USA Curling under fire from USOC

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 13, 2014 - 11:35 PM

A USOC plan aimed at bolstering underperforming elite teams also might push grass-roots tradition aside.

hide

U.S. curlers, from left, Debbie McCormick, Erika Brown, Ann Swisshelm and Jessica Schultz teamed up for a last-place Olympic finish.

Photo: File photo by CARLOS GONZALEZ • cgonzalez@startribune.com,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

After another last-place performance by American curlers at the Sochi Olympics, the U.S. Olympic Committee put USA Curling on notice.

In a letter sent last month, the USOC said it has “serious concerns” about USA Curling’s ability to meet its obligations as the national governing body for the sport, adding that it could cease funding or sever its ties with the group if it did not make specific changes.

One of those shifts — giving a chief executive full authority over the high-performance program, which oversees U.S. participation in international competition — will be voted upon Saturday at USA Curling’s spring meeting in Minneapolis. The USOC wants the organization to put greater emphasis on winning medals at the Olympics and world championships. That has generated controversy among some curlers who want to maintain the group’s traditional ways.

The United States has won only one Olympic medal in curling, a bronze by Bemidji’s Pete Fenson and his team at the 2006 Turin Games. The American men’s and women’s teams both have finished last at the past two Olympics, an outcome that USOC officials have called “unacceptable.”

The USOC wants USA Curling to adopt some methods that have made other countries successful. But some curlers worry that could eventually end one of its most cherished traditions: the ability for any self-formed team to win the right to compete at the Olympics or world championships.

The Minnesota Curling Association will vote in favor of the changes, with the backing of many of the state’s clubs. USA Curling President Jim Pleasants said he is “cautiously optimistic” the proposal will pass. Even if it does, the USOC has warned that might not be enough to prevent funding cuts or decertification of USA Curling as the sport’s national governing body (NGB).

“I worry greatly about losing NGB status if people misunderstand the stakes and the USOC loses confidence in us,” Pleasants said. “If we’re not willing to do the things we need to do as an NGB, we’re going to lose that status. In our sport, the world has become better, and we have to do some things differently.”

Question of fairness

USA Curling is run now by a 29-member board of directors. The new model — which is used by the national governing bodies of most Olympic sports — would give more decision-making power to a CEO, leaving the board to do long-range planning.

The board already has granted the high-performance staff broad authority, and a modification it made to selection procedures for the world championships has been particularly controversial. In the past, the winner of the national championships won the right to compete at worlds. This year, USA Curling debuted a system that gives the world berth to a team that finishes in the top three at nationals and has the most points in World Curling Tour events.

The idea was to ensure the U.S. representative at worlds had experience against top international teams. Though a team skipped by Nina Spatola won the women’s U.S. title last month, the runner-up — skipped by Allison Pottinger of Eden Prairie — got the spot at the world championships because of its points.

“That was seen by traditionalists as not being particularly fair,” said Kent Beadle, a member of the St. Paul Curling Club who sits on USA Curling’s board. “But the change accomplished a good deal of what was intended. It got more teams out playing more often against higher-quality competition.”

The high-performance staff also has proposed the creation of a pool of elite curlers who would receive most of the $680,000 it spends to fund athletes each year. The U.S. always has been represented at the Olympics and world championships by self-formed teams that earned their berths. Several of the world’s top curling countries now choose a group of athletes to fund and train full-time, then assemble teams from that pool to go to major competitions.

Mixed messages

Many of America’s best curlers — including two-time Olympic skip John Shuster of Duluth — reject that concept as undemocratic. USA Curling’s hybrid proposal would fund and train 20 athletes and create teams from that group. But those teams would have to compete at the national championships and defeat self-formed teams for the right to go to the Olympics or worlds.

Fenson thinks that model is a good compromise. “I think the middle-level competitive player will always have the chance to live out the dream of going to the Olympics,” he said. “With this plan, all they have to do is win. And the high-performance team still has to earn the right.”

Some USA Curling members, especially those opposed to the new selection system for the world championships, disagree with the changes and want the board to retain control. There has been talk of clubs seceding from USA Curling because of concerns that it will become too focused on the high-performance program.

Others contend that what is good for the high-performance side is good for curling in general. “I think everyone involved in the sport would like to see the U.S. be in contention for a medal, because it could generate an enormous amount of national interest,” Beadle said. “It’s been a divisive issue, but in the end, I think people will see that.”

