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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Adios, Craig Masback

In a surprise move, Masback has announced his resignation as CEO of USA Track & Field and will take up a position with Nike. Why? And why now?

Masback said it was a good time for a change. Not quite the usual "I want to spend more time with my family" rubbish, but close. USOC head honcho Jim Scherr may have subtly told us the real story when he said "This is not great news for USATF or the U.S. Olympic Committee...But I think it is a good move for Craig personally."

Over at the T&FN message board, the first reaction was "Nike! And Eugene just got three of the next four US championships! The fix is in!" Maybe, maybe not. Hayward Field just spent gobs of money on an upgrade, as did Drake Stadium; the two sites are now the best facilities in the nation with the most dependable crowds. The fact that they host all of the next five national championships is probably a sign that something is right, not wrong.

No, it may be much less sinister than that, but probably far more depressing. The boobs who more or less run the show--Brooks Johnson, Stephanie Hightower and John Chaplin--may have been somewhat restrained by USATF president Bill Roe. But Roe's second term ends this year, and internal power plays virtually guarantee Hightower's ascendance to the presidency. Since Masback was not put into place by these three stooges, he was going to get the boot and he chose to take a golden parachute when the opportunity came.

Note: The general buzz I get from reading the various message boards is that Chaplin is a fool and Johnson has more to do with the complete disappearance of US distance runners than any other single person in the world. But they say Hightower is far, far worse than either one. The vote is not a done deal, but it will take a good bit of organization for her defeat to come about.


Jeremy said...

Thanks for the insight - this is the first I heard of an internal political angle.

Just curious - who votes in the election for the USATF presidency? I have a hard time imagining its the entire membership, or else organizational politics couldn't so easily overwhelm a votership spread throughout the country... is USATF set up like a Republic with regionally-elected reps voting on the President?

The Track & Field Superfan said...

I've never been to a national convetion, so I'm just reading up on the USATF bylaws. They say you must be selected by your local association as a delegate to the national convention in order to vote. Each of the 50+ locals get up to 12 delegates, so if you want to go it shouldn't be too hard to get selected.

The nomination procedure to get on the ballot is fairly convoluted, and this is probably on purpose in order to make meaningful competition unlikely. Michigan Public Radio's Jack Lessenberry today described politicians as thugs all too happy to gang up on the rest of us. USATF is a political body, and the last thing they want is the rank and file getting involved.

Jeremy said...

All under the guise of "we're more familiar with the administrative hierarchy, and the demands of the job, so leave the nominating to us, we'll take care of it so you won't have to worry about the bureaucracy and can just focus on your running," no doubt, eh?

What's interesting to me is that I'm not a USATF member and had no expectation of becoming one, but even though I presently have no need to join USATF as runner, as a FAN of US Distance Running, I'm dismayed to think of how these politics can and do affect the athletes I pull for. The USATF leadership could do much to submarine the status and standing of American distance runners on the world stage, despite the athletes essentially working as independent operators in their training and race scheduling. I suppose, that's a whole other post for my blog, as the elections draw nearer, though...

The Track & Field Superfan said...

This kind of system is more in the USA than most people realize. When you go to vote in a presidential primary, your vote is actually for a delegate to the national convention, not a particular candidate. Likewise, I never get to vote for the state or national presidents of my union or of the AFL-CIO; instead I get to vote for delegates to conventions who then cast votes (and I get to vote for 12 delegates from a slate of maybe 13 or 14). On the presidential primary side, it used to be a lot less democratic; the "police riot" at Chicago '68 led to systemic changes still in place today.

Which means that when a national leader is deposed, like Lane Kirkland at the AFL-CIO in 1998, or Olan Cassell at USATF in 1996, it's never the grassroots that makes it happen, rather the regional leaders of the organization. The ordinary member was probably ready to get rid of both these guys at least five years prior to it finally happening.

Politics in the USA is full of this kind of stuff. You can see it in the vitriol shown towards people like Rahm Emmanuel among the left-wing Democratic bloggers, or the disinterest with Mike Huckabee by old-line Christian conservative leaders. The hope among all grass-roots organizers of every stripe is that the internet allows mass numbers of low-level everyday people to get together and bypass the filters put in place to keep the rabble out. It certainly has allowed domestic distance runners to communicate about training and bypass the official teachings of Brooks Johnson.