Friday, 19 March 2021

The Twist Of The Dagger

I'm never going to convince anyone that I'm journalist Trent Crimm of the fabled news magazine The Independent as seen in Apple's Ted Lasso series. Trent speaks eloquently while carving up the titular character for his coaching style and lack of winning, and I'm just a blogger who follows Canadian university women's hockey more than most others. The comparisons are nil, to use a football term, between Trent and I, yet I find myself turning to that show for a line that has resonated with me more than any other. As seen to the left, Annette Badland's character "Mae" gives Ted and Coach Beard the bad news about getting one's hopes up about a win over powerhouse Manchester City with the oft-heard line in English football circles about teams who have zero chances of winning.

While I'd love to be waxing poetic about the incredible writing and the heartwarming performances in Ted Lasso, today's article contains for more fire after the breaking news yesterday about the University of Lethbridge dissolving the committee working to save Pronghorns hockey in the city. The announcement comes after it appeared that the committee checked off all the boxes given to them required by the university to receive university support in ressurecting the Pronghorns, resulting in any chance of hockey ever existing at the university to be less than zero.

It's the hope sold by university administrators that hurts the most, and here's how they orchestrated the best scam I've seen in hockey in some time in promising the return of the Pronghorns.

The Critical Blow

The prerequisite reading for this article comes from my April 21, 2020 article that I posted which attracted a bit of attention. You should read that before getting into this one in order to bring you up to speed on what happened to lead to this outcome.

The Birth Of A Scam

Back on May 1, 2020, the University of Lethbridge was reported to be establishing a committee to determine the feasibility of future Pronghorns hockey programs after the school had cited the costs of running the program being too high following budget cuts through the province of Alberta cutting post-secondary grants to institutions in the province. As a result, they terminated both the men's and women's hockey programs on April 20 before this committee idea came together.

"It would be an understatement to say it is a challenging time for our university," Mike Mahon, University of Lethbridge president and vice-chancellor, told Kevin Forsyth of the Lethbridge Herald back on May 1. "The conversations I have had with many individuals over the past week prove to me that our community cares deeply about the presence of our university and the activities with which we are involved."

I commend Mike Mahon for planting the ideas to grow this scam not only with the players and the members of the committee, but to the Lethbridge community as well, in order to establish what will be an elaborate lie. It takes real stones to lie to an entire city about the university's true intentions considering that he had several months to process the impending budget cuts for 2021 announced in February before making this gradiose announcement. If they were worried about cuts to their budget, they knew long before the decision made yesterday about the potential shortfall which should have forced them into seeking additional funding from other sources. But I digress.

In June, we found out that the committee consisted of 13 members and three resource personnel who would push forward to see if there was a way to re-establish the hockey programs at the University of Lethbridge under a sustainable commuity-based funding model. After Mike Mahon talked about how the "community cares deeply", it seemed he hit all the marks in setting up the perfect scam in showing everyone that the University of Lethbridge was serious about the feasibility of the hockey programs and the potential future of the teams at the school.

It should be noted that three members of the committee sit in fairly influential positions with the University of Lethbridge: University of Lethbridge board of governors' finance representative Dean Gallimore, the board of governors' advancement representative Terry Whitehead, and Pronghorns athletic director Neil Langevin.

If you're keeping score at home, the finance representative from the school's Board of Directors is sitting on the committee. You'd think he would have been very aware of the proposed budget cuts that the province of Alberta put forth in February 2020, but I guess those details weren't at the front of his mind when he accepted this committee position. More on him below.

The Scam Dance Steps

This is the part that swirls in mystery since no one will confirm how many discussions were had between the committee and the university, but it seems that the committee took their role seriously by heading out into the community and getting commitments from donors, businesses, and alumni to fund the required amount set out in their newly-proposed cost analysis for running the two hockey programs.

In full disclosure, I am not privy to what those requirements were in terms of financials or in-kind sponsorships, but sources have said that the committee had a full proposal to bring back Pronghorns hockey that was submitted to the university for review based on the requirements set out in the feasibility study. In short, the committee did exactly what was asked of them to do in less time than the 18-month window they were given, and they brought their findings back to the school's administrators.

While the committee was out doing this work, what was the university doing besides nothing? They had to be working the numbers when it came to the proposed cutbacks that the province was foreshadowing, so they should have known that they needed a specific amount in their coffers if the committee came back with positive results. Unfortunately, it seems like the university either didn't care to take those steps or it simply didn't believe the committee would be successful based on the statement from the university yesterday that it would be required to provide "substantial ongoing funding investment".

