[George Block, moderator]:
…. He is an exquisitely fair person and extremely believing in freedom and letting coaches try things; his brother is an active coach. So he was continually ruling in favor of closed competitions, and so it became pretty clear to me that under the current structure, the way that coaches can start dealing with some of our problems is through closed competitions. And I just sort of gave it the name “conferences” because when I think of colleges setting-up conferences. Schools that have similar academic and athletic values, affiliate; schools who are similar in the size, budget, facility, affiliate; schools with similar aspirations affiliate. But in USA Swimming we can only affiliate by geography; and we are frustrated by aspirations, we are frustrated by values, and we are frustrated by affiliation.
So what these guys up here—and I am going to have them introduce themselves in a minute—are all part of a solution. Many of them are part of current conferences, or are part of the current USA Swimming task force that is looking at sanctioning processes as a whole to keep sanctioning from interfering with coach development of their own athletes. So that is the issue teed-up. And I will ask Steve to start-out and introduce yourself. I was just reminded that this is being recorded and hopefully this is going to sell very largely on tape, because it is not a very large live concert. So be sure and speak into the microphone. But Steve if you can sort of say who you are, where you are from, and then what you are doing right now with conferences; and why you got into, what problem you’re trying to solve.
[Steve Morsilli, Pleasanton Seahawks]:
Okay. Thanks for being here. My name is Steve Morsilli and I work with the Pleasanton Seahawks. I am in Pacific Swimming: that is in Northern California, San Francisco Bay area. We are actually in, my team is actually in two different conferences, two different leagues—if you will. A couple of years ago, we got together with some of the coaches from other teams in the area who produce National-level swimmers on a fairly regular basis, and we wanted a series of meets where we could get in-and-out on a Sunday morning or maybe in-and-out on a Saturday, after a Saturday practice—but we have not done that yet. We were just looking for a short competition, but good level of competition for those high level athletes. So we started with six teams and it was: our team—the Pleasanton Seahawks—the Terrapins, Santa Rosa Neptunes, North Bay, Palo Alto and Sierra Marlins—Sierra Marlins not being in Pacific Swimming, they are from a different LSC [Local Swimming Committee]. And we come-in on a Saturday morning, we go three teams at one location, three teams at another location; not trying to make any money, just get in, swim three races, get out. Challenge the kids; not have to spend an entire weekend doing that. This year is the first year we have added two teams: Santa Clara is coming in and the Davis Aquadarts is coming in. So we are kind of excited about that.
It gave us the ability to control the events that we were offering. We went long course all last year because of the Olympic year; normally we go short course. So we usually have two tri-meets: one in September and one in October. And then we have some type of a league championship with trials and finals after the first of the year. Having said that, we also have a huge number of very entry-level swimmers in our area. So my head age group coach has organized a different conference with three different teams—ourselves and then two other teams—for the entry-level kids. So we are not running away, or we are not scaring away, the new parents. We will have a meet on a Friday afternoon, during normal practice hours, and then Saturday morning they are in-and-out by noon. And each kid gets to swim one or two events on Friday night, they swim two or three events on Saturday morning; everybody is gone by Noon. We are not trying to make money on these meets; we are just trying to break-even and pay for pool cost. But it has been great because we are not sending new parents, especially, to the 12-hour C-B-A-plus meets and just burning them out; and they get to swim once or twice and if they miss their first event they don’t get to swim the second event. We can be a little bit more informal with those beginning meets. So that is kind of quick….
[Clayton Cagle, Lakeside Aquatic Club]:
Clayton Cagle. I was asked to be on this thing when I was with Fleet, for 26 years; I have now since changed teams, and am with Lakeside. The [Texas] Senior Circuit is a very well-known organization throughout the country, and for Texas it is a very productive and very successful program for the State of Texas. It has evolved a lot since the ‘70s when it was first established, and it has been ongoing. The one thing that separates it from most things within USA Swimming is the fact that it is a coach-run program; and I think that is probably the most important thing. That when you are looking at meet schedules, we take control of it. Many, many times the TAGS committee [the committee that oversees the Texas Age Group Swimming Championships], other people, try to get to us to join-in with them and get to a point where parents would possibly be involved with it, and we have always balked at that. George and myself have both been the chair, and have probably been confronted with that over the last 20 years.
But Senior Circuit comes-up and has four meets, and it does encompass Sectionals; we make the decisions and set the formats and time standards for that. It has been very successful throughout the years because it does provide a great entry-level for 15 year-olds/14 year-olds; gets them into Senior-level: they get to see collegiate level swimming, compete against them. It is one of those things, now, [that] we have evolved, we have set in a very traditional way, where we have gone with three locations basically, or four locations, with all our meets that we have: Sectionals and Senior Circuit 1, 2 and 3. And now with a lot of different good pools being built in the state, and the opportunity for us to spread those out, it really does help.
But Senior Circuit has been a driving force for Texas for many years, to get us the state, itself, to the Senior level. And I think listening to what we want to see and do in a conference situation. I think that the Gulf [LSC], itself—where I just left—went through a massive change this past year, [from] where the LSC was in complete control of setting the schedule and where a meet was going to go, and it went to a bid process. We did have Senior meets which I think helped tremendously to provide having great entry-level Senior swimming for high school swimmers and just a kind of low-level Senior swimming. But now that the Gulf, itself, has changed… there are two groups that formed different meets, 10-15 teams and they have their own schedules. And it is set-up a little bit toward Senior Circuit, but at the same time you have got a Senior-level Senior Circuit and then you have got other meets coming in.
