USA Indoor-A Modest proposal for change, by Larry Eder

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Since July, Doug Logan has been on the bully pulpit and speaking, blogging and videoing his heart out on how our sport should change. The Dec 2008 Convention showed that no one had the power to challenge his plan, and the audio press conference on February 10 showed that no one was prepared to challenge the Project 30.

The women's 5,000 meters at the Reebok Boston Indoor Games was one of the most competitive races in Reggie Lewis history, and one of its most popular! Shalane Flanagan lost by inches and set a new American 5,000 meter record!
(Photo by Photorun.net.)


Changing USATF into a functional organization, from its dysfunctional and schizophrenic past is key. All thoughtful observers of the sport understand that, appreciate that and realize that our organization needs to become an umbrella organization, much like the PGA, with various voices championing their causes, but as someone much brighter than me said, " staying in their own lanes " ( I think that has been attributed to Lionel Leech).

My modest proposal for change is along the lines of "staying in their own lanes, " But, this is addressed to USATF. I believe that USATF should get out of managing track meets, promoting track meets and focus on the high performance aspects of our sport, managing the disparate voices and turning our group in sport's answer to AARP.

I have gone to Millrose, Reebok GP this season. I have missed one indoor in the last decade. I know that there will be open seats, rounds cut out and a poor showcase for the sport after three weekends of tremendous track & field. Face it, the USA Indoor has been a half baked project where the Main office wants to save money, and in doing so, gives the sport a palate cleanser of ironic proportions: no one in the stands, athletes not attending, and little or no promotions in the area make the meet dull. Compare that to the Boston Reebok Indoor that Global Athletics put on here February 7 and you see the irony! Outservice the meet, do it well, or cancel it. The USA Indoor meet hurts the sport in its present form.

No other sport in our country has a national championship and promotes their event foot to mouth. After Millrose, Reebok Boston, Tyson, outsource the work to Global, but please stop running the US Indoor Championships like a grade school bake sale.

And this is not a negative to USATF staff. I think that Indy staff is tremendous, but has never been allowed to use their talents, or make a mistake because the staff has never been given the tools. Outsource meet managment, TV, and promotions, give it to someone who works. Then focus on putting clinics on in 25 schools in the two weeks before the indoor, and outdoor! If you want developing athletes to show up, do not give them a limit of $250 for an airline ticket and $500 for hotel and food. No one can stay in Boston, much less fly to Boston for that. I flew in from Madison, WI on United for $278 and that was a steal!

Here is my modest proposal on how the US Indoor, during non championship years, should run:

a. Make the meet two three hour sessions-Saturday, Sunday, or one session, all finals, three and half hours.

b. Run the meet as the evening session of the Nike Indoor on Friday and Opening session on Sunday of the Nike Indoor. Stadium full, Nike sponsor happy, problem would be that both meet orgs have to work together. Remember, USATF did an elite meet in 1999 or 1998 in Raleigh, wrapped around the National Scholastic.

c. Outsource meet management. That simple, there are a few groups that do meets well, use them.

d. Actually spend money on TV, radio and print, starting 60 days out in local markets. Go to the running media and work out a deal with them for consistent support of USATF projects. As president of the Running Network and partner at Shooting Star Media, I can honestly say that has never happened in my nearly three decades in the sport. Nice things are said, but nothing is done.

e. Make a deal with Subway, Dunkin Donuts and Pizza Hut, give the 9-17 year olds a goodies bag with a Nike t shirt, coupons, free lunch, and card for discount on products purchased within two weeks of this meet.

f. Treat the local USATF organization with respect, not as chattel. They provide the bulk of volunteers and officials. Give them something of value for their time.

At the end of the day, too few are doing too much on too little. I do not believe any of this can not be changed for the better. I am heading over about two pm today to watch rounds, chat with my friends and get in the mood for some great action tonight and tomorrow afternoon!

USA Track & Field has an opportunity: use the reorg to become a better, more professional organization. Work with USOC on programs that are beneficial, but not let the USOC run USATF-that is like, sleeping with the enemy. USATF has things that USOC wants-the abilty for many of our athletes, through the support of the footwear companies and sponsors-to survive between Olympics. No other USOC federation has been able to accomplish that! The USOC sees USATF's independence like the school principal sees the wisecracking straight A student, super jock, mr. popular --he knows he should kick his butt, but what for?

USATF has, through the largesse of 35,000 high school coaches, 5,000 college and elite coaches, 200 agents, 20 meet directors, and hundreds of thousands of volunteers, taken 1.6 million junior high athletes, 1.4 million high school athletes, and 400,000 college and post collegiate athletes, and made the most winning teams in U.S. sports history-the track and field teams of the U.S.A.

When Horace Ashenfelter, in the early 1950s, would train in a local park after his kids were fast asleep, hurdling park benches and doing repeats until his lungs hurt, my guess is he did not think much of the A.A.U. Likewise, when Clyde Hart is taking Sanya Richards through her 200 repeasts, Sanya is not thinking much of USATF during that workout.

The federation should be seamless and knowledgable. The federation needs to know who supports the sport, recognizes them and not re invent things just to re invent. The USA Indoor has been an open sore in the sport for years, and it is because the meets around the USA Indoor-Millrose, Reebok BIG, and Tyson, have grown and improved and USATF has tried to make it on hot dogs and baked beans.

For more on the sport, please click http://www.american-trackandfield.com

To contact Larry Eder, try [email protected] or text me
at 608.239.3785.

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