Cliff Wiley: ‘Time is near that USATF needs to break up’

Kansas City lawyer Cliff Wiley, a former world-class sprinter at Kansas, knows USATF inside and out. In 2004, he was head manager of Team USA at the IAAF world junior (under-20) championships in Italy. He coaches high school track and has directed youth track meets for decades in Baltimore and the Midwest. And now he’s ready to chuck his standing in USATF. He’s calling for the breakup of USATF. “This is a debate that needs to occur,” Cliff wrote me last week. “Swimming broke up and no one died. The pieces to the USATF puzzle simply don’t fit anymore.”

Cliff also wrote me: “I also know most of the so-called ‘players’ in USATF (and) was on the failed restructuring task force. I think I see more of the whole picture then most people.”
Here’s a note he sent to several people (including me) on March 12, partly in reaction to the Colorado USATF association mess.

Cliff wrote:

The amount of money at stake in the Colorado Association dispute was relatively small, and the ruling sounds (worse) than it really is.
The real question that needs to be addressed is whether the current structure of USATF is in the best interest of its various constituent groups. I say that it is not. By any objective standard, the youth section of USATF is little more than a cash cow for the majority of the associations and for the national office.
Take a look at the facts; we raised the fees on the youth without any consideration given to its impact; we promote the Hershey Games, but give little support to our own Junior Olympic program, and now a grievance panel is forcing the Colorado (Youth) Association, which generated the money at the center of this dispute, to give some of it to adults who can raise their own money.
I think the time is near that USATF needs to break up; let the elites go their way, the masters, racewalkers, and LDR theirs, and the youth theirs. There is little that these groups have in common anyway, except that they participate in the same sport.
Each of these groups can make it alone, and each will then be more focused on their respective missions without worrying about what some other section of the federation thinks. Let the masters . . . go after that Viagra sponsorship without fear that some kid will ask his mother what’s it for.
Give the rights to decide who represents the U.S. in the Olympics marathon to the LDR federation, or the Road Runners, or USA Running, or whatever they are calling themselves these days. Maybe they will find a way to beat the Africans without dressing up imports in USA uniforms, and claiming we are making progress in the long distance events.
Let the track and field people continue to bid out its championships in the dark of the night, then forget how it was done in the light of the day. When the $5.00 per gallon of gas gets here, the race walking federation will be rivaled only by the skateboard federation in membership. What are we waiting for?
The sooner we recognize the fact that the system that we adopted from the AAU is hopelessly flawed the better we all will be. Much has changed in the world since 1978, and it is time for the various groups that compose USATF to move into the 21st century. Can anyone remember the Soviet Union or travel permits to compete in Europe? It is time to bid farewell to TAC, I mean USATF, as we currently know it.

Of course, the idea of masters track splitting off has been expressed before (most forcefully by former USATF Masters T&F Chairman George Mathews). This is the first time I’ve heard a USATF opinion leader call for the whole enchilada to be sliced up.
Your thoughts?

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March 21, 2008

7 Responses

  1. Thomas Fahey - March 21, 2008

    Track and field is a struggling sport in the USA. We need to stay together to promote the sport at all levels. Each group within the sport benefits from the success of other groups. Unfortunately, zealots within each group don’t see the relevance of other groups and don’t want to share resources. They are short-sighted and don’t see the big picture.
    The long-term health of masters T&F depends on people taking up the sport when they’re young. It’s extremely difficult to be competitive at age 35+ if you never competed in the sport in high school or college. Likewise, our participation provides inspiration to younger generations.
    Also, if we split from USATF I doubt we will have much success getting officials for our meets.
    We should stay together and make all segments of track and field successful.

  2. Michael Roth - March 21, 2008

    I wholeheartedly agree, with 2 caveats. 1st, USOC money must be guaranteed to each new group in a large enough emount to be self sufficient. 2nd, Brooks Johnson, Stephanie Hightower & John Chaplin can have no involvement in any organization whatsoever.

  3. David Hager - March 21, 2008

    I think that Cliff knows a lot more about the situation than he is willing to tell us in his somewhat rambling but well-intentioned statement. I think that the true answer is to get new leadership at the top (the replacement for Craig Masback) that has no political agenda and is a servant to the betterment of all T&F is the US. If the search committee is not doing this, then I agree with Cliff.

  4. George Mathews - March 22, 2008

    Professionals and amateurs don’t mix. Youth and Masters might, but separate would be better. Maybe AAU needs another chance. Seems be to run from Florida. Robin Beamon is a big deal in both organizations.
    Masters belong with National Senior Games Association. They are the one’s nominating Phil for Sullivan Award, not USATF.
    New management and/ structure will not fix it.
    Masters can’t even get a contract for Boston yet. Terrible answers on insurance for clinics etc.
    Trust those who know and have been there.

  5. Peter Magill - March 22, 2008

    Threatening to break up USATF may serve some visceral need that we all feel now and again, but in reality it would be a huge negative for many of us masters runners.
    Here’s why: We aren’t just masters runners.
    Many of us compete in both USATF Open and Masters meets. We run LDR events. Some of us coach Youth (not me – those darn kids always seem to know instinctively that they can get away with murder around me!).
    Primarily a cross-country runner these days, I run local open invitationals during the fall. Run the So Cal Open Division X-Country Championship. And run the Masters Club and USA X-Country Championships – a big part of which is the fact that after our race we masters get to watch the Open runners go at it. We LIKE being part of the multi-generational event! Yes, I sometimes run the Masters 5K event too, and I absolutely love that that one’s all masters (because it’s broken into different races for different age groups). But x-country would definitely lose some of the magic if we masters were suddenly split apart from meets with the youngin’s.
    In track, I run almost all open meets that require USATF membership (well, okay, they don’t often check, but that’s supposed to be a requirement).
    On the roads, I run both masters and open USATF events, and I want to keep that option open.
    So what am I (and other athletes like me) supposed to do? Get yearly memberships for USATF, for some new Masters body, for a new LDR body, and for Youth athletics if we’re coaching in that too?
    Come on, get real. If you want to lose a lot of “young” masters athletes in their 40s (and 50s … and….), then make us choose between USATF and some new Masters organization – and then expect to lose us as 50-year-olds (just 3 years off for me!) … and 60-year-olds … and….
    Because I’m not joining 3 or 4 organizations just to compete. Good grief, I’d have to get a new wallet just to carry all my membership cards!

  6. Masters Runner - March 22, 2008

    Michael, the amount of USOC money will be allocated as follows:
    RW – zero from all sources
    LDR – maybe a little from sponsors, zero from USOC
    Youth – maybe low six figures from sponsors, zero from USOC
    Masters – maybe a very little from sponsors, zero from USOC
    The USOC will not let any group (incl LDR and RW) own their piece of the Olympic team.
    That being said, I think the masters should split as long as they are willing to pay their own way or join another group (and the current leaders lose their seniority). At least the masters seem to have low overhead – no need for useful websites, staff supporting programs, or a serious set of events and programs. The other groups are too needy or too incompetent to develop an infrastructure and pay for a common overhead.

  7. Mellow Johnny - March 24, 2008

    I agree with Pete. USATF certainly has it’s problems but as Pete pointed out, it allows a lot of different groups to share in a common sport.
    I am 31 and just getting back into track as a submaster after several years off after college.
    If Masters Track becomes part of the “National Senior Games” then you’re excluding people not only my age but 20 years older than me (if my understanding is correct that the senior games is for those 55 and older).

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