I think what I really want to say is, I think it is very important: if the coaches want to initiate a change, then the coaches have to be the ones that get up in the LSCs and make those changes. It is a hard thing to do, at times, perhaps in your LSC—I know California is very strong in their LSCs a lot. But by the coaches getting together, they made the changes; and they are really getting back to a point where they are not going to all-day meets and getting into different formats and trying to change some things up. Senior Circuit has always done that; Senior Circuit has always been able/had the opportunity to change the formats and do what they want to do, set the time standards and change it. So I think it is very important that the coaches take command of that in their LSC, no matter what. It is important that they get to their LSC meetings, as much as possible, and start having a dialogue amongst themselves. Even if you have a hard time with someone else’s ideas, you need to get out there and start that dialogue with those other coaches and start initiating those changes.
Senior Circuit runs pretty well now, and has for the last 4-5 years, or longer than that: even 10 years, 15. And it has evolved into a very-fast, elite type of meets, very controlled numbers. But it is something that the coaches take a lot of pride in, the fact that we do that for the Senior-level Swimming in the State. So it is a tremendous thing to have. So I will let Rick go on with his and we will get your questions.
[Rick Shipherd, La Mirada Armada]:
I am Rick Shepherd; I have been on the ASCA Board for two terms. The last part of business—and I was so excited when John [Leonard] brought it out at the last [Board] meeting I was in attendance at—was kind of an action-item that John mandated we should look into the development of a conference structure within USA Swimming. For years and years, I have been jealous of the college—I have been a club coach my whole life—the college environment, where the meets were specific to the needs of the athletes and conferences were specific, as George mentioned, to their scholarships situation or their academic situation or their budget situations and so on. We have never had that. So with that in mind, and hearing that mandate from John that ASCA was going to pursue this, I got real excited and started looking at: what should I be doing on my end. I am also on the Senior Development Committee, and I think it has a nice extension to that.
But getting to home: I am from [the] Southern California [LSC], which is probably one of the more complex, difficult, bureaucratic structures in the LSC structure. So it posed a certain challenge. Where we decided we wanted to get involved in a conference situation; we contacted a number of teams looking for that opportunity. But the status quo and the strength of our LSC leadership is so strong that it really was not well received, even by long-time friends and coaches that agreed with the concept—agreed that independent businesses need independent solutions. That reluctancy made me go in another direction—which is now creating all kind of issues.
But what we decided to do—we are creating a conference anyway—we went out and we purchased, we bought, three teams in the Southern California area. Existing teams, and I had a couple criteria when I looked at the options. We are also in the process of bringing on-board two more. But they had to have a facility capable of hosting a satisfactory meet, and they had to have an existing number of over 50—which, they are small teams. We allowed them to keep their independent charters: they still represent El Segundo or Rio Hondo or etc. But now I have my own conference that I have created for them. And our goal was to create a, on the first stage/the first level, a developmental conference for our kids. We knew with the [Olympic] Trials and then the Games, that we would see the bump in new membership; we knew we would see a new and unique need that my business needed to answer. For the last two years, I have been worried only about what the needs of my best athletes were; now I am kind of looking… and that is the truth of club coaching, I think you all know: our needs shift so fast and our situation shifts so fast, we need to be able to respond. And the only way to do that is to create conferences with people that have similar needs.
So eventually… we are four teams right now, we had our first competition over the last month, and we will be at six teams by the end of November. And then we will look at the Senior-conference concept, trying to use existing teams; which we have had a lot of good dialogue with existing teams. I am really jealous of Steve, what you have done up-there, it is tremendous; and maybe we will head that direction.
[Paul Silver, Marlins of Raleigh]:
I am Paul Silver and I am the Head Coach of the Marlins of Raleigh in North Carolina. I have been coaching in Raleigh for 28 years, and have seen the LSC grow and develop in lots of different ways. When I got there, I think there were about 29,000 athletes in the State; and now there are 23,000 just in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. We used to have some seed… we call them seed leagues, which kind of split the State up back in the ‘90s. But [we] got away from it as the LSC kind of went towards really Open competition, where pretty much anybody can do whatever they want. So I am kind of in an unfortunate, maybe different, situation: we are not being restricted by our LSC on what we can do, at all. So I have kind of got the best of the all the worlds there. Probably the only problem we do have is maybe that some of the meets are getting too big. So my thought is similar to Rick: with this year being a little bit different, we are going to maybe try to shift and do some things more for the development kids that are in smaller numbers. Because everybody is just trying to make a buck, and that gets a little frustrating when you have parents having to be at a meet for you know five hours or whatever.
I am on the Senior Development Committee also, and have participated on the task force that is looking at sanctioning issues. And I know the main reason that did come-up is a desire from some clubs to have tri- or quad-meets, and things like that, with other teams that are National-level; and they are being told they cannot because the other club down the road has a meet and they want to force Nashville to go to some meet. I just say that is dumb: you ought to be able to run whatever kind of meets you want, that is going to help further your interest.
[George]: So after you four guys talked, I picked-up three themes:
• The first one is that targeting the novice kids is almost universal.
• Second is that the need to meet the kids that are focused-on National-level, to give them appropriate competition.
• And then the third seemed to be that the conferences are run by the coaches; that the coaches take-over the administrative duties, really, of the LSC of: creating a schedule, creating a format, deciding the sites, formats, all that sort of thing
Is there anybody here who’s got any exceptions to that?
[Rick]: I am a kind of a slash-and-burn type of guy, and I think one of the solutions is—the topic was solutions—is to get our Executive Director to realize, Chuck Wielgus, that he represents independent businesses. And the next step for him to progress this sport is to recreate, actually completely dismantle and then recreate, an LSC structure that acts in three ways:
1. to protect the brand name,
2. to protect the members—you know those are the roles we cannot do without—and
3. act as a facilitator for the creation of conferences.
And that is it. Not programming, not budget, not meet operations, not a geographic distribution of teams. Southern Cal, we have a unique situation. I have mentioned we bought three teams, we run all three as part of our group now—hence the “Armada”. They are all in different geographic areas; they are all three in different geographic parts of our LSC. So we could not get a sanction for anything, because each geographic segment had their own need for the calendar to be the way they wanted it to be. So, I do not think there is any solution other than really dismantling the LSC structure and having a group of coaches, in-partner with the lay people that are currently running the LSCs, re-create the LSC in a new and affective manner.
