Sometimes they present a dog and pony show, sometimes they don't. They rarely request any rules changes, and no one votes on their activities. Nevertheless, understanding what is going on in the Long Range Planning Committee is the starting point for understanding where skating is going in the U.S.
In regard to managing USFSA competitive events, several ideas that refuse to die continue to be discussed, and new ones have been added to the mix.
The ideas of moving Novice events from Nationals to the Junior Olympics, and of creating a new Figures Nationals continue to be discussed even though both have been previously rejected by past Governing Councils. Further, alterations to the entire structure of qualifying competitions and changes to the mix of USFSA sponsored events are under study.
Currently, the TV contract calls for the USFSA to provide ABC five events per year. Two of these are the spring and fall ProAm's. USFSA would like to capture a larger share of the TV market, and is looking at ways of doing that such as increasing their involvement in ineligible events and restructuring the qualifying competitions to make them more appealing for television. These restructured events would replace the ProAm's (which would be eliminated) in the TV schedule.
The committee sees a qualifying competition structure which begins with Regionals in August (currently held in November) and ends with a National Championships consisting of Senior and Junior events. Only three skaters would qualify from Sectionals and no byes would be allowed. Skaters would be ranked using the previous year's results to decide qualification to proceed to Nationals. Prize money would be awarded. If implemented, these proposals would have a major impact on the entire skating calendar nationwide.
Perhaps the area seeing the greatest change in the near future will be athlete development: how the association does it, and how it will measure success. While the association has always been obsessed with the medal count, even greater emphasis on this will develop due to pressures placed on the Association by the USOC.
The USOC is putting the heat on the NGBs to deliver Olympic Medals - or else. The USOC and USFSA have been negotiating over what performance levels U.S. skaters will be expected to meet, and what policies implemented, in order for the U.S. skating program to be considered a success by the USOC. These minimum performance quotas (the USOC calls them "markers") and other requested policy implementations include the following:
Changes to meet or maintain these objectives are already in the works, and woe to anyone who doesn't deliver the goods. Item 9 has been the source of much conflict between the USFSA and the coaches, item 10 is on the agenda for the ISU congress, item 12 is being addressed by the International Committee, and item 13 is being taken up by the Dance Committee.
The rules of the International Committee have already been completely revised to help meet item 12. The team envelope concept is being further developed, and the committee will begin to make use of a ranking system to aid it in making athlete selections for international competitions. Rankings will be based on results at qualifying and international competitions over a two year period. An Athlete Development Subcommittee has been established to further the goals of selecting and supporting future champions at the youngest level possible, and has begun discussing development of programs. The creation of a Precision Skating Development Subcommittee is in the works. In dance, the addition of moves in the field training and changes in the competitions structure and entry requirements have been made, hoping these changes will increase skating quality, increase participation, and develop better dancers sooner.
Issues dealing with the relationships between the Association, coaches, and the PSA have become highly contentious in the past year, and are likely to remain so. Some of these we reported on in February. We discuss these further in another article.
Several years ago the committee presented a vision of establishing the USFSA as the one stop shopping organization for skating in the U.S. using the power of the sanction as the tool to reach that goal. Over the years many aspects of that vision have been implemented using the powers of the sanction and eligibility rules, and controlling access to USFSA events as bludgeons to achieve success.
The establishment of the basic skills program in competition with the ISIA, and the current conflicts with the coaches, which also involves competition with the PSA, are all part of the USFSA evolving from an organization primarily servicing the needs of competitive skating, to an organization including programs for recreational skaters, competitive skaters, and the coaching community. Most recently, the subject of offering improved services to rink management has been added to the mix - again moving to expand the scope of the organization.
Long-standing thoughts of forming a new umbrella organization encompassing the activities of the USFSA, ISIA, and PSA appears to be going nowhere, with all three organizations reportedly having misgivings. The committee feels emphasis should now be on negotiations between the organizations to redefine the roles of each in the changing landscape of the skating world, and to create linkages between the organizations. The trend to us, however, seems to be more directed towards expanding the role of the USFSA at the expense of the others; and it appears unlikely that the USFSA would accept anything other than the leading role in any interlinked structure.
In addition to the question of the overall role of the association, there is also the nitty-gritty of how the association gets there. With so many officers, chairman, committees, and staff members with interlinked and overlapping responsibility - distributed throughout the U.S. - it is sometimes unclear who is, or should be, running the show. As upper level management has been moving away from a "ma and pa" volunteer approach towards a more business-like organization, friction has sometimes arisen between paid staff members and volunteers. There is also the realization that association management doesn't fully know what the rank and file clubs want from the association, or what they need.
Currently, the only opportunity the clubs have to speak to leadership with a loud, clear voice is at the annual Governing Council meetings, and the near chaos that sometimes ensues there is often the result of the lack of ongoing communication. It is also, we believe, the result of major differences in priorities between management (who are almost exclusively concerned with elite skaters winning medals and increasing association market share) and the member clubs and skaters (who work at the grass-roots level and have more basic needs). So long as management and membership have such widely divergent priorities turmoil behind the scenes is likely to continue.
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