Regarding the "substantial ongoing funding investment", what exactly were the requirements that the university laid out to the committee regarding funding for the hockey programs if the university wasn't investing in them? What amount was too high when it came to that investment? If the university expected the community to pick up the tab for Pronghorns hockey, it would be a community-owned team and not the University of Lethbridge's team to have under their purview. You can't own something without a financial commitment, so about what exactly is the university complaining regarding an investment?

Secondly, if the university is going to reap benefits from the hockey players who enroll at the university - things like tuition monies, research grants, and accolades - there is a cost they should incur to attain those benefits as well. Again, you can't own something you haven't invested in, and it seems like the university was trying to have its cake and eat it too while the community funded the team entirely.

In the ten months since the formation of the committee, there has been virtually zero public updates given on the status of the work being done, definitely zero public offerings into attending these committee meetings by web conference or in person despite the community being asked to support this venture, and absolutely zero news coming out of the university regarding the committee's findings and/or setbacks during this time. While I know that the committee was working to find solutions, why has there not been a single update published or spoken in that time despite the university needing the public's assistance with bringing the Pronghorns back. When the public is asked to pour money into something like this, they usually have a stake in the game at that point that allows them some insight into the proceedings. Instead, it was radio silence.

Honestly, any number of reasons can be given for how it was handled, but it feels very "out of sight, out of mind"-esque handling of the Pronghorns' future by the university. If they stop talking about it, people can't get excited over a possible return, making the inevitable statement that was heard repeatedly on April 21 less grim of a reality: "We're shutting it down, but it's not coming back."

The only problem was that there were still players, staff, coaches, parents, community members, and one guy in Manitoba who do care as updates were consistently sought out over that ten-month period. None were to be found, though.

The Impending Doom

With no one really questioning the University of Lethbridge about future funding and promises made when it came to budgets in the face of another round of cutbacks, the university simply had to do the most obvious thing possible yesterday by confirming the budgeting shortfalls for 2021-22 which would make the return of Pronghorns hockey impossible in any form.

Remember, the committee had a finance representative from the school's Board of Directors is sitting on the committee, and it seems he pretty much said nothing despite him being primarily responsible for knowing the financial outlook for the school for the following school year. This is a guy who would have been asked to conservatively budget for shortfalls promised by the government of Alberta in February 2020 for the following school year, and he said nothing to the committee on which he sits about the required amount needed for the school to be able to chip in a portion of money to make Pronghorns hockey feasible again.

Does anyone really believe, having laid this all out, that the University of Lethbridge had any intention at all of bringing Pronghorns hockey back from oblivion? From knowing there would be a budget shortfall long before cutting the teams to mercilessly cutting the programs without so much as an hour of notification for the players and staff, to allowing a feasibility study conducted with an emphasis on community funding to the university claiming their part of the deal couldn't be met financially, this all seems like it was a big scam in order to win back some public empathy for the university by Mike Mahon and his band of liars sitting in a University of Lethbridge conference room who conveniently used "cutbacks" as the reason this wasn't feasible. Again.

You can't ask for a feasibility study over 18 months, have that study come back with very positive progress, and then kill said feasibility committee with eight months to go when the goalposts have moved. If the scope of the project changes, that has to be communicated to the committee who can then re-assess the feasibility based on this new information. It's because of this fact that I have serious doubts about any communication happening between the committee and the university over the last ten months. I could be wrong, but the next piece of evidence in this scam should really make you question how serious the University of Lethbridge was in bringing hockey back.

The Fox In The Henhouse

As I mentioned above, the university had a man on the inside as a financial representative by the name of Dean Gallimore. Note his face to the right of the next paragraph because Dean Gallimore should be someone you want to speak with if you care about the Lethbridge Pronghorns hockey programs.

Mr. Gallimore sits on the University of Lethbridge Board of Directors as the University Secretariat with respect to Governance. That's a fancy title that says that Mr. Gallimore is responsible for supporting "the Board of Governors, General Faculties Council and the Senate by ensuring the organizational processes are efficient and effective and the institution (students, faculty and staff) and community are well-informed and prepared to support the Strategic Plan of the University of Lethbridge."

