May 10, 2005

USOC Making Changes

There have been a lot of changes within the US Olympic Committee in the last couple of years. They've already reduced their executive board from more than 120 (!) to 11. Now they've announced two significant changes to the way they distribute funding.

First, they've taken some of the savings from recent layoffs and other measures, and doubled the training allowance they give directly to Olympic and Paralympic athletes (analogous to the COC's Excellence Fund). Curiously, they don't disclose how much they currently pay.

Second, they've changed the funding criteria for the sport national governing bodies (NGBs). Currently, each NGB gets an automatic annual grant of $250,000; the USOC has decided that in the future all funding will be awarded based on progress toward Olympic performance goals.

In making these changes, the USOC actually seems to be trailing their Canadian counterpart, among others, which is surprising. If the USOC is so messed up, then how have the Americans been so dominant at the Olympics?

There are a couple of reasons for that, I think. First of all, the USOC, despite its organizational shortcomings, is still the wealthiest National Olympic Committee in the world. When you have a lot of money, you can absorb a lot of waste and still come out on top (see also: U.S. Department of Defense).

And second, I have to wonder just how important the USOC is in the big picture. Of course the NGBs, some of which receive 75% of their funding from the USOC, play a critical role in grassroots sport development. But most elite US athletes (and many non-US ones) get much more support from an independent source. I'm talking about the NCAA, which administers a budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars for intercollegiate sports. I would bet that, in general, a sport's success at the Olympics is much more closely linked to NCAA support than it is to USOC support.

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