If ACF wants to succeed, it must compete for the hearts of the cricketers through execution and through implementation of its own vision. There are simply no short cuts to lasting change.
By Venu Palaparthi
In Part 1 and Part 2 of my series, I reviewed ACF's constitution. In Part 3, I wrote that, since at least 2002, USACA has repeatedly promised the world and delivered an atlas. I also explained why I feel that things have pretty much bottomed out for USACA. In this final part, I plan to explore the ICC angle and also attempt to compare ACF with similar efforts in the past. I also plan to analyze the impact of competitive rivalry in sport.
Why doesn't the ICC act?
What does recognition by ICC bring to the table? Why does the ICC not set the house in order in the US? These are questions that need to be fully explored because in the minds of many, a large portion of USACA's credibility is derived from its recognition by the ICC.
I will attempt to answer the second question first. Why does the ICC not set the house in order in the US? Does it not know that things have gotten out of control?
Firstly, things have not yet risen to a level of seriousness that warrants the ICC's intervention. According to my sources, the ICC knows about the ACF and it also knows of the complaints emanating from the election. However, ACF is too new and there are complaints surrounding every election. Also, from purely an outsider's perspective, it is too early to predict whether ACF means business.
Secondly, the ICC has nobody on the ground here, and has to rely on information it receives from the national governing body, i.e. USACA. Once again, from an outsider's perspective, if all of your interactions are with USACA and the information is sourced from them, then you are likely to believe that the suspended leagues were all delinquent and non-compliant.
Thirdly, just like God, the ICC cannot answer every member's prayers. After all, there are rumblings and gripes in every member country, so the ICC must essentially have a natural filtering mechanism.
Fourthly, it might also be a case of once bitten, twice shy. The ICC has not been particularly successful in the past when it intervened in USA's affairs. ICC's Project USA in 2004 and the events surrounding the 2007 reconciliation are cases in point, something I will explore in just a bit.
Finally, New Zealand Cricket has a skin in the game here as USACA's partner in Cricket Holdings America LLC (CHALLC). Naturally, NZC would like for CHALLC to succeed and would want to avoid upsetting USACA. The ICC therefore cannot be blamed to prefer the laissez faire approach.
Pic (Right): Too early for ICC to intervene. File photo of Sir Julian Hunte - President of WICB, Chris Dehring - Independent Third Party, Derek Jones - Attorney and Member of the Constitution Committee at the 2008 USACA election
As things develop, the ICC might gently suggest to USACA to work with ACF in the interest of the game, something it has done in the past. The most extreme step that ICC can take, suspending USACA or withholding funding, is not something even the ACF will wish for. It will undoubtedly affect American players and also create headaches for ICC by disrupting the WCL eco-system.
For ACF, all of this should come as no surprise. Members of the various ACF's committees are keenly aware of the ICC's predicament. ACF's only option at the moment is to continue their work and draw ICC's attention to actual accomplishments instead of their gripes. For USACA, the topic is bound to come up in their conversations with the ICC, but I doubt that things will get too unpleasant given that the stakes in CHALLC are high and the stakeholders, including NZC, have some influence over ICC's agenda.
Can ACF survive without the ICC's recognition?
For 2013, the ICC's membership grant to an associate country is $100,000 (click on the picture to read how ICC's funding works). In addition, 'Scorecard' grants, totalling $220,000 are in the pipeline for USACA. These scorecard grants are primarily determined by men's performance (35% weight); senior, youth and women's participation (collectively 41%); and non-ICC income (10%). The remaining 14% is determined by number of coaches, umpires, employees and grounds. These are not earth-shattering amounts for a country as expansive (and expensive) as the United States.
As I wrote here following the Dallas AGM in 2010, a big chunk of the ICC money is spent by USACA on participating in domestic and international tournaments ($388K in 2009). Another $272K was spent for administration in 2009. Things are not going to be any different in 2013, especially with all the lawsuits that are in progress. Just to give you an idea, $5K or less than 1% was spent on development of cricket in 2009. Domestic tournaments have been few and far between since 2011 and none have been announced for 2013.