[Steve]: I agree with a lot of what Rick said. Some of the ways we have gotten around that in Pacific. We are a fairly large geographic area, also; I am pretty fortunate, we are in the middle. But Santa Rosa is one of the teams in our area and they are probably 2.5-3 hours north, of us; Sierra Marlins are up in Sacramento, that is a good solid hour-and-a-half; Santa Clara is 30-45 minutes, depending upon traffic, south of us; and Davis is up there also. So there is a decent geographic area. And we initially had some sanctioning issues, especially when we wanted to put on a meet this weekend and somebody else was having some type of meet that we were going to conflict with.
One of the things we did to get around that: for the high-level competition, for the Senior-level kids, we limited it to the top-30 kids on each team. So when you get three teams, you are talking about 90 kids. You are in-and-out pretty quickly. And you can send the rest of your kids, even the rest of your Senior kids, to whatever Senior meet or Junior-level meet that is going on that weekend. So you are not pulling your entire team out of participation in the local meets; you are just pulling some of the kids out. And our stance was: we are actually helping the time line. So that meet that you are going to run anyway, instead of going to 5:00; without these 90 or 100 kids that we are pulling out, that meet is maybe just going to go until 2:00. So we were trying to give them a little bit of a solution on a problem they are already having.
Same thing with our younger kids, with the novice-level kids. With three teams it is probably 200 kids, give or take, that are going to show-up on the Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. And again, most of our entry-level meets, they are C-B-A meets. They are horribly oversubscribed. They are usually capped within a week of when they open; they are capped because the timeline has already exceeded 4:00. So many of our parents do not even get-in those meets. So again, we are trying to tell our LSC that we are actually helping the situation; we are giving these people a chance to swim, that would normally be locked-out of meets.
So while we may need a restructuring—and that is where I agree with Rick—when we were trying to sell-it to our LSC people, we are trying to tell them that we are actually part of the solution—at least a short-term solution. Because we are going to help get our kids out of those meets that are already oversubscribed. Does that make sense?
[George]: Ma’am, you have a hand up.
[audience member]: How you are going to pay for these meets? You mentioned cost, so how do you pay for them?
[Steve]: The question was: how do we pay for the meets? Whatever team is hosting the meet will come-up with a budget for the meet. My pool happens to be very expensive, in terms of running meets—I have a great deal for year-round workout fees. So when we run a half-day meet at my pool, it is probably a couple thousand dollars or $3,000—right in that range. If we have three teams coming, it is a $1,000 per team; and if they are bringing 30 kids each, it is $30 a kid. So we just do it that way. A week-or-so before the meet, the coach will say this is what I need from each team, and that is it. So we are not trying to make money; we are not running a snack bar. Most of these teams have enough officials that we are meeting those requirements. So we just keep it as bare-bones as we possibly can. There are no awards, obviously; with the little-kid meets, with the novice meets, we give them some ribbons—but that is cranked-in with the cost of the meets.
[audience member]: Does part of the money still go to the LSC too?
[audience member]: Do you have any feeling that?
[Steve]: I don’t care.
[audience member]: But that is one of the purposes of sanctions.
[Rick]: That’s one of our problems, yeah.
[Steve]: Well, but again it gets back to we are not destroying the entire LSC meet schedule. We are just taking some of those kids that either would have been capped out of a C-B-A meet anyway and the LSC would not have received those fees; or with the 30 kids that we are bringing at a Senior-level… again, we are just under-loading an already overloaded Senior meet.
[audience member]: So Pacific Swimming is perceiving that as undermining their finances?
[Steve]: No, no.
[George]: Clayton, do you want to talk about the Senior Circuit, because it’s a little bit different?
[Clayton]: Actually. No I was going to talk about the Gulf, because it is pretty much very similar to what these two guys are talking about. The Gulf just went through….
[unidentifiable speaker]: Can we get this question?
[inaudible questions from the audience]
[George]: Let me repeat the question since this is being recorded. His question, to summarize for the recording, is that: in the State of Connecticut, there are sanction fees that have to be paid to the LSC. How do the conferences deal with LSCs when they have those requirements? And you can pick up on that, Clayton.
[Clayton]: I am sorry… (he was messing with the table here). Let me just speak real quickly about what happened, because what these two guys were talking about is just exactly what the Gulf went through all of last year. And although I feel the people who run the LSC were… we all balked at… I was on the Board, so I was balking at the changes for what they were talking about. A group of probably five, six, seven coaches came-in and really presented and changed everything. We started in August of last year, before we finally made all the final adjustments and stuff; and it took that long. And I balked at it. But at the same time, forming these two different leagues—we ended-up forming two different leagues—of 20 teams, and everyone was guaranteed a meet. The LSC is still maintaining its control as far as splash fees and that kind of stuff. Because the Gulf, if you do not realize, it is a very lucky association, because they have got about a million dollars in the bank and they do finance all of Nationals and Junior. I mean every kid that made Olympic Trials, 18&Under, had their expenses totally paid for. So nobody wants to give that up. But they are still having their splash fees and doing that kind of stuff.
But the thing that was for us, because Houston is such a big, wide area with 6,000 swimmers but there are only like 3 or 4 indoor 50-meter pools or ability to hold meets; so meets were huge. So now they broke-up and all the little teams are starting to hold their meets. They are still… it is a lot-better situation, because you have guaranteed meets, and that is what you want. There is a chance, if we did not form the other league, that if you recall teams like in Austin, or whatever, that want to go to their facility to swim, the entries open at 8:00 a.m., at 8:01 they are closed. We were going to be experiencing the same thing. This is why the coaches got together and formed another association and went in there, and now everyone is guaranteed a swim and we get to do our own formats.
