HOW THE WORLD'S #1 TRACK AND FIELD TEAM MORPHED INTO A TRAIN WRECK

Friday, November 13, 2009
True to the superstition,…for some of us Friday the 13th turned out to be a  bad news day. THE NEW YORK TIMES newspaper ran a story today headlined, ” Tagliabue to Lead Panel On Structure of U.S.O.C. “. For some of us intimately connected to U.S.A. Track and Field this is a pathetic paradox. For years we fought against U.S.A. Track and Field being restructured along the very same lines as the U.S.O.C.. with the threat of decertification by the USOC being used as a prod and threat against us . We were met with all sorts of accusations of being reluctant and recalcitrant to change. We were accused of being divisive, disruptive, dysfunctional and dangerous within the board of U.S.A. Track and Field. We were labeled as being adversarial and non-colleagial as we fought against the internal efforts by  USATF board leadership – Bill Roe, president and Lynn Cannon, secretary who lead the charge  and external efforts by USOC CEO, Jim Scherr , Steve Roush, USOC Competitive Performance Head, and Jay Warwick Sports Partnership liaison to USATF.
The debate within the USATF board got to be so animated and heated it was determined that we needed to get a reading from a source that accurately reflected the wishes of the USOC. The USOC constitution makes it very clear that policy and philosophy of that group rests with the board and that the USOC staff has the responsibility for implementing what the board decides. To that end, we ( Stephanie Hightower, current USATF president, John Chaplin, Men’s Sports Committe Chair, Bill Roe, then president of USATF, and me, Chair of the High Performance Division of USATF ) arranged a meeting with Peter Uberroth who was then the president of the board of the USOC. The discussion was wide ranging and covered topics of mutual interest and concern. What was obvious from talking with Uberroth was the fact that there existed a disconnect between what the board wanted and advocated and what was coming from the staff people at the USOC, through Scherr, Roush, and Warwick ( all of whom met early demises and were dismissed after the 2008 Olympics. I often wondered if this was some sort of “chickens coming to roost” thing)) down to the National Governing Bodies like USATF. What was also obvious and clear was the fact that certain people within USATF who were intent on pushing “restructuring” had fallen under the spell of the USOC staff. They often stressed the urgency of USATF being more amenable to reinventing itself along the lines mandated and dictated by the USOC staff . These USATF supplicants to the USOC held out that if we did not, then the USOC would have grounds to “decertify” USATF. It was obvious from Uberroth’s responses to decertification that he did not share the sentiments of the USOC staff and the echoes coming from certain USATF leaders. When asked about what constituted the grounds for decertification he replied:
The NGB ( National Governing Body ) would have to be guilty of serious offenses like embezzlement or serious
malfeasance, or some other such grave offense. There is no one size fits all. Each NGB should be free to determine for
itself how it is structured and generally be free from interference by the USOC staff.
USATF was not guilty of any of the offenses he identified as grounds for decertification. Yet certain people on the board ignored this and repeatedly cited the threat of decertification as the reason why USATF had to move immediately toward “restructuring”. When reminded what Uberroth had said, there were efforts by board members to minimize the significance of what he said.
When asked about the size of boards of NGBs, he responded
Size should reflect the constituent groups that comprise the sport. There is no magic number. USATF has 29/30 members,
whatever reduction in size should be left to USATF not USOC staff.
When further queried and pinned down about the size and shape of the board along the lines of the USOC board, he responded:
Honestly, we are not certain that our current board structure is even the best design for us. How can we dictate that it be
the model for NGBs ?
Today’s article in THE NEW YORK TIMES echoes much of what Uberroth shared with us way back in October of 2006. The article states, ” The board of the United States Olympic Committe has appointed Paul Tagliabue, the former N.F.L. commissioner, to lead an independent panel that will examine whether the board …….. should change its structure.” Tagliabue’s panel is to look into, “…assessing the size, structure, and operating practises of the USOC board.”   It further states, “…the work of a similar independent panel appointed in 2003 initially proposed reducing the size of the Olympic committee’s board to 11 from 125. Some who served on the panel say the changes have had  unintended consequences including limiting input from constituent groups and favoring outsiders with little Olympic experience.”
These are exactly the circumstances that USATF finds itself facing right now. The new board is composed of 15 members, reduced from 29/30, with a significant number being mandated “independents” . In speaking to this aspect of the USOC board in the THE NEW YORK TIMES article, Harvey Schiller a member of the original 2003 panel, and formerly a leader within the USOC governance states, ” …..too few members of the USOC board have Olympic experience.” Starting with the CEO of USATF,  the very same can be said for the board of USATF. The outcry and intense criticism about the Chicago bid for the 2016 Olympic bid was centered around the fact that the people at both the USOC and the Chicago Olympic 2016 bid organization, did not know the Olympic culture, nor had strong ties and alliances within the Olympic movement, and thus were embarassingly ambushed and bushwhacked in the first round of voting. The USATF CEO joined in and echoed the very same criticism about Chicago and the USOC, stating that they did not have the expertise and knowledge of sport necessary to have a chance at winning the bid. This, while at the same time having publicly admitted at his selection as CEO of USATF, that he “…knows virtually nothing about track and field.”  Despite having admitted this, he has proposed legislation and amendments that would shift all significant decision-making power and authority to himself, and away from the various volunteer groups within USATF, totally ignoring the expertise and knowledge accumulated over the years by these people, in favor of him being able to supplent them with little or no intimate knowledge of what they do and the best way to do it.
Albert Einstein once stated that the definition of IGNORANCE , “….was expecting to get a DIFFERENT  outcome from the SAME methodology.”. What USATF has within its midst in a run away train that is going to end in the same kind of train wreck as the USOC  and Chicago, as it tries to follow and emulate the USOC model.
Move over Albert, there’s a train heading this way !!!
Brooks T. Johnson
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