An interview by Phillip Whitten
SwimInfo: This is Phil Whitten of swiminfo.com and I’m here with Chuck Wielgus the Executive Director of USA Swimming, to discuss an issue that is vital to the future of our sport.
Chuck, you were recently appointed to the joint NCAA-USOC task force on Olympic Sports. What do you hope to accomplish on that task force?
Chuck Wielgus: That should be a very easy question to answer Phil, but I don’t think it is. In the larger sense, what I hope we are able to accomplish is to have a joint group of USOC and NCAA leaders come forward with a series of strong actionable, measurable recommendations that would then be endorsed and implemented, and that these recommendations, once implemented, would lead to, not just the preservation and protection of Olympic sports programs within our college athletics systems, but with the expansionSwimInfo: That’s a pretty ambitious goal, do you have any reason to believe that that might be accomplished?
Wielgus: There are probably an awful lot of reasons to think that it might not be accomplished, but I think it’s absolutely the right goal to have. I think it’s what we should strive for and I think we should understand that political, financial and other realities will create obstacles to accomplishing that. But I’m hopeful that we’re able, as part of these recommendations, to provide strategies and solutions that can help NCAA institutions overcome those obstacles.
SwimInfo: There have been a number of suggested solutions over the past several years. Solutions don’t appear to be the problem. As I see it, the problem seems to be that there hasn’t been the will to implement those solutions.
Wielgus: Phil, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with that. What I’m so hopeful will happen as a result of this is that, while we may not be able to manufacture the will in somebody, we can create enthusiasm and propose viable ideas that people can get behind, become excited abou and, become committed to. I think if we can accomplish that, we will have the best chance of succeeding. Hopefully over time this will get momentum. You can’t manufacture will in someone, but I think you can create enthusiasm, I think you can energize a movement, energize it toward a direction or a goal, and I hope we’re able to do that.
SwimInfo: We, too, hope you are able to do that. What do you think caused the NCAA and USOC, which have pretty much ignored the problem for the last decade or so, suddenly to become aware of it to the point where they appear actually to be taking some action?
Wielgus: Well I’m not sure exactly what the tipping point was for that. Quite frankly, I think that a lot of the swimming constituency has something to do with this in just annoying the USOC into at least making some noise about the issue. But in reality, I think there are a number of factors that have helped to make this the right time.
On the one hand, we’ve had sports like swimming, wrestling and some others that have been making some noise within the USOC political structure, and emphasizing that this is not a single sport issue. It’s a multi-sport issue in that the USOC really needs to take a leadership role in this. I think the change of leadership at the NCAA, with Myles Brand coming in as the new president, created a situation to have someone take seriously the notion of reform at the NCAA.
I think that the combination of those things, plus probably some quiet, behind-the- scenes discussions and conversations between leaders on both sides of the issue, have helped to allow this to happen. I think growing concerns over what has happened with NCAA athletics and the preponderance of money that is being pumped into football and basketball programs, as well as the dropping of sports, has gained attention beyond the walls of just the NCAA or a few college campuses. It has become a public issue. Issues related to drugs in sports, youth obesity — I think all of these things have created an environment that has made now as good a time as any for people to come together and address these issues. So I think all of those factors, and I’m sure there are others, have played a role in creating an atmosphere and environment where maybe now is the right time.
SwimInfo: When do you expect your group to meet, and is that going to be your first formal involvement in this task force?
Wielgus: Yes the first formal involvement will be the first meeting of the task force, but I know that there is a lot of information gathering going on now. We’re very fortunate in that the individual who has been appointed to lead this task force, Jack Swarbrick, is incredibly knowledgeable about both the USOC and the NCAA. Jack may not have the high profile of being a college president or athletic director or the USOC President, but the people in the business know that he knows and he understands.
I think Jack also is an individual with an incredible sense of vision. His crystal ball of what NCAA athletics and Olympic sports can be — I’ve always been very impressed with i. And he’s a determined and a forceful leade. I think that is one of the great advantages that we have — having a strong leader like Jack. I know that he is in the process right now of doing some information gathering, and no first meeting date has set yet, but I suspect that we’ll be hearing about that very soon.
SwimInfo: Has any attempt been made to contact leaders in the women’s sports movement, who, in the past, have been reluctant to endorse changes that they perceive might reduce opportunities for women?
Wielgus: I honestly don’t know the answer to that question, Phil. I would hope that if that hasn’t been done yet, that it will be done, but I don’t know whether it has been yet.
SwimInfo: One more question, Chuck. Have you been in touch with your colleagues — the executive directors of track and field, wrestling and gymnastics — on this issue?
Wielgus: We’ve had discussions, actually over the last several years, discussions among NGB Executive Directors. It has really become much more prevalent since the Title IX commission was formed by the Dept. of Education. I think, in part, we’re going to come into existence because of that Title IX task force, in that it got an awful lot of attention and that it engendered an awful lot of opinions, both pro and con. I would like to think that, at the end of the day, this NCAA-USOC task force will come forward with recommendations that actually will be endorsed and acted upon, as opposed to so many of the recommendations that came out of the Title IX group, that unfortunately, I think, are dormant.
SwimInfo: Well, we wish you all the best, and you know you always have our active support on this vital issue. If we can be of help in any way, please let me know.
Wielgus: Well, you’re an important voice in all of this, Phil. We really appreciate the proactive steps you’ve taken with Swimming World Magazine in keeping this issue front and center, especially within the swimming community.
SwimInfo: Thanks, Chuck. This is Phil Whitten with SwimInfo.com.