And the association ended-up working very well in approving everything. There are still some things going on, but as far as the sanctioning, the teams and everybody has to… when the team comes up that wants to host a meet within that group, they do the sanctioning, they do the meet format—how they want to do—and set the fees. So it can be done, it is just you have got to really work with the LSC and have a plan in mind to be able to do that.
[George]: And on the Texas Senior Circuit: Texas has five LSCs, and so it is a multi-LSC deal. But anybody from the country can join; you have to be a member of the Senior Circuit, you pay a membership fee to join. And then the entry fees do cover the LSC’s splash fees, where the LSCs have splash fees. So the LSCs get their sanctioning fee, they get their splash fee; but the Senior Circuit sets their entry fees, so that we can afford to go to the UT facility or the A&M facility; and then when we are not there, we can lower it to go elsewhere.
[Clayton]: And it has the option, as well, to set a maximum amount of money to spend. So an athlete that wants to swim nine events is not spending a $150; it maxes out at $75 or $80. So you can really help those kids like that too.
[George]: So inside of your conferences—just to use a standard term—how much administrative work is done by the coaches? How much is done by non-coaches?
[Steve]: Okay. In ours, it is all done by the coaches. We just rotate it around, as to who is going to be hosting meets each season, whether it is a tri-meet or a quad-meet or the championship meet, and who does the sanctioning. Sanctioning takes place in whichever LSC is hosting the meet. So when we are up in Sierra Nevada [LSC] for the Sierra Marlins, they are taking care of that meet; at the same time, the same weekend, there is going to be a meet down in Pacific with three or four different teams, and they are handling that. So the coaches are doing all that.
[Rick]: Well it is coach-run. We have three, what we call, Site Directors plus our site, the fourth; and those Site Directors manage the whole thing. We do we have lay people that have volunteered, and actually are doing a great deal of the work as far as purchasing ribbons and taking care of those kinds of things. But it is coach-driven as, for the most part, it should be.
[Clayton]: I know that in the Gulf, that the coaches set the schedule; and the teams are actually responsible now. In the past, the LSC did the formats, they designed everything. Now with the formation of two conferences, the teams are responsible for whoever is hosting it out of their leagues. They are responsible for coming-up with the meet formats. The coaches sit down, come up with a general idea, set it out there; and then they go back to their respective teams—after they have made bids within that of what level of meet they are going to host—but then they set the formats, the fees and everything else from there. So it really put a lot more emphasis on the clubs, and whether it be a coach-run program or a parent-run program, they were going to be responsible for coming-up with the meet formats and setting everything.
[George]: I think that is going to be one of the key take-aways from today, is that for conferences to work, coaches have to be willing to reassume the administrative role that had been in the past started with coaches then given away to lay people. We have to want to reassume that in order to make conferences work.
[Clayton]: It is really easy with Texas Senior Circuit, because we have had that set-up for years and it is just a lot of tweaking that goes along with what we want to do. But for the LSC, it was a big change for everybody, so you do that.
[inaudible questions from the audience]
[George]: So the question was: with Senior Circuit going on in Texas, are the LSCs still maintaining A, AA? No?
[inaudible comments from the audience]
[Clayton]: Yes, we are. One of the driving points that brought the change was: within the LSC there was no opportunity for the clubs to be able to host an invitational. You could not host an invitational on-top of another meet that was by the LSC; you could not get a sanction. So that was a reason why a lot of that came about. The conferences, once they broke up: yes they are trying to maintain entry-level meets, four-hour meets. Houston did not do the four-hour meet forever; they finally decided to put back-bone behind it and you had to have a four-hour meet for the 8&Unders and entry-level kids. So they are maintaining that. They are going to maintain Senior-level meets. We had one Senior-level meet; and it was the first meet of the year, three-session meet. It would last un-believably…. Now we have got two Senior meets in two different leagues, and everybody is getting to swim.
The association… we did maintain an association Senior championship and 14&Under championship. But after-that, all the teams are now able to come-up with their red white and blue championship—or whatever they want to call it—a Halloween invitational; and invite teams from outside the State or outside Houston to come in. That was part of the thing they wanted to: there was no outside-influence ever coming into Houston; it was just basically inbred the whole time, for the last 10-15 years.
[George]: And that was just due to the size of the meets.
[Clayton]: Yeah, they were just huge, so we could not let anybody else come in.
[George]: It feels like one of the big drivers of the conferences is entry-level competition, dealing with entry level formats. Paul, could you pick-up and sort of talk about what you are thinking about this year in your area for entry-level competitions.
[Paul]: Well, because we have so many teams, and close by, it just would make sense to have 8&Under meets. We started an 8&Under meet maybe eight years ago, that the teams love to come to but we would like to get more of them. Because, just like they said, you want it to be quick, you want to get them in-and-out, you do not need to make money off of it, and we keep it simple. But because we have so many teams—we have four teams with 450 kids in Raleigh alone—you know, it would be very easy to do something like that. But again, I am in a fortunate situation in North Carolina: the only thing the LSC does is the Age Group and the Senior championships; everything else, you can do whatever you want, whenever you want—pretty much.
[George]: Rick, do you want to talk about your novice efforts?
[Rick]: We have an LSC that has about a three-million-dollar bank account, okay; two million of it is used for travel. We have 150-some teams in the LSC; I would say about 120 of those teams never touch the travel fund. But they are paying into it—you do not have control over that. Your conference, if you create conferences of like needs, wants and ultimate ends, you are going to be able to determine where those moneys go to. It might be for an age-group clinic, because you are not at the level of program that is going to an Olympic Trials at this point. On the other hand, it might be a Senior program that is so dedicated to putting people on international teams that it will all go to travel. My point is: I do not think we realize we have a problem. I do not think a lot of coaches realize that the competitive model is broken. And I think part of the task here is to kind of point that out (or throw things at Paul).
