Tag: Patrick Lynch

THEORY OF PERVERSE INCENTIVES IN RUNNING

When applied to American politics the theory of Perverse Incentives shows how gerrymandering congressional districts has led to gridlock rather than problem-solving – ostensibly the purpose of Congress – because gerrymandering incentivizes congress people NOT to work with the opposition party.  When applied to today’s running world, the theory of Perverse Incentives shows how the focus on the individual-event management, while improving the quality of events, has constricted the potential growth and development of The Sport, which would necessitate a unity of purpose across multiple event platforms.

What can you do?
Perfect Storm?

Today, a decade and a half into the 21st century, The Sport of racing has been subsumed by The Activity of jogging.  The tail, we might say, is wagging the dog.  And regardless of what Lord Sebastian Coe, the embattled IAAF president told viewers on the Standard Charter Dubai Marathon telecast recently — “when people see elite performances you can see how it pulls them into competition. It’s almost a perfect storm” — the opposite, in fact, is true.

There has been a total break between the front of the pack and the back of the pack. There is an almost complete lack of interest in the sport of foot racing by the experiential runners, much less by the general sports fans. And now with the devastating accounts of drug abuse and institutional corruption haunting the IAAF, the sport is in even more desperate condition than ever.

“Fast times once meant something,” says Patrick Lynch former elite athlete coordinator for the Boston Marathon and long-time observer of the sport. “There used to be a slew of running writers who could contextualize those times, people like Bert Rosenthal of Associated Press, Joe Concannon of the Boston Globe, Neil Amdur of the New York Times, Dick Patrick at USA Today. They’re all gone now. There are no running beat writers left anymore in the mainstream press.

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2012 Honolulu Marathon with Mark Wetmore (Mr. Green), Pat Lynch (Mr. Blue) across from Hono race director Jon Cross and Moi (Messrs. White).

“Just as the three-point line came in to play through the American Basketball Association to differentiate it from the established NBA – along with the red, white, and blue ball – when the NBA absorbed the ABA, NBA executives saw that their same old brand of basketball needed to adapt to grow.  In the same sense running has become stagnant, well past due for a change. Events are successful but their races are not.”

Though he built the elite fields at the Boston Marathon from 1986 to 2012,  and before that was very active in the Boston running community, Pat Lynch has always cultivated an opaque public persona (you can’t even find a picture of him on Google!).  That he is willing to speak openly now only underscores the seriousness of the case he makes. (more…)

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SAME AS IT EVER WAS

     As we approach this weekend’s USATF Indoor Track & Field Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico, once again we find the advance stories focusing as much on the politics of the sport as on the competition itself.  The wedge issue currently roiling the sport – as it has since the USATF annual convention in St. Louis last December – is over the number of sponsorship logos athletes can display on their competition singlets, the size of those logos, and at which competitions those regulations will be fully enforced by USATF, the sport’s governing body.

According to stated USATF rules, which follow international IAAF regulations, an athlete can only display two commercial logos or one club logo and one commercial logo.  But as reported today on LetsRun.com, in a nod to athlete demands, USATF has agreed to allow athletes with a club logo to have two commercial logos on display, as well. For their part, athletes want the right to display one club and three commercial logos.

Regardless, while USATF and the athletes go back and forth over number, size, and where the uniform rules will be enforced, the USATF Board’s legal counsel Larry James wrote a memo to the Board stating his concern that any deviation from the stated rules might be seen by Nike – sponsor for the USATF Indoor and Outdoor National Championships  – as reducing the value of its own contract with USATF, and thereby, under the terms of that contract, would allow Nike to pay a lesser amount to USATF for its own visibility.  And since more athlete logos appearing on athletes’ singlets might thus be interpreted as a reduction in value by Nike, USATF is forced to implement its uniform restrictions, irrespective of the gentleman’s agreement they came to in St. Louis with athlete legal counsel David Greifinger to hold off on the implementation at domestic events.

You can read the whole account on LetsRun.com, but the bottom line according to David Greifinger (the former legal counsel to USATF, by the way) is, as currently worded Nike can argue anything reduces the value of its contract. “Taken to its logical extreme, Nike would have veto power over the composition of USATF’s Board and committees, USATF’s Bylaws, Regulations, and Competition Rules, and all matters pertaining to competitions and athletes’ rights.”

That a kerfuffle like this is still taking place 34 years after the institution of USATF as governing body for track & field, road racing, youth running, masters running, trail running, race walking is evidence enough of the limitations of the institution.  However, history, too, may be instructive for the current situation. (more…)