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Atlanta 6 FINAL
Detroit 4
Philadelphia 3 FINAL
Houston 6
St. Louis 4 FINAL
Miami 1
Baltimore 3 FINAL
Tampa Bay 2
NY Yankees 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh 1
Chicago Cubs 6 FINAL
San Francisco 8
Los Angeles 6 FINAL
Chicago WSox 1
San Diego 4 FINAL
Seattle 9
Cleveland 9 FINAL
Cincinnati 3
Milwaukee 2 FINAL
LA Angels 3
Oakland 2 FINAL
Chicago Cubs 2
Texas 4 FINAL
Kansas City 5
Colorado 3 FINAL
Arizona 4
NY Mets 4 FINAL
Washington 5
Boston 8 FINAL
Minnesota 9
Toronto 0 FINAL
Baltimore 5
Oklahoma City 105 FINAL
Chicago 108
Dallas 75 FINAL
Portland 94
Calgary 4 FINAL(SO)
Boston 3
St. Louis 1 FINAL
Philadelphia 3
Minnesota 2 FINAL
Washington 1
Toronto 2 FINAL
Tampa Bay 4
Dallas 4 FINAL(SO)
Florida 3
NY Islanders 4 FINAL
Nashville 3
Vancouver 2 FINAL(SO)
Arizona 3
Montreal 3 FINAL(SO)
Los Angeles 4
Morgan State 76 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 89
Niagara 54 FINAL
Siena 71
Holy Cross 83 FINAL
Bucknell 90
Western Ky 88 FINAL
Charlotte 84
Navy 62 FINAL
Colgate 72
Temple 70 FINAL
East Carolina 56
UAB 59 FINAL
Fla Atlantic 62
Boston Univ 64 FINAL
Lafayette 89
American Univ 68 FINAL
Lehigh 62
Wisconsin 76 FINAL
Minnesota 63
Fairfield 33 FINAL
Saint Peters 63
Arkansas 78 FINAL
South Carolina 74
Morehead State 76 FINAL
UT Martin 65
USC Upstate 63 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 62
Lipscomb 57 FINAL
North Florida 71
Southern Ill 55 FINAL
Missouri State 48
Texas State 64 FINAL
Appalachian St 67
SC State 62 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 72
Delaware State 104 FINAL
Coppin State 92
Middle Tennessee 54 FINAL
FIU 59
Texas-Arlington 64 FINAL
Ga Southern 76
Norfolk State 80 FINAL
Hampton 69
NC A&T 58 FINAL
NC Central 69
Savannah State 57 FINAL
Florida A&M 64
Southern Miss 61 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 72
Marshall 50 FINAL
Old Dominion 67
Rice 76 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 74
South Alabama 81 FINAL
Arkansas State 76
Alabama State 78 FINAL
Grambling St 46
Alabama A&M 54 FINAL
Jackson State 72
Sam Houston St 67 FINAL
Lamar 61
Georgia State 58 FINAL
ULM 50
Central Arkansas 70 FINAL
Nicholls 77
Portland State 51 FINAL
Northern Ariz 58
Southern U 77 FINAL
Prairie View 73
Alcorn State 73 FINAL
Texas Southern 94
Houston Baptist 72 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 85
Ark-Little Rock 69 FINAL
Louisiana 75
SE Louisiana 79 FINAL
New Orleans 85
California 60 FINAL
Arizona 99
Memphis 54 FINAL
Connecticut 53
VA Commonwealth 55 FINAL
Davidson 82
Ark-Pine Bluff 0 Postponed
Miss Valley St 0
Sacramento St 65 FINAL
Southern Utah 69
Northwestern St 66 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 92
North Texas 60 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 83
Colorado 64 FINAL
Washington 47
Idaho 63 FINAL
Weber State 74
Abilene Christian 52 FINAL
Incarnate Word 64
Eastern Wash 85 FINAL
Idaho State 81
Marist 80 FINAL
Quinnipiac 74
Eastern Ill 64 FINAL
Belmont 97
Bradley 52 FINAL
Drake 50
Cal State Fullerton 62 FINAL
UC Irvine 68
CS-Northridge 58 FINAL
Long Beach State 69
UC Riverside 59 FINAL
UC Davis 61
Stanford 62 FINAL
Arizona State 67
Utah 67 FINAL
Washington St 59