[George]: Either will work. Clayton do you want to talk about what you are doing in novice meets?
[Clayton]: Yeah, it is very simple. We are coming in, we are doing 25s. We have gigantic summer-league programs in Houston. Just on the northern side alone, there are 3,000-4,000 summer-leagues swimmers in a 12-week program; and that just one side of Houston, there are other sides. So when we are getting these people coming in, they are so ingrained and it is so huge “summer league”—some of them actually never leave summer league they stay in it all their life because it is so big and fairly competitive. But when the younger ones come-in, they are used to that really kind of just in-and-out of their events, and that is what we try to do to keep them really coming in. And that means like 25s, or 50s at the most. And now we are even talking about, or they were talking about, having only two events and something else at one meet, and then two or three weeks later they will swim the other ones; and get those kids in there to do that. So they are really doing a lot of different things for novice kids to come in and try to… what I always refer to as bait and hook. So to get them having fun and coming-in and hopefully grab them; and even provide them with their own little championship meet at the end of the season.
[Steve]: One of the problems in our area, and I mentioned it before, is our meets tend to cap very early, especially in the Fall—we have got a lot of Fall swimmers in our area. You can train with a US team from September-December, but if you are going to be eligible for summer league then you have to stop on December 31st. So we get a big hunk of kids in the Fall. And these parents and these kids are used to… if their meets are on Wednesday night during summer league, they are used to coming in on Tuesday night and telling their coach what they are going to swim—or what they want to swim, and whether or not if they are available—and, boom, they are in the next night. And then we try to get them involved in our world, where a month before the meet they have to try to be on the computer to get their entries in so that they are able to enter the meet before it caps, because then it closes. And some meets close in an hour, some meets close in 24 hours; and the parents just are not used to thinking that far ahead.
So we are trying to give them a meet experience that is not going to be an all-day experience. But we can also be pretty flexible for them in terms of, you know: we are having a meet here Friday night; it is Wednesday night, yeah we will still take your entry. Because it is very informal in that respect.
We are also fortunate in Pacific Swimming, Pacific probably has a couple of million dollars in the bank. Our high-level athletes do not get funded anywhere near as much as these guys do, so they continue to bankroll it. But we pay a sanction fee, one sanction fee, but there is no cost-per-swimmer. But with the meet sizes, again: three teams of 30 kids-per-team, three events each; you know, it is not a whole bunch of money—they are missing $300 or $400. So that issue has not come up for us. But mainly it is the convenience for the younger kids: to able to get them in and get them hooked-into year-round swimming in as painless a way as possible.
[George]: Clayton, you were one of the guys that called me when I was V.P. [USA Swimming Technical Vice President], and said here are the problems with our LSC. And typically it seemed like it was oversubscribed meets, and getting real-close to championships and having to be at a meet eight hours in July. What were the typical issues in the Gulf LSC that sort of was driving this conference issue from your point of view?
[Clayton]: Well, as I said earlier, the real thing was, there was not the ability… the schedule was set pretty much on a three weeks cycle for Senior-level swimming and that was the way they wanted it. However, the real problem was coming-up that you could not host a meet outside of the schedule; and that was the main problem. And that was why Tim Bauer [head coach at The Woodlands] did a great job in hosting a meet during the Summer, where it was a Senior meet invitational. But because he was doing that outside of the schedule that was set for the Gulf, he could not invite any teams from the Gulf. So he had 8-10 teams coming-in from around the country, had a great meet, but none of us could be involved in it because there was another meet going-on the same weekend.
So this became the real reason as to why we wanted to set-up… and I think they still have some problems set forth in this schedule right now because you have the two different conferences. But at the same time, even for the Senior-level meets, you are there from 6:30 in the morning warm-up until 3:30 in the afternoon finishing-up relays, before you come back an hour later; it is just a taxing situation for any athlete in order to perform. So that was what they were really looking for: was to have some more control, setting the numbers, setting the standards they want to wanted to; just to being able to get in some high-quality racing.
[George]: So you pretty well set-up the absurdity that Rick was talking about, with a meet in your LSC that the LSC could not attend. So, Rick, do you want to talk about some of the issues that drove you. A year ago, you led a study on sort of the club situation in America. What do you see as the key issues with the LSCs right now? You are definitely a “replace the LSC” guy.
[Rick]: Yeah. Well, let us compare an NCAA conference. Talking about now a Senior championship—because that is just as broken as the other end of it. When we go to a Sectional Championship… which I have not gone to in the last two years because it is 4.5 days, it is 43 competition hours at the last Sectionals—that is the time you are actually at the pool competing. Versus the Pac-12 Conference championship, which is 18 hours of competition-time in 3 days. What is better for your athletes? There is no question what is better.
Would you not all love to have a conference that had a historical background, after a certain number of years, that had the energy-level of a conference college championship; and then move from that directly to your U.S. Nationals or U.S. Juniors. That, to me, is so much more appealing; and one of the biggest motivations was to be able to come-up with that kind of a structure: a conference that meant something to the kids. Sectionals means something to the kids, but the price is too high to pay for it. We went to Zones this year, thanks to John [McGough] running the Zone Senior Championship. I went there for one reason: because it had been so small in the past few years. And then of course, this year it was huge—it was a great meet, it really was.
But the second issues is, I hear all the time about: the cuts, the cuts, the cuts. Junior National cuts are almost Olympic Trial cuts: one second per 100—1.3 or something per 100 differential. So the gap between Sectionals and Junior Nationals is huge. Yet, you get to Sectionals and you have to have a Senior National cut to get a second swim in the finals. That is not good for most developmental programs. We need to have a conference set-up where maybe that line is substantially lower; and they get those second swims, it is more fun, it is more exciting, it is more team-oriented, and so on. So I think that championship issue is a big one.
