favor one choice and others favor the alternative, we can place these factors in a broader context – such as overall university goals for the athletics program – to determine which factors should predominate.
None of this work guarantees that all outcomes will be positive for the indefinite future. We live in a dynamic world. What our work does guarantee is that we will have made the best choice we can, given our values and the information available today. Based on this foundation, we will be prepared for an informed, proactive discussion should circumstances change and consideration of a new course required.