Anyone who has ever studied a little history discovers the "star chamber," the ancient English panel. It purported to deliver justice. In fact, its verdicts were often rooted in petty politics and court intrigue. Now comes the dismissal of Doug Logan, chief executive at USA Track & Field. The action was announced Monday after a meeting over the weekend in Las Vegas of the USATF board of directors.
Sayeth the privy counsellors, figuratively now: Off with his head!
Um, for what, exactly?
It's not at all clear.
Which is why it's so perplexing.
And why it deserves to draw the most intense scrutiny -- from the U.S. Olympic Committee; from track and field's worldwide governing body, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations; and from anyone and everyone who cares about what traditionally has proven the No. 1 sport in the Summer Games.
USATF has been riven for years by a welter of competing agendas.
Certain personalities have long exercised a disproportionate influence in the way things get done.
Complicating the situation, the division between the volunteer board and paid staff has not been always respected and, indeed, observed.
A reform plan -- launched at the 2008 USATF annual meeting in Reno, Nev. -- was supposed to have gone a long way toward solving all of that.
But the board's action over the weekend is bound -- and ought -- to raise questions about whether, in fact, that is the case.
Logan, with extensive experience in promoting sports and music, was hired 26 months ago to be a change agent.
What, you hire a guy to effect change and he effects change and you don't like it because he effects change? Is that, simply put, what happened?
The USATF-issued statement announcing Logan's departure was preposterously vague, board chair Stephanie Hightower saying in it that the board had decided it was "in our best interests to engage different leadership to move the sport forward."
In a telephone interview Monday, Hightower said, "Just give us a fair chance."
Asked why the board had opted to take the controversial move of cutting ties with Logan, she said, "I wouldn't categorize it as a controversial decision.
"I would categorize it as the board has a fiduciary responsibility and oversight responsibility to make sure the organization is moving forward in an aggressive and accelerated manner."
Hightower is exceedingly intelligent. She is an accomplished professional. Taking her at her word and giving her, and the board, a fair chance: what does what she said mean?
If it's the case that Logan was deemed to have failed in regards to USATF's financial stewardship, how so?
Because he didn't bring in sponsors left and right? In only 26 months?
If that's the basis of the decision, is that really a valid point given that the listless American economy is drawing comparisons to the 1930s?
Is someone else supposed to do better? With not even a year to go before the world championships in South Korea? With under two to go until the 2012 London Olympics?
At the risk of seeming skeptical after a dozen years of covering USATF, mindful that post-Reno the federation had asserted the intent to be more about boring institutional governance stuff with fewer personality-politics dramas:
If the decision was that someone else simply had to be brought in, wouldn't that necessarily suggest that a new person would face a steep learning curve?
Unless that person is already well connected within track and field circles, right?
Which would suggest, wouldn't it, that he or she might already know well some or all of the important people within USATF?
Now: would those sorts of connections inspire more or less confidence in the ability of the new person to do his or her job without interference or manipulation?
At any rate:
If financial stewardship isn't the central issue in Logan's tenure, what then might it be? That U.S. teams botched the relays at the 2008 Games and the 2009 worlds? Logan put in a plan to fix that. That the U.S. team could and should win more medals in London than it did in Beijing? Logan put in a plan to fix that.
Any reasonable observer knows full well that the performance plan is on track for London and 2012.
What, then, could it be?
Moreover, why take such a dramatic step -- knowing full well that it's bound to raise these sorts of questions -- without providing answers?
You don't have to be an expert in sign-reading to understand the signal of support the IAAF had sent Friday, just one day before Logan appeared before the USATF board in Vegas, the worldwide governing body announcing it had appointed Logan to its "School/Youth Commission."
Who cares whether that commission is effective or even meaningful? The meaning is that Logan had the support of IAAF president Lamine Diack. And USATF wants to take him on because -- why?
In perhaps the same vein:
USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun said Monday in a phone call, "There has been a lot of instability in the Olympic movement -- this is our third Summer NGB to replace an executive director in the last three months," track and field joining triathlon and fencing, "and I'm concerned about that."
For his part, Logan said Monday on the phone that he could say little because he was "in a dialogue with USATF about my separation," and "out of respect for that process I don't want to discuss what's going on."
He did say he truly loved the sport: "I am reminded of the Eagles and 'Hotel California': 'You can check out but you can never leave,' " adding, "I am extremely proud of my record. In the blink of an eye, 26 months, we went through extraordinary change, some of which I thought was lasting … and difficult to go through.
"… I will," he said, "have more things to say at a future time."
One can hardly wait for a full airing. The books, after all, assert that the star chamber is just so much history.