[George]: That was one of the big things I heard: that the rungs were pretty even on the ladder, then you went to Sectionals and the rung suddenly got huge on the ladder.
[Rick]: Yeah… it is hard to cross the Grand Canyon in little steps; you have got to do it in one big jump and it is tough to do.
[George]: Steve, you set up two different conferences: you set-up one for your little kids and one for your Senior kids. It seemed like your Novice [conference] was based on geography, and your Senior was based on aspiration: trying to get like clubs going for like meets. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?
[Steve]: Well yeah. Again back at the entry-level, we have Walnut Creek involved with us, and then we have a team between us and Walnut Creek. There is 10 miles, 15 miles, between us and the Walnut Creek pool; so very-close proximity. Again we are trying to make it as convenient as possible, as painless as possible, to get those new kids and new parents standing-up on the blocks; because they are a little afraid of meets anyway, even if they are summer-league swimmers. In our area, there are so many summer-league swimmers that some of them have A teams and B teams; and the B teams never go to meets, they just practice (I have not figured that one out yet). But some kids will swim summer league all year long and they will never swim a meet; so we will get kids that have never been in a meet. So that one was all about being close-by and being convenient.
The top-end league was actually set-up—Tony Batis from Palo Alto was a huge driver in this—and it was just about high-level competition. Because we all look for things that are best for our program, so we were all travelling to different meets at different times to try to get a decent-level of competition for our high-level kids. So we just decided that when we started it, it is going to be two weekends in the Fall—well, actually two one-day meets in the Fall—one in late September, one in late October. And then do whatever you are going to do at Nationals and Juniors. And our Sectionals is the only Sectionals in the entire country that is in December, our short course Sectionals; so it was not really intrusive to any of us. But this was an opportunity for us to do this on two weekends and then do whatever we are going to do. And that is why we have our championships meet where all the teams come together, that is trials and finals, in January/February. So that was more about competition, at that end.
[George]: So early ages, convenience; upper ages, aspirations.
I ignored a hand…?
[audience member]: For Steve, about the one-day Senior-level meet, is it like a college format?
[Steve]: No, usually all events are offered. But, again, if you get 90 kids at a meet, 30 kids per team, it does not take a whole long time. Usually we are building-in breaks—two events and a break, two events and a break—because we do not want to get out before Noon, you know.
[audience]: It is just one Saturday.
[Steve]: Yeah, just one day, boom; Saturday or Sunday yeah. Another questions?
[John Leonard]: I was kind of going in a different direction, and was wondering what you think George. It struck me that on one hand we have got millions of dollars in the bank in the LSCs, and the other is they are both a different situation. I am not sure how much that money has to do with swimmers, coaches, etc., swimming in general. I am wondering if LSCs, as they are currently structured, are a historical anachronism leftover from the ‘50s; and if conferences are something, as George said earlier, that you joined by affiliations because they want to do similar things?
What if USA Swimming had national online registration and your club could register an affiliation with the conference; and the fraction of the money that currently goes back to your LSC, or stays in your LSC, could stay with the conference? It seems to me that a conference would make better-use of that fraction of the money than the LSC did, because everybody in that conference would be affiliating by design—in other words, there is something they want to accomplish. And I just wonder what the four of you think of that.
[Steve]: Well, I will tackle that one first. You know ours, our conference, is not cost-prohibitive; like I said, it is $25-$35 a kid. The championship meet is about the same, even though it is two days, trials-and-finals, so the pool cost is more expensive; but we have got all six or eight teams there. So it is not bad and that is one of the things we are trying to do. We are not getting any help out of the LSC. And (I know this is being recorded) in my LSC they would not be stepping-forward to share funds with a conference.
[George]: I think John’s question was: What if you were starting over? What if you had a choice as a club to either join your LSC or join a conference or a number of conferences? And then… the only thing that really needs to be done outside the coach’s desk is registration, which we know can be done online. So if you had a choice of joining an LSC or joining a conference or a number of conferences, or maybe even joining all three; and on the meets that your conference ran, your conference could retain sanction fees/splash fees/whatever, and your conference eventually built-up a treasury to be spent at the direction of the conference.
And so… I may be putting words in his mouth, what I think he said is: since everyone in your conference is sharing the same values and aspirations, could your conference more likely spend the money in a better way? When probably, with the four of you guys up here—I was just doing math in my head—it seemed like we had about seven or eight million in the bank, just as an endowment sitting here, right now. Was that words in your mouth?
[John]: Absolutely not.
[Clayton]: I kind of agree with you, John, on that. For a long time, I have looked at the LSCs, and just the structure and the way they are designed and how they are, and I am going: why do we only have 59? Because the population now is so much different than what they were when they were designed. And, like I say, within Houston, if you had conf-… I know that they, the LSC, would balk as well in what to do with the money and restructuring it. But I think it is a good point to look at, if you had conferences; but I kind of agree with Rick: there are some hurdles. You have got to go through USA Swimming, I believe, in order to make those changes and facilitate those changes. That would be pretty mind-blowing to a lot of people to see that take place. So…
[audience member]: Is that a bad thing?
[Clayton]: No, I don’t think it is; I think it is what USA Swimming needs just to see some things. Because when Rick was talking about the level of meets you are going to, you know one thing we tried to do is have… and I think George did, you had a junior circuit at one point in San Antonio, to try to accommodate kids who were not getting to the Sectional-level or younger kids and trying to do that. Because with our Sectionals, with our standards how fast they are now just for the short course, a 14/15 year-old boy trying to come-in to make standards that were set by college guys is just too tough. And you are losing them back to high school—not that that is a problem—but they are not moving-on in the direction they wanted to in their dreams and their aspirations. Because Sectionals has gotten so fast now, to be able to control the numbers to have high-quality swims. We have got it designed where we come in… what is it? 3-4 hour prelims, by the standards being set, so that we can have good finals at night. And plus now, long-course finals, because you can only qualify for Nationals for long course.