Let that description sink in for a moment as we focus on that part about ensuring that "the institution (students, faculty and staff) and community are well-informed and prepared to support the Strategic Plan of the University of Lethbridge."

As you're thinking about that part, let's also mix in Mr. Gallimore's expertise from his professional life as he's described as "a Chartered Professional Accountant and Chartered Business Valuator who has worked with clients for over 30 years". If you're asking, a Chartered Business Valuator is defined by McGill University as:
"... valuation specialists trained to assess and value both private and public firms by quantifying profitability, tangible and intangible assets, and future cash flows. Using a variety of valuation methodologies, Chartered Business Valuators examine the 'total picture' of a business, taking into account capital, intellectual property, brand value, employees, management, past performance, profitability, market expectations, and more to arrive at a conclusion."
So if we summarize Mr. Gallimore's work in sitting on the committee, the committee had the university's Secretary of Governance who was supposed to ensure the students and staff were informed of the school's strategic plan while he worked as the financial representative of the school's Board of Directors in his committee role while he held a certification that should have allowed him to see the total financial picture of the school including capital, profitability, and future cash flows... and he never once spoke up about the university not having the financial means to make Pronghorns hockey feasible despite warnings in February of last year about future impending budget cuts? You're kidding me, right?

Let's take this one step further and it make it personal. As his bio states, Mr. Gallimore is an alum of the University of Lethbridge as are both of his children, Lauren and Amanda. Both Lauren and Amanda volunteered as coaches at the Lethbridge Badminton Club up until its closure in September of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of volunteers. The Lethbridge Badminton Club was a 22-year institution in the city where both Lauren and Amanda honed their skills in the sport of badminton before winning provincial gold medals in the sport, and they both came back to coach at the place where they learned to play.

Like Pronghorns hockey, it seems like Mr. Gallimore didn't flinch when reports surfaced of the Lethbridge Badminton Club closing where both his daughters spent so much of their childhood and teenage years, so there seems to be a bit of a track record here for Dean when it comes to sitting idly by while storied sports programs in the city of Lethbridge are shuttered. I wouldn't draw any conclusions from these two separate incidents, but it's hard not to see the similarities between two underfunded amateur sports programs and not wonder if more could have been done.

What should be noted, though, is that Dean Gallimore should have seen the writing on the wall long before he was named to the committee thanks to the government of Alberta foreshadowing the budget cuts in February 2020. Mr. Gallimore seemingly did nothing in letting the committee know about the university's shortfalls in their budgeting nor did he go back to the university to update them on the progress of the committee to see if things were still in order with respect to financial commitments.

By not informing students and staff on the committee or community of the shortfalls that the university may be experiencing, Mr. Gallimore failed in his role as the University Secretariat with respect to Governance as the committee was working blindly with respect to the financial picture they faced in asking the community for help. In my opinion, Mr. Gallimore acted unethically in his professional capacity as a Chartered Business Valuator by not helping the committee obtain updated information about the financial situation of the university who was to commit what was believed to be promised funds to bring Pronghorns hockey back.

I'm not here to point fingers, but it seems like Mr. Gallimore was only working for the university by not helping the committee more. It's almost like he had a preconceived idea how this whole feasibility study would end.

The Tidy Bow On The Scam

This is the full statement issued by the University of Lethbridge yesterday in stating that Pronghorns hockey is indeed dead and that the committee's efforts, while valiant, mean nothing.
"Last year, a Hockey Advisory Committee reporting to the President's Executive Council, was struck to explore the feasibility of a sustainable community-based funding model that would allow for the reinstatement of the men's and women's hockey programs at the University of Lethbridge. While the committee identified potential financial support within the community, we have been unable to arrive at a model that does not include a substantial ongoing funding investment from the University.

The release of the 2021/22 budget by the Province of Alberta, in which the University of Lethbridge received a larger-than-anticipated 5.8 per cent ($5.7 million) cut to its operating grant, highlights the University's inability to commit to an ongoing funding investment in re-establishing these programs. This cut is in addition to cuts of 3.2 per cent ($3.4 million) and 6.6 per cent ($6.7 million) over the past two years and the University expects a further cut of 5.5 per cent in the 2022/23 operating grant. These reductions, coupled with significant negative financial implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, have been felt in every corner of our university and has resulted in the loss of over 100 positions thus far.

For these reasons, the activities of the Hockey Advisory Committee will be discontinued.

