What I Would Do as USATF CEO, part 3

Over the last two days I’ve outlined some goals I would have in a Bizarro universe where I’m the USATF CEO (a job I am in no way qualified for or interested in, nor should any reasonable person should ever entertain the thought of hiring me for it).

Yesterday, Paul Merca quite correctly pointed out a basic problem that lots of people say is inherent in the organization–namely, that the board which hires a CEO to run the organization doesn’t adequately stay out of the way and let him or her do the job. And if I had a solution to that problem, I really would be qualified for the job (and maybe a Nobel Peace Prize as well).

Since I’m just throwing out ideas, then, I don’t have to deal with practical issues of how to ever get them accomplished. On with the idea-tossing.

Connect with John Q. Public.
I don’t like to look down on the average Joe as a worthless ignoramus. So I don’t advocate dumbing-down track to attempt to appeal to the average person. Track is so simple, anyway—you shoot off a gun, first one to the finish line wins. Our sport is not as dense as soccer, and a hundred times as accessible.

Similarly, I don’t want to say that the average person would never care about track outside the Olympics, or is oblivious that it even exists (even though this is true for far too many). But the word “Olympic” does get greater attention among ordinary people than anything else in track and field. We really need to take advantage of the fact that USATF is the USOC’s designated governing body for selecting an Olympic team in track and field. It is the organization’s greatest asset, and the Olympics is track and field’s greatest asset.

All of this occurred to me a week or so ago when I saw a tweet from Courtney Crozier, a contestant on this season’s The Biggest Loser on NBC. She said that she’d just learned how to throw the hammer from Olympic hopeful Mike Milakovic. Who the heck is he?

Milakovic is a Ball State alum whose major accomplishments are a Mid-American Conference championship and qualifying to the USATF Championships a few times. His PR of 70.26m (230’ 6”) was set in 2004. He wasn’t in the US top fifty last year, and hasn’t broken 220 feet (67 meters) in three years. He has basically no chance of making the Olympic team, next year or ever. He’ll be lucky just to get to the trials.

This is not to say that he doesn’t deserve opportunities to compete, or that his self-description as an “Olympic hopeful” is false. I’m sure he’s hoping to make the Olympic team, regardless of the reality of the situation. Moreover, this is a kind of athlete who not only should be served by USATF, but also has much to offer back to the organization and to American track and field.

First of all, he’s pretty darn good at self-promotion. He’s engineered a few fund-raisers on his behalf, and no doubt his association with The Biggest Loser contestant furthered such goals. It works more than one way, though. Courtney has more than 10,000 followers on Twitter, and they all saw something about the hammer throw in a non-Olympic year. It’s hard for track and field to buy that kind of publicity, and this came free.

One of the things that the Olympics used to mean to the general public, or at least was promoted to mean to them, was athletes toiling to follow a dream and to promote their country. “The Olympic Dream”, or words to that effect. It was a mix of idealism and patriotism. This was always an illusion, but one that resonated well with the public. Advertisers took advantage of it a lot, most notably in the 1980s transition period from amateurism to professionalism. How could USATF use this to promote track and field?

A friend of mine has an idea about the Olympic Trials marathon. He doesn’t see why 200 or 300 competitors would be more of a burden on race organizers than the 150 or so who competed in each of the most recent OT races for men and women. He thought a “C” qualifying standard, maybe 2:30 for men and 3:00 for women, would open up the race so that many running communities all across the country would have their particular elite amateur in the race. They would all be “Olympic hopefuls”, like Milakovic above.

The point would be to increase the profile of the Trials, and the profile of serious distance running, by increasing the personal connection between communities and the race. I like the idea, but I would take it another level, by emphasizing competition as much as fast times.

I wouldn’t change the time qualifying standard—you run 2:19, you’re still at the Olympic Trials. What I would do is open up the idea of a “C” Trials standard to winners of various local races. The races would have to apply for status as an “Olympic Trials qualifying marathon”, which they could then use to promote their race. Marathon sponsors almost always include local media, who would love to work with that idea.

USATF could set whatever criteria we want for status as an “Olympic Trials qualifying marathon”. A sizable fee, for example. Or participation in the dollar-per-entry contribution to developing American runners that Toni Reavis talks about. One criteria I like could be a certain minimum level of USATF membership in the race’s metro area. Thus USATF would offload one of its most intractable problems onto local organizers—namely, how to get even a small portion of the hordes of road runners to sign up as USATF members.

Note: As was pointed out a few days ago, there likely would be issues of sponsorship clash between these local races and the USOC, which owns the use of the word “Olympic” in the USA. So it might not be possible to officially call them “Olympic Trials qualifying marathons”. But even if the specific words were not used, local runners and local media would all know that’s what they were, and that’s the real point.

One final idea tomorrow.

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3 Responses to What I Would Do as USATF CEO, part 3

  1. P Merca says:

    Until everyone realizes that USATF in it’s present form is a “cradle to grave” organization that is supposed to serve ALL it’s constituents (youth, open, masters), the ideas in this blog are nothing but a pipe dream. The youth constituents want more $ on their Jr Olympic program, the masters want more support to their programs, etc.

    Realistically, the only way any of this will happen is if the elite side (which is what this discussion centers) breaks off from USATF. I have to believe that Craig & Doug would’ve wanted to implement 10% of the ideas in this blog, but were stymied by the organization’s inner workings. Unfortunately none of us are politically savvy enough to see it happen…

  2. Chris says:

    That comment about Mike Milakovic was a low blow. I’m sure someone told Rudy that he had “basically no chance” of ever seeing the playing field at Notre Dame. I’m sure someone also told Kurt Warner the same thing about the Super Bowl. Go tighten your jockstrap and eat some wheaties and start believing in the hammer throw! 2012 baby!