[George]: Rick, I think this is t-ball, and I think John put one on the T for you here.
[Rick]: In fact, I want to take it even a step further: I put down five solutions to make conferences, to overcome the hurdles to conferences. And one of those I wrote down was: provide the legal support necessary for conferences to get their equity-value out of existing funds that have been collected by the LSCs. That was saying: my team, your team, for 30 years, have paid into these travel funds, on the backs of our kids; that money is theirs. When a conference forms, if it is 11 teams, 6 of which belonged to that LSC, a share equivalent to those six teams should be drawn-out of that LSC’s general fund and given to the conference. That is crazy, never going to happen; but that is how I feel it should be done. And if USA Swimming would get behind the idea of conferences being the thing that is going to move us to another level, then they would be willing to create that legal arm to support it.
[George]: That is actually set-up in the rule book to happen now, in the event the LSC dissolves.
[Rick]: Right, yeah, that’s true; I had not thought of it. Then of course, again, going back to the college model, according to Wikipedia there are a 138 college conferences, not including JC [junior college] conferences—it is a lot more than I thought. There are only 28,000 registered swimmers [on college teams]. We have 230,000 registered swimmers and 59. There is too much concentration of that money in one spot for too many different types of programs.
[George]: Paul, you are on the committee that is taking a look at this. Tell everybody sort of what is going on with that, where you guys. You sent out a questionnaire: have you seen the results yet?
[Paul]: Yeah. First, before I go there, if I would. You know, you talked about forming conferences and different needs. David Marsh mentioned the other day that in North Carolina we came within one vote of the LSC abolishing the travel fund. Because there are some teams, like you said, that never get into it. And so the forming of conferences for me… I do not think we pay enough for our National-level athletes. You know, they have to put-in a lot; they have to go to other meets that are bigger to get the competition they need. So I would like to see something where I could get you know… more than likely it would be the bigger teams in North Carolina or, you know, pulling NOVA from Richmond [Virginia] or something like that, together so that we could develop that travel fund and spend it the way we want. Because I think we spend our money in places that probably are not wise.
[George]: The two biggest—across the country—LSC expenditures are: Convention and Zones.
[Paul]: Yeah; I mean we do lot of other stuff too. It is just not heading… I do not feel we are doing enough. When they were going to pull the travel fund, I stood-up and said: you know this is the one thing that we do that is for the athletes; it is putting money towards the athletes and you guys want to take it away. That was just crazy.
As far as the task force: they sent out surveys to coaches of all the Club Excellence teams, as well as LSC Boards of Directors; and got a pretty hefty response back from it. I am not sure that it… we are not at a point where we are ready to make recommendations, it was just collecting the data. And most of what that data talked about was the sanctioning process, and more the nuts-and-bolts of it—you know whether teams were following certain procedures and stuff like that. What I think was the impetus for starting that committee was to find a way for Nashville [Aquatic Club], Long Island [Aquatic Club] and the Cincinnati Marlins [note: these 3 teams are each in a different LSC] to have a meet on the same weekend as someone else, and the LSC is telling them no. This committee was trying to find a way to have a national sanction; say, alright the LSC wants to say no, here is the way you can go somewhere else. But before you did that you have to kind of find out: how big a problem is it in various areas of the country.
[George]: We have got about 4-5 minutes left, so maybe some of you guys that are out here, this would be a good chance to give some data—Steve you are in that committee also right?—to give them some input from your areas about what are the issues with the sanctioning, meet schedules, that sort of thing. So they can hear first-hand the issues, because next week they are going to have this discussion.
[audience member]: So I am in Santa Maria in Southern California [LSC], but I am far above the greater-LA area and fairly isolate. John’s with Clovis and sort of in the central part. So we are three hours away from Pacific, most of Southern California and Clovis. We do a Duel-in-the-Pool kind of thing where we have four teams that meet and have our own dual meets. We were going to invite a fifth team, but ran into an issue where in order to have a dual meet, we have to stay at four teams. If we try to add a fifth team, now we have got to have a certain number of officials in order to make it even happening—Admin Ref, six officials—and there is just a lot of roadblocks to having a meet. And then the same thing, we are trying out new ideas rather, but make sure they fit into the paradigm of what we have.
[George]: I would look at the closed-competition section of the rulebook, because your LSCs seems like they are violating it.
[Steve]: But they can limit it to four, can’t they? I think they can.
[George]: In the close competitions, I do not think you can limit it like that.
Was there a hand up in the back?
[audience member]: I think one of the things… I have talked about this with probably 20-40 coaches in the past 4-5 months. We have talked classification about this idea about… all about the idea of putting together a national form of sanctioning for conferences, and it would be part of that. USA Swimming is the one who needs to do it; politically, you are not going to get the LSC to want to. So what we need to do is have the national organization, USA, maybe sanction the conferences, like the NCAA would sanction say the Southwest Conference; have them sanction the conference and have teams go to a conference and go from there. And let the sanctioning of competitions and everything come from the national office. Basically the conferences would not be dealing with the LSCs. The LSCs could still exist, still do their thing; let the conferences exist and do their thing. Let USA Swimming give some legal support, so that they can get the right structures and protect the processes.
There are a lot of ways to get the conferences to fund themselves. When you talk about ten teams… there is going to be opportunities to fund those conferences, in business associations, etc.
[George]: So just for the sake of the tape recording, what you are recommending is: face the political reality that the Convention is made-up of nothing but LSC delegates, they are not going to vote themselves out. So look for a solution of both: where the LSCs continue to exist and do whatever—officials training and all that sort of thing—but the conferences would come into existence to do everything else.
[audience]: Maybe it would be possible to get the power for their sanctioning, their time standards, from the National.