Monmouth 68 FINAL
Canisius 56
Wake Forest 85 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 79
Saint Louis 65 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 58
Saint Peters 62 FINAL
Rider 54
UNC-Asheville 51 FINAL
Liberty 59
UNC Greensboro 44 FINAL
(17) Chattanooga 78
Michigan State 69 FINAL
Michigan 49
Arkansas 72 FINAL
Ole Miss 61
Manhattan 51 FINAL
Niagara 57
Massachusetts 63 FINAL
Richmond 67
Virginia 52 FINAL
Miami-Florida 62
Jacksonville St 45 FINAL
Belmont 55
Morgan State 65 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 50
Campbell 65 FINAL
Winthrop 52
Furman 65 FINAL
Samford 54
Oregon 64 FINAL
Washington St 66
Indiana 52 FINAL
(23) Rutgers 63
Pepperdine 67 FINAL
Loyola Marymount 68
Auburn 47 FINAL
(18) Texas A&M 57
Morehead St 66 FINAL
Tennessee St 81
George Mason 43 FINAL
Saint Josephs 71
Western Carolina 53 FINAL
East Tenn St 73
Arizona 62 FINAL
UCLA 80
FIU 30 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 79
Texas State 55 FINAL
Appalachian St 61
TX-Arlington 66 FINAL
Georgia Southern 41
SC State 57 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 56
Delaware State 51 FINAL
Coppin State 80
Portland 58 FINAL
Santa Clara 66
Norfolk State 49 FINAL
Hampton 64
Florida Atlantic 56 FINAL
UAB 59
NC A&T 67 FINAL
NC Central 46
Savannah State 72 FINAL
Florida A&M 51
Virginia Tech 51 FINAL
Pittsburgh 45
Central Arkansas 43 FINAL
Nicholls 53
Houston Baptist 48 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 73
Gardner-Webb 70 FINAL
Radford 56
Georgia 75 FINAL
Missouri 64
Old Dominion 67 FINAL
Marshall 55
Ark-Little Rock 68 FINAL
Louisiana 66
South Alabama 60 FINAL
Arkansas State 70
Georgia State 66 FINAL
ULM 61
Sam Houston St 73 FINAL
Lamar 92
SE Louisiana 75 FINAL
New Orleans 84
Northwestern St 45 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 56
Alabama A&M 58 FINAL
Jackson State 66
Alabama State 68 FINAL
Grambling 62
Southern U 78 FINAL
Prairie View 50
Alcorn State 55 FINAL
Texas Southern 73
Ark-Pine Bluff 0 Postponed
Miss Valley St 0
Wofford 54 FINAL
Mercer 75
Abilene Christian 72 FINAL
Incarnate Word 62
La Salle 60 FINAL
Rhode Island 65
Illinois 71 FINAL
Nebraska 86
TX-San Antonio 60 FINAL
Rice 49
Valparaiso 55 FINAL
Oakland 70
Missouri State 65 FINAL
Indiana State 56
Georgia Tech 64 FINAL
(15) North Carolina 84
Charlotte 72 FINAL
Western Ky 80
Texas-El Paso 69 FINAL
North Texas 61
Wichita State 77 FINAL
Evansville 63
Loyola-Chicago 64 FINAL
Northern Iowa 69
Bradley 70 FINAL
Drake 86
Presbyterian 62 FINAL
High Point 75
Vanderbilt 61 FINAL
(12) Kentucky 67
Colorado 75 FINAL
USC 63
San Francisco 74 FINAL
Pacific 64
Idaho State 58 FINAL
Eastern Washington 62
Weber State 42 FINAL
Idaho 71
Purdue 78 FINAL
Minnesota 82
Cal-Irvine 54 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 66
Long Beach St 60 FINAL
CS-Northridge 77
Hawaii 60 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 36
UC Davis 56 FINAL
UC-Riverside 61
Northern Ariz 79 FINAL
Portland State 62
Southern Utah 73 FINAL
Sacramento St 107
Utah 64 FINAL
Washington 75
BYU 65 FINAL
St Marys-CA 64

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is doing the best job coaching a Minnesota pro sports team?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close