Commentary by George Block
The Senior Development, Governance, OIO Committees and the USA Swimming Board of Directors all have the opportunity to bring game-changing legislation to the House of Delegates this September in Jacksonville. All three proposals should be vigorously supported. Here’s why:
Replace OIO with Steering
The Governance Committee, in collaboration with Brandon Drawz and Frank Busch, developed (after many attempts) a plan to end the OIOC and – reflecting current operations – replace it with the Steering Committee. This one change could have many benefits.
The OIOC has become largely a report-giving meeting. With easy access to documents and reports on the internet, there is no longer a need for a meeting where reports are distributed and read aloud. Opening up the space where 5 hours of OIOC meetings were held on Thursdays, the convention could be either shortened, de-conflicted, or both.
The real direction and operation of the National Team moved to Steering years ago, but the OIOC was retained both to keep a National Team seat (the OIOC Chair) on the Board of Directors and to keep National Team-producing coaches in the House of Delegates. Since these were largely college coaches, they were generally “excused absences” at the House of Delegates.
This has become a governance issue, because the voice of the leading coaches in America has been absent for the first time in our history. As college swimming evolved, college coaches took on increasing recruiting, alumni and fund-raising responsibilities on football weekends. This meant that fewer and fewer college coaches could honestly take on the commitment to the OIOC and the House of Delegates.
A key component in Drawz’ legislation gives the President, in consultation with the Technical VP, the ability to appoint Olympic Trials-level coaches to one-year terms as voting delegates to the House of Delegates. This can bring the voices and experience of America’s top coaches back to the House of Delegates, one year at a time.
A second piece of legislation is less “game changing,” but more inclusive. As the result of a Governance Study conducted several years ago, USA Swimming reduced the size and number of committees in order to make them more workable and also extended the committee terms to four years with a maximum of two terms (8 years).
As USA Swimming has grown, and more and more coaches and volunteers want to take part in committees, reducing the number of committee had the obvious result of making it harder to get on to a committee. This year’s legislation reduces the maximum term on a committee from 8 years to 6 years. The clear result will be to add 25% more turnover and opportunities for new blood, while still maintaining consistency and accountability.
Consultant Study of LSCs
A non-legislative submission from the Governance Committee could end up having the greatest, long-term impact. In 2013, Jim Holcomb, a LSC General Chair and university management professor, came to the convention meeting and asked the Governance Committee to take a serious look at the structure and function of our LSCs. Holcomb’s experience as a General Chair and his background as a business professor told him that reinventing our LSCs was the greatest opportunity in front of USA Swimming.
The Governance did some informal surveying through email lists and got a wide range of both ideas and complaints – the same ideas and complaints that have been around for decades. What seems to be new is that a new generation of leaders has taken over committee leadership and these leaders are not only not frightened of taking a real look at our LSCs, they enthusiastically support it!
With positive feedback – on what has been the “third rail” of USA Swimming politics – the Governance Committee sent a resolution to the Board of Directors requesting line item funding for an outside consultant review of our LSC structure and operation. When this was done nearly a decade ago on the governance structure of USA Swimming, it professionalized the staff and focused the convention.
About 70% of the consultant’s recommendations were adopted. The 30% that weren’t were heavily slanted to the LSCs. A new generation of leaders who aren’t married to the original structuring of USA Swimming in 1980 is willing to take a 21st century look at how we operate at the most basic level.
This particular issue will first considered by the Executive Committee in its August 11th budget meeting and will only move to the full Board for consideration in Jacksonville if the Executive Committee is as bold as the current USA Swimming membership seems to be.
Changes to National Meets
The Senior Development Committee has proposed perhaps the most visible legislative change, the addition of the “Legends” (working name) series of meets. The Senior Committee wanted to accomplish three things. First, it wanted to preserve the current, “One Junior Championship Meet” that has developed in to one of the most competitive 18 & Under meets on the planet. Second, it wanted to “add a rung to the developmental ladder” in between Sectionals and Junior Nationals. Third, it wanted to preserve the “team rivalry” nature of the Long Course Sectionals.
This proposal was a long time coming. In Frank Busch’s first meeting ever with the Senior Committee, he proposed something very similar to what will come before the House of Delegates this fall, but Frank was new to USA Swimming governance and did not know how to effectively work with both staff and the committee chairs. He has learned his way around the building.
In a very quiet, Frank Busch-like way, his philosophy is now firmly in place. The Long Course Nationals is the pre-eminent domestic meet on the calendar. All international qualifying will take place there – including National Junior Team qualifying. Only “extras” get picked up at Long Course Juniors.
Frank respected the wishes of the Senior Committee to preserve the single Juniors, but followed the data and knew at least one rung needed to be added to the ladder. Simultaneously, the Senior Committee had been wrestling with this same issue, but had been tweaking Sectionals and the Zone Senior meets, rather than following the data to the missing rung on the ladder.
With strong committee leadership from Dave Ferris and great committee support from Paul Silver, Shawn Smith, John Morse and Kathleen Prindle, the Senior Committee developed a data-driven plan to fill in the “missing rung” and create a cohesive long course season around the country. Philosophically, the group’s proposal attempts to accomplish all three objectives. Ideally, the long course season would flow like this:
The “Legends Series” is an Open, time-standard-based meet series filling the gaps between both Junior and Senior Nationals. It is a concept meant to evolve organically, so both the Senior Committee and the House of Delegates will have to restrain from killing it when it doesn’t work perfectly the first year. It’s not intended to. It is intended to grow and adapt.
There is no age limitation on the meets, not is there a geographic limitation. It is meant to allow for development of both high school and college-aged swimmers. They could start with three, and mimic the old junior formats, or they could have one Legends meet for every three or four Sectionals meets. As Dave Ferris said, the Legends meets will be data driven and will both fill and “even-out” the Juniors/Seniors gaps.
This proposal answers every question in front of the Senior Committee. It accomplished all three objectives of preserving the single Junior Championship, preserving the rivalry meets that Sectionals have become, and filling in the rung on the ladder that has been missing since the 4 Juniors were consolidated in to one. What hasn’t been answered is the question that hasn’t been asked. Was consolidating to one Junior Championship good for American Swimming?