We know many members of the Lethbridge community are passionate about Pronghorn athletics as evident by those who eagerly stepped forward to serve on this committee. Our University and external community will always value our history of Pronghorn Hockey, as well as the alumni who have come through our program.

The University extends its sincere thanks to committee chair Dan LaPlante and all committee members. We are grateful for the important work these individuals undertook on behalf of the institution and we will apply what we have learned through this process in future decision-making pertaining to Pronghorn Athletics and the University as a whole."
Too long; didn't read? You tried hard, but we never had any intention of bringing Pronghorns hockey back because it costs money we simply either can't find or don't want to raise. Thanks for everything, good luck in the future, and don't mind the smoke we blew up your backsides for the last ten months.

The End Of Innocence

If there's one thing I've learned through all of this, it's "fool me once, shame on me, but fool me twice, shame on you". Mike Mahon and his Board of Deceivers should never be trusted by staff, students, faculty, community members, or anyone again when he comes with a "good faith" offer. The only time in this entire debacle where he told the truth was when he cancelled the hockey programs on April 20, 2020. Everything after that was nothing but hot air and blown smoke.

"Before I accepted the position as chair — back in May — I wanted to make sure that this wasn't window dressing; that this was real," committee chairman and long-time Pronghorns hockey supporter Dan LaPlante told Global News' Danica Ferris. "And I had assurances from Mike [Mahon] that it wasn't."

LaPlante told Ferris that the committee proposed a model that was two-thirds community funded, leaving the University of Lethbridge responsible for $220,000 annually. If we go back to the "Time to Make Cents" portion of my 2020 article, cutting administrative salaries by 30% would accomplish that amount and more, but that was one option that Mike "Don't Give A Damn" Mahon likely never proposed to his fellow administrators.

"We came up with a proposal that dealt with the gender equity piece, that dealt with the community funded piece, and engaged the community," LaPlante said. In short, there was a feasible plan put forth to the university. Guess which side failed to live up to the agreement.

Allow me to give you a hint: "University president Mike Mahon declined a Global News request for interview."

You yellow-bellied coward.

My guess is that Mahon will now slither back under the rock from which he emerged to make the statement posted above while he waits for this whole debacle to blow over in a week or so because no one's really paying attention to Canadian university hockey right now with the NCAA's March Madness basketball tournament running, the NCAA's Frozen Four men's and women's tournaments running, the NHL ongoing, and more. He'll avoid any further blowback on this decision with his hiding in the weeds like he's done for the ten months, and everyone will forget about this once the summer hits.

Newsflash: I won't forget. Anything that has Mike Mahon's name attached to it is now radioactive to me. He destroyed any credibility he had as an adminstrator when he killed the programs, and he just burned up any chance of redemption with this entire garbage response to a fiscally-responsible proposal put forth by good people who care about hockey in Lethbridge.

You done messed up, Mike Mahon. You and the clowns you call a "Board of Directors" just destroyed the dreams of 50 kids and a pile of staff members. Again. For the second time in eleven months. All because you can't find $220,000 annually in a budget where you and four other "adminstrators" can't bother to work for less than a combined $1.711 million annually according to the university's 2019 financial statements. All because you don't heed the warnings of the provincial government. All because you've failed your students, staff, and faculty time and time again by not finding new revenue sources. All because you made promises to try to make things right only to renege on that promise because you still haven't balanced the University of Lethbridge budget like you promised.

And don't come at me, bro, with your "you don't see the whole picture" or "we had to let 100 people go" crap either. You were warned back in January 2020 by Demetrios Nicolaides, the current Minister of Advanced Education, "to immediately freeze hiring and stop spending on travel and hosting" in order to "find savings wherever possible". You were told one month later in February 2020 by the catastrophe of a provincial Alberta government in power that cuts were coming for 2021. You knew this shortfall was headed your way. And what did you do? You made promises you knew deep down you wouldn't be able to keep.

You scammed us all, Mike Mahon, with the promise of something better for Pronghorns hockey. You gave everyone false hope, and, at the end of the day, it's the hope that kills. We should have known better than trust you, but the carrot you dangled was just too juicy to abandon. That's the art of a scam artist - the prize is always something incredible and too difficult to reject. With this second brutal ending to the Pronghorns saga, there won't be another chance for Pronghorns hockey. I doubt you'll go back to the well once more, and I'm pretty sure we won't be fooled again.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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