It has been nearly a decade since Craig Masback stepped into the shoes of the CEO of
USA Track & Field. He inherited an organization that was nearly bankrupt financially, and leadership-wise, was in nearly the same position. USATF was not leading the sport, it was letting the sport lead it.
Times have changed, and USATF has, most importantly, cleared up the finanicals disasters that....
preceeded the Masback regime. At the Convention, which opened Thursday, November 29,
Craig Masback spoke about the positive cashflow that USATF achieved in 2007, which was not forcasted. That is the work of CFO Jim Elias and his team. Controlling the purse strings and enforcing budgets does not make one popular, it does, however, make the organization solvent.
Early in this piece, it should be known that I have a friendship with both Craig Masback and Jim Elias. I admire both of them, and we do keep in touch. In my position of travelling to events, in writing on our sport, I see the good and the challenges that they confront.
The sport of athletics in the United States could be compared, quite favorably to the old federation of states in Yugoslavia under Mr. Tito. When their dictator died, the federation fell apart, into bickering, bad feelings, and then, all out war. USATF is not exactly like that, but the various fiefdoms, from masters, to youth, from roads to cross country, from education to calendar, all have their power bases and all have their issues. To walk deftly through such a minefield requires a politician of immense character, charm and most of all, someone who wants and perhaps needs to change the sport and the organization.
Craig Masback has been that man for the past decade. The former 3:52 miler loves the sport, travels too much ( like many of us), loves his family and loves his job. For him, the job challenges every part of his being. He wants it to succeed, but sees the complexity of dealing with international federations, a board of directors, different groups in power. He also has to focus on tasks at hand, which mean that, in this job, the CEO spends much time reacting, as opposed to managing situations.
The elite circuits, both indoor and outdoor, in North America, are short and sweet. Four of the meets are run by Global Athletics & Marketing, and the other four meets are run by experienced organizations. Masback's tie ins with these groups have allowed USATF to focus on TV coverage, which has gotten better. But there seems to be, at times, that USATF is caught in the quandary of should it own the entire sport or learn to work well with others?
My suggestion is to learn to work well with others. USATF is a federation and is on the way to putting its plan in order. It's job is to promote the sport, encourage participation, and to do all it takes to develop and keep developing the best sports team in the U.S.-the U.S. track team.
Managing track meets? Develop a program to train meet directors? Bringing in more sponsors? Sell the involvement of African Americans, Latino Americans, and the diversity of the sport! Track & Field fans are different from normal sports fans. They have more money for one, and they are, more often than not, managerial.
USATF has done a great job of getting information out, and that is good. The press conferences via phone help the sports writers and that gets out more information. A suggestion would be for USATF to syndicate a column on the sport and provide it to local newspapers and weeklies for free as a way of getting information out.
Numbers? USATF does need to get to 500,000 or a million members. But, what do they have to give up to get there? That is something that needs to be questioned. Is it tying in with publishers and making their readers official members for a year for free? How does one show potential members what the benefits are?
USATF is indeed at a cross roads. Craig Masback won't do this forever. How does the sport grow, how does the federation respond to challenges in the coming years? Leadership is key. The sport will need people who have business experience, but also
appreciate the sport. Someone who likes the 100 meter hurdles, but also appreciates the tactics in the 1,500 meters and the characters in the men's shot put. Someone who understands that giving a general manager control allows the leader to do what he or she does best-sell. Someone who loves the sport, appreciates their predecessors and complexity of what they are trying to accomplish.
I see the future of the sport as very positive. I am concerned that we have not communicated the vitality, the excitement and the emotional ties of our great athletes.
I am concerned that the cloud of drugs will continue to hurt our sport, even though, it is track and field that tests the most, and has brought down its most medaled athlete because she cheated.
But most of all, I hope and pray that we remember that track and field, road running, race walking, cross country running, the whole sport of athletics is there to add more to life. Sports is not life, it is part of life. Athletics is the same, even for the silly folks, like us, who remember splits from twenty years ago. For us, track and field is a more than a pasttime, it is a way to add color and excitement to our lives.
Best wishes to all in Hawaii planning for 2008 for our sport!