[George]: Correct. John do I see your hand up.
[John]: Rick and Paul, you guys were on that committee regarding sanctions. Where I am confused, one of my questions is: why do we need a sanction, other than to make sure you meet USA Swimming rules so the times are all that matter? Do we not have the opportunity to have the market decide what meets exists? Where would that be a problem given the rules that exist?
[Steve]: Well right now, everything is structured through the LSC. And the LSC sets a schedule, and if you buck-up against that schedule then they do not like that and they can presumably say no. Having said that—and what was mentioned—one of the things we are talking about on the committee is an appeal process if you are denied a sanction for what you want to do. Whether it is five teams or our little thing that is the same weekend as another Senior meet. Maybe it is just… you start with your LSC, but if for whatever reason the LSC does not grant that, you appeal to the USA Swimming; and USA Swimming says wait, this fits the definition of a conference and we want to support that experiment so we are going to say yes, we are going to overrule the LSC. And maybe that is an even easier way to do it: start with your LSC, and then USA Swimming is going to come down and say, Pacific Swimming, sanction this; we’re saying it’s okay, so you get it done. So there USA Swimming is on our side.
[George]: So I think, again just hearing, I think you answered how and John asked why. I think John asked why.
[John]: If the conference is valid. In a meet that is committed to the rules, why does USA Swimming have to do a sanction at all?
[Steve]: Because that is the way the system is; that is the way the system is set-up. Whether you like it or not, that is the way it is set up. And that is exactly what we are trying to change.
[George]: Paul’s hand was up first; let’s go to Paul, Clayton, Rick.
[Paul]: (I will be short Rick, so you can get in there.) From what I am hearing, and again we do not have much of this in North Carolina as a problem, but it is that LSCs are just too provincial. They put-out a schedule that they are used to having for years and years. But the sport has changed: again 3,000 athletes, 25 years ago; 8,000 in North Carolina now. They are provincial. Some of them volunteer, and this is what they do and they want to be able to have some control of it. You can sit and dodge around that all you want, but that is what it is: they want to have some control.
And yet we are sitting here… I mean I was told that in Houston, I guess once, you did not even apply to a meet. They have like three meets or something on a weekend, and you would send your entries to the LSC and the LSC would send your entries out to the meets—or something on those lines. It is just nuts. The whole thing came-out because you need to be able to allow teams to have meets that meet their needs, and the LSCs need to get their nose out of it. Because I am hearing from all these teams, and I am like: it’s crazy.
[George]: So what I am hearing is that the LSCs are set-up to preserve the business models of certain teams and certain meets, whereas the conference would be set-up to meet the developmental models of certain clubs and their athletes.
[Paul]: With mutual interests, Rick.
[Rick]: Well, the need for the sanction, John—going back to that—is it does assure that the site meets the needs. And I think that is probably the safety issue and the brand issue: if the facility is inadequate, the sanction is denied. So perhaps there is a need for a sanction. However, I would even go so far—because I am of the nature—where the conference could take-on that liability and take on that risk, and I would not be opposed to that. I think the commissioner of each conference goes out and seeks the insurance policies they need, and puts it together.
[Clayton]: I was just going to say, you know you have sanctioned meets and you have non-sanctioned meets. And I think part of that is all insurance driven, for the most part, to make sure those teams that are hosting meets are covered under USA Swimming’s insurance policy. And I think that is the only reason we have a sanction in there.
[Paul]: That should be the only reason.
[Clayton]: It should be the only reason. And you are right, I think the team should have the right… and again that was the driving impetus as far as… for Houston was for them to have their own types of meets that they wanted to have. And it upset-the-apple-cart, but it is slowly working out. And what Paul was referring to was: even though we had the two conferences that broke-apart, the LSC still mandated and demanded that there would still be one weekend a month that would be Gulf, that other teams that were not necessarily getting to host meets had that opportunity to do that. So you have got the conference, you have got the LSC meets, and you have got the other ones.
So whether or not those teams… and I am sorry: meets are making money for most clubs. You can say it is not about making money, but it is about making money, bar none. I mean you have to do that for all the clubs to meet their expenses.
So, you know, I think the conference thing is a really good idea. What Bob was saying back there. I think if… but it is getting into it. And I have been going—you guys know as well as I—30 years to Convention and trying to… I have not seen much change. I have seen a lot of good changes, but I have not seen any changes within the LSCs, in the 30 years I have been going.
[George]: One more question from the floor, anybody? [No]
Rick, I am going to throw you the last one, since you said you were a slash-and-burn guy. If tomorrow you could choose to affiliate with a conference or an LSC, would you choose to affiliate with a conference if it meant walking away from the LSC money?
[Rick]: I will be honest with you because Bob Gillett put together a conference that was outstanding. They had teams lined-up, the process lined-up, the means for the members to determine what kind of meets they wanted, what kind of events to offer, the calendar; it was really well done. And there were about 6 or 7 teams in the Southern Cal [LSC], from north coast up, that felt the same way. Every one of us, including myself, walked-away from it knowing that our athletes would not be funded to go to Nationals and Trials and so on. And call it cowardice or whatever, it has to be addressed. We have to know that we are going to be able to… we cannot do something that is opposed to the interest of our kids.
[Paul]: You have to have a business model set-up to take care of the few good things the LSC is doing.
[George]: But it may take some time to build-up to that level.
[Rick]: That is why, again, it takes, John said it, from-the-top down we need to have a commitment to a conference structure. And once we know that is there, we will go out and raise our own money, the way Bob is saying, even if we are not seeded initially. But until we know it is going to go, it is pretty high-risk.
[George]: Well the LSC issue has always been the equivalent of social security: it has been the third rail of USA Swimming politics. So I want to thank everybody here for spending an hour sitting on the electric rail, and for the panelists for speaking on-the-record for us.
Thank you, very much.
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