The word out this morning is that Doug Logan has been released as CEO of USA Track and Field. Given that in late July he was given 30 days to make significant improvements in his performance, I don’t think this is much of a surprise. After all, I’m not sure what could have been done in a month’s time to significantly alter his performance or the perception of him by those performing his evaluation.
While there are many opinions regarding his release, from inmates running the asylum to rumors of power grabs, the reality of the situation in my humble opinion is that he simply wasn’t the right hire when Craig Masback was hired away by Nike back in 2008. The one thing that almost everyone seems to agree upon is that he was an outsider who wanted to make radical changes within the sport – though after two years I’m still not sure what those changes were. Everyone keeps pointing to the “Project 30” Report as the cornerstone of his work and vision – and perhaps one of the reasons that he was let go – but frankly aside from being highly critical of the way USATF was being run (rightly so in some areas) there was no “vision” set forth to change things and move in a more positive direction. Unless of course one takes into account the changes in the relay program that were undertaken. Or should I say partially undertaken, because while the old program was criticized and dismantled there was nothing of substance put in it’s place. Which sort of marked Logan’s tenure with USATF – lots of criticism without direction for positive change.
While I believe that he was the wrong fit, his release comes at a time when the sport here in the US clearly needs leadership, and so the board needs to have a sense of urgency in getting the position filled. I say the sport needs leadership because for the better part of a decade we’ve been operating under a cloud of negative news. We’ve had high profile drug busts that those currently competing are still having to live down. We’ve lost stature globally in several events. Our medal count in majors has been declining. Our athletes have been losing ground as the “face of the sport” on a global basis. And domestically we suffer from a reduction in world class competitions, meet attendance, and recognition from the US sporting public, which in turn has a negative effect on fundraising. We could not afford to make the wrong decision in ‘08, and can afford less so now!
So my plea to USATF is that they look diligently for someone within the sporting community that has a strong understanding of the sport of track and field. Not because I think we need someone that will keep things the way they are, but because I think we need someone that understands how to make the changes necessary to move the sport forward. Moving the sport forward means maintaining the integrity of the sport while making it relevant to a new age of sporting/viewing public. Because in my opinion the “base sport” doesn’t need to be altered as there is much that is compelling about who can run fastest, jump highest or throw farthest. It’s how it is packaged and presented that will make it more relevant. And I don’t mean chopping it up and cutting in half or thirds, but better using today’s media resources to advertise, promote and deliver the sport to the public. And in order to do that properly one must truly understand the product that is track and field.
I also think that USATF needs to take a strong look at acting like a single celled organism and divide in half! Track and field should be TWO sports in this country – Amateur and Professional – instead of continuing to try and be the single sport that it currently is. What do I mean? I mean I don’t think that ONE body can successfully run and administrate over the sport of track and field on both the amateur (age group) and professional (elite) level. No other truly professional sport does this and I don’t think that track and field is being very successful at it – it’s a source of much internal strife not to mention that we are suffering on the professional end. We need an AAU (Amateur Athletics Union) for the youngsters and those just out to have fun and enjoy friendly competition. And we need an AC (Athletics Congress to borrow from the old “TAC”) for our elite forces that are out there attempting to earn a living and medals in global competition. Their needs are different and diverse as are those that support them, and so are their current, and potential, fundraising/income streams. I believe that formally separating them would make life easier on whoever has to try and run the sport – or potentially each separate segment of the sport. Just as “Little League” and MLB are separate entities, and “Pop Warner” and the NFL are separate entities, so should “amateur” and “professional” track and field be.
Logan’s dismissal means that the hard work lies ahead. Thankfully the athletes did their part this year by showing substantial improvement in several areas on the track and field. And my final plea to USATF is to recognize that the athletes are our product and that whomever is brought in must be supportive and have their needs at the core of any vision for the sport. Yes, the sport needs some overhauling, but the needs of the athletes should be central to changes moving forward. Without an athlete’s union or collective bargaining such as exists in other professional sports, it will be incumbent upon the leadership of track and field to advocate from that point of view as a new vision for track and field is put together and implemented. Because without the athletes the sport is nothing – and in the end I think that is the one area where Logan truly failed and we can’t afford to fail again.