Hugh Millen is both right and wrong
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
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,
If P, then 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.
argument is based on a discussion Neuheisel had with acting school president Lee
Huntsman in Maui, Hawaii on February 28, 2003.
“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
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
"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
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
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
[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