At the end of last month, mayhem erupted in Fargo when North Dakota State University athletic officials issued a new set of media policies that were seen as restricting access to most media in favor of a radio station that had just won broadcast rights to the Bison. There was talk of the need to "protect the brand" and, as the Fargo Forum newspaper described it: "The guidelines would have prevented outlets without NDSU broadcast-rights agreements from providing much of the coverage they do today."
The rules were issued a week ago Friday and rescinded by the following Tuesday.
The school's president, Dean Bresciani, criticized his athletic department when he said in a press release that day: “I was profoundly disappointed when I learned the facts behind this issue. This is not the way NDSU treats local journalists and our many loyal fans who value the breadth of news coverage NDSU enjoys."
In the same press release, North Dakota State athletic director Matt Larsen was quoted as saying: “I erred in not bringing these ideas forward for the president’s review, and I regret the damage this has caused to the administration, institution and university community.”
However, in an email the day before to athletic department staff, Bresciani expressed strong support for the new policy. After suggesting that only the athletic director respond to the situation, Bresciani wrote in an email: "That said, please know that I fully support and agree with the business decision made regarding the matter."
North Dakota State didn't come clean on its own.
Using the state's Open Records Law, high-profile North Dakota blogger Rob Port requested emails and text messages from Bresciani and, among other things, published the "fully support and agree with" email on his blog.
In a text message to the athletic director also obtained by Port, Bresciani made his support just as clear: "Remember to control the spin as much as you can. You are 'adjusting" (not changing) process, because of fan reaction (not media or other pressures). Own the decision as yours not something you were told you had to do. I'll back that...especially because you DID agree rather than force it."
Placed in that context, Bresciani's decision to rescind the changes doesn't appear hold up, even if the president won't admit it.
His most recent attempt at spin came Tuesday, when Bresciani sent an email to NDSU employees that attempted, in part, to provide a definition of the phrase "profoundly disappointed when I learned the facts."
Here it is: "It appears that this comment has been interpreted to mean that I was disappointed in the new guidelines, when in fact, I was disappointed in the process."
"The process" laid out in the email included a timeline. Bresciani said the guidelines were released without him being consulted but that he originally supported them "based on my understanding of the facts at the time." Then, after hearing from other school officials, his reservations began. And the following day, he ordered the guidelines rescinded.
On Tuesday's Port's Say Anything blog published that email and more under the headline: "In latest campus email, Bresciani tells us he hasn't stuffed his staff far enough under the bus yet."
Part of the problem was one of the losing bidders for the television and radio rights was a station owned by Forum Communications, which publishes the Fargo newspaper and many others throughout North Dakota and Minnesota. The Forum called for Bresciani to resign, as did the former publisher of the Grand Forks Herald (also owned by Forum Communications), in an opinion piece.
"President Bresciani's actions in the last week are an embarrassment to our state," the newspaper editorial stated.
Or, as Forum columnist Mike McFeely put it: "It seems an odd hill on which to risk dying. Hubris has a strange way of twisting priorities that way."