Masback Resigns as CEO of USATF, Heading to Nike

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Ten years after taking over a federation that was both morally and financially bankrupt, Craig Masback, quite unexpectedly, announced his resignation to the USATF Board of Directors on Wednesday evening, January 9, 2008.

Masback, a former 3:52 miler, Princeton graduate, and former TV sports announcer, brought all of those talents, and more to a federation that was floundering in 1997.

Hit with political infighting, dealing with a changing sports dynamic, and not understanding that sports in today's society equals entertainment, USATF had seen some of its best athletes and stars go unnoticed, with the exception of Olympic years.

Craig Masback took the job in July 1997. I remember meeting him, by accident, in New York in early August of that year. I congratulated him on the new position. I remember that his eyes were similar to a deer caught in the headlights. His only comments at that time were, " This is going to be tough."

What an understatement. USATF was $3.5 million in the hole and the 2000 Olympic Trials had already be sold in a Faustian deal to keep USATF alive by Ollan Cassell, the former CEO of USATF. Cassell had brought USATF into the modern sports world, but, for many reasons, had lost support of the federations' many power brokers and was made the scapegoat for all of USATF's ills.

Masback inherited a federation with more power brokers that Yugoslavia. And with all of the minefields and pitfalls. Masback made his false steps, like anyone. One of his most important successes was getting control of the finances, and that is, in large part due, to his hiring of Jim Elias, the current CFO. Elias had to say no, he had to keep the coffers full and he more than likely infuriated a few people. Now, he gets pats on the back for putting USATF back in the black, with over three million in the bank. Elias
is one of Masback's greatest successes.

One of his others is getting USATF out of the drug testing business. This was a no win situation. USATF was constantly accused of cover ups and other conspiracy theories. While I am not completed enamored of USADA and WADA, I do think that this was a brilliant strategy, both financially and morally.

A good manager hires people to do the jobs he or she can not do and do them better than the manager could have imagined. A good manager also gives his or her staff room to grow, and room to fail. One learns more from failure than anything else in life.

Masback's best legacy, in my mind, was the sponsorship deals, which he developed with his team, including Ivan Cropper. In my mind, however, Masback was USATF's top salesman. There is a certain cache when a CEO walks in to speak to another CEO about
sports sponsorship. Craig understood his role and he performed it well.

My biggest disagreement with him was over whether the federation should own track meets and media operations of the sport. The truth is, when Craig came into the sport, there was a vacuum. Now, with the likes of Global Athletics and Marketing, reinvigorated Penn Relays, Drake, Mt. SAC and Texas. The money machine that is now the University of Oregon and the Nike Prefontaine, and the times, they are a changing.

Masback put track and field back on television. He fought, with the support of folks like Larry Rawson, to expand ESPN's role in the sport. The web opportunities, which will, I believe, revolutionize the coverage of our sport and the likes of Flotrack.com, let'srun.com, and even our sites, RunningNetwork.com, have all benefitted from this creative spirit.

The renaissance in many events in our sport, from the throws, the vault, and middle and long distances have happened under Masback's watch. While not responsible for those successes, Masback's tireless speaking and promotion of the sport was key in these opportunities developing for young athletes and coaches.

Let's Run did a nice job of describing the situation at this time. It does look a bit strange that USATF has just finished a deal with the U of Oregon for the 2009,11,12
US champs, which will be either World Champ Trials or Olympic Trials. Reasoning is that U of O is the alma mater of one Phil Knight, a man whose wealth, according to Forbes magazine, is work approximately $9.2 billion, give or take a few kronens.

The truth may be a little different. Anyone who has observed a company like Nike, at $15 billion in sales, knows that no one knows what HR is doing. Knight, for all of his power, if focused on building a legacy at U of Oregon and a renaissance in track and field there. That is why Vinn Lannana is there and the Trials are being hosted in 08 and 12.

It is a tremendous compliment to Craig and an example of the high regard that the Nike crowd gave Craig that they hired him for a real position. Craig Masback is taking a position held before by John Slusher, Jr. now Global VP of Sports Marketing and one Rudy Chapa, also a former VP of Sports Marketing. His skills in dealing with power hungry associations and the power brokers in the sport will come in very handy in the global world of sports marketing.

In closing today, I wish Craig best wishes on his new endeavor and believe that the sport has benefited from his time in the sport as CEO. It was a job he loved, and he made good use of the decade he spent on the job.

For the USA Today story, please click here: http://www.usatoday.com/sports/olympics/2008-01-09-masback-nike_N.htm

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