Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Should the USOC be Overseeing USATF?

I ask this question in the aftermath of the Doug Logan firing, as word out of Colorado Springs is that the USOC is “monitoring” the selection process for a new CEO.

This was the second time in the past couple of weeks that I had read about the USOC’s interest in the process. And it came on the heels of learning that the USOC may have had a hand in the selection of Logan back in 2008. All of which made me curious as to why the USOC has such an interest in what is going on with USATF. So I began to do a bit of research, and found that in 1978 Senator Ted Stevens sponsored Senate Bill 2727 which passed and became Public Law 95-606 – better known as the Amateur Sports Act.

The Amateur Sports Act amended the corporate charter of the USOC giving it the power to (among other things):

  • recognize as a national governing body any amateur sports organization (but only one for each sport) which submits an application for recognition and complies with eligibility requirements
  • create eligibility requirements for national governing bodies
  • authorize the national governing body to represent the United States in international sports federations
  • review the actions of the national governing bodies

Quite a bit of power over the national governing bodies (NGB’s) of the United States’ amateur athletics organizations and athletes. As a matter of fact because of the Amateur Sports Act, The Athletics Congress (TAC) was created in 1979 to replace the AAU as the governing body of track and field in the US – because the AAU could no longer govern all sports. Since then there has been much confusion within track and field as the various regional and local bodies (formerly AAU) have had their issues trying to cope under the umbrella of first TAC and now USATF – as the name was changed to in 1992.

More importantly however for this conversation, the sport evolved during the 1980’s and 90’s from being an “amateur” sport to having both an amateur AND professional component. Likewise the IAAF (of which USATF is a member) has moved to a professional base. And the Olympic movement has moved to a combination amateur/professional base. Which brings me to the question – just what jurisdiction does the USOC hold with respect to USATF? Because its charter and reason for existence is to oversee AMATEUR sports in this country related to participation in the Olympics and global events. However, our athletes that now compete in the Olympics and global events are PROFESSIONALS!

Granted USATF oversees a large base of amateur athletes in this country. Which is why I stated previously in discussing the dismissal of Doug Logan that one of the problems with the position of CEO of USATF is that it has diametrically opposed goals – the oversight of both an amateur segment of the sport AND the elite professional side. And why I suggested that the sport take a look at forming two separate divisions or even separate entities. Understanding what I do now about the relationship of the USOC to the sport, I would strongly advocate for the latter. Because:

  • the sport (USATF) needs restructuring if it is ever going to become efficient at what it’s supposed to do
  • the needs of amateur and professional athletes are vastly different and need to be addressed separately so that each can get the proper focus
  • professional track and field needs the same kind of autonomy that exists within the NBA, MLB, and NFL, among other “pro” sports
  • track and field needs to be run by track and field, for track and field, not by an arm of the Olympic movement

An organization dedicated solely to professional track and field would take that segment of the sport from under the umbrella of the USOC, as the original law reads. Giving it the ability to function as it sees fit. Of course that could open up Pandora’s Box too. You know, be careful what you wish for and all. But track and field has been treading water for about 20 years now in it’s pursuit of becoming a professional sport. Not only here in the US but globally as well. It’s time to stop being a quasi professional sport and become a professional sport in the mold of basketball, baseball and football.

Right now we still function like an amateur sport. Of course, understanding that we are still being “overseen” by the amateur sports movement, I understand in part why. The Amateur Sports Act has run its course and is clearly outdated. That aside, the way that track and field is structured, has run its course and is clearly outdated. Both need to be “’brought up to date”. We need to get back to a functional model at the amateur level. Potentially even reverting back to the AAU. And we need to move forward at the professional level. Now is as good a time as any to begin to effect change.

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