Observations on USA Track & Field: What we have, what we need, by Dick Patrick, intro by Larry Eder

2009 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships


Dick Patrick wrote from 1986 until 2010 for USA Today. I have been lucky enough to have Dick write for American Track & Field since 2003. That was the work of our editor, James Dunaway. This piece was originally done for American Track & Field XC Yearbook 2010, which is in the mail to our 35,000 readers. Note that we will have a digital version up on RBR later this week.

Dick Patrick has a lot to say in this one. Read it, take a run, and read it again. Our sport is at a cross roads. Let's view this process with some common sense.

Here's a prediction about USA Track & Field's near future: No matter who succeeds Doug Logan--male or female, from within the sport or from the outside--U.S. athletes will continue to win the medals race at the Olympics and world championships. Meanwhile, conflict will continue between the board and CEO and among the CEOand the sport's various constituencies.

Currently the U.S. Olympic movement appears dysfunctional, which may be inevitable in organizations run by volunteers. The USOC goes through executives like they're coaches for a losing NFL franchise. National federations do the same thing, though USATF was immune to
that condition for a long time. Logan lasted just more than two years as the successor to Craig Masback, miler turned marketer with a legal and television background, who ran the organization for 11 years. He helped orchestrate the overthrow of Ollan Cassell, who headed track and field for four decades through three organizational name changes--the Amateur
Athletic Union, The Athletics Congress and USATF. Two leaders in 40-plus years is stability, though critics complained of inbreeding.

When Logan arrived, some hailed his outsider status--head of Major League Soccer for three years, entertainment executive--as an asset. He would bring some outside professionalism to a sport steeped in tradition and politics. It didn't happen. He alienated too many groups either with his policies or his perceived abrasiveness.

By the end, there was hostility between the 15-member board and Logan, who trimmed the size of the group under a USOC mandate. Logan, who could earn as much as $2 million for the remaining two years on his contract, referred to the board as circus clowns to the New York Times. In a interview with Running Times, he said, "Despite their inflated sense of selves, the board is weak. We reduced the quantity of members without improving the quality. Volunteer committees still have too much control over essential elements of the business. And, for too many people in the sport, it is more important that they control it rather than it be good or prosperous."

His successor should stick to fundamentals, keep it simple. Get and maintain sponsors, not so easy in a depressed economy. Then get the money to athletes, especially to emerging stars who need financial help to bridge the gap between the college years and professionalism. Foster a system that will develop talent. Educate coaches. Increase the knowledge of those at the grassroots level. Help those at higher levels, especially in technical events such as the throws and jumps, areas where the U.S. has dominated in the past but now sometimes struggles.

Get the sport on TV. Keep the presence of domestic meets. Get the Golden League a U.S. presence so fans can get to know the sport's top stars, both U.S. and international. The U.S. has the largest and most comprehensive development program in the world--the school system from middle school to high school to college. Support and increase the athletes and coaches who make that possible.

The rest will take care of itself.

Good luck to whomever gets the job.

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