A majority of the clubs and leagues gain nothing today from USACA and will lose nothing if they break away from USACA. There is no trickledown effect from ICC grants. Yes, USACA announced a league administrative grant of $2000 for 'compliant' leagues, but everyone saw it for the 'thank you' that it was because only 15 leagues were eligible. Besides, the cost differential for league membership between USACA and ACF handily exceeds USACA's dole.
If you have grand visions of the breakaway ACF causing a huge dent in USACA's scorecard metrics and therefore grants, think again. ACF won't cripple USACA. According to ICC, the difference between a Category C performer and Category D performer is just $30K. Once again, not a huge amount.
ACF's only option is to focus on becoming self-sufficient and building a strong financial foundation based on membership fees, grants and sponsorships, especially sponsorships. For a sport where a majority of sponsors are US-based, USACA has not expended much effort on enlisting sponsors for its national tournaments.
How about the players? Is there no impact on them?
From a player's perspective, not being a USACA member definitely affects the top rung of the pyramid - those players who play for USA or hope to represent USA in ICC events. It is not inconceivable that USACA will threaten sanctions on those players or coaches who are seen to be close to ACF.
Over time, I fully expect that these players will gravitate towards leagues in their region that are already affiliated with USACA. If they are in a region where there is only one league, then the player's club may join USACA as an affiliate member. Both these options will enable the player to comply with USACA's membership requirements.
Before you jump to the conclusion that ACF is handicapped from the start, I think that ACF should look at this as an opportunity to win the players' hearts. USACA has not had a stellar record on selection matters and politics has played an oversized role in selection. Most regions have not had inter-league tournaments and there have not been any domestic tournaments in some years. As for women's and youth cricket, USACA has so far done very little for them. For all these reasons, most USA cricketers have long ago reconciled themselves to the fact that they are not going to be playing meaningful cricket beyond the league-level. Even those players who hoped to play in CHALLC's T20 professional league have had to recalibrate their expectations after CHALLC said it plans to import a majority of the players.
If ACF can create a better path for the players, it will surely gain traction.
American sports experts are also perplexed by the outsized importance placed on ICC by this country's cricket playing community. Major American sports such as basketball, baseball, soccer and football are actually focused on maximizing their potential among the American audience and growing that audience. None of them rely purely on international fixtures, international acceptance or an international ladder for their growth.
Pic (Right): The fact that major American sports take a US-centric view of the world is often ridiculed, but that has not affected popularity or prospects of these sports. Picture courtesy - OMG Facts.
I am not advocating that cricket should isolate itself like some of the other American sports, but it is undeniable that cricket is presently low on confidence when compared to the other sports. Under ACF, cricket needs to develop the more self-reliant attitude of other American sports. And there is plenty of evidence that it can be done.
What of the windfall gains from CHALLC?
It has been nearly two years since leagues were invited to townhall meetings to discuss how the windfall gains from CHALLC should be invested. Based on what has been reported in the press, CHALLC will not roll out its T20 league until 2014. There is uncertainty surrounding when the license fee payments to USACA, roughly $2 million per annum, will begin. It is also not known when Top Bloom will complete the planned purchase of the additional shares in CHALLC, USACA is said to be in line for $3 million from those proceeds.
What we do know is that, as of December 2011, USACA has borrowed over $1.87 million from Insite and Top Bloom. In its independent audit report, USACA's auditor PKF O'Connor Davies noted that USACA "has suffered recurring excesses of expenditures over revenues and has a deficiency in net assets of $1,899,368 as of December 31, 2011."
From Mark Mascarenhas' Time Out deal to Centrex, from Disney to ProCricket, from NACL to CHALLC, this is the one lesson that the entire USA cricket community must learn. Let us count the eggs if we must, but let us also wait for the chickens to hatch!
Pic (Right): Mark Mascarenhas told Rediff: "Billy Packer, my partner, and I put $ 500,000 into cricket in America and have had no returns." That was on May 22, 2000.
Each year, all leagues, both old and new, will need to review their options and do what is in the best interest of their constituents, based on the potential for cricket's development. The decision on whether to join the ACF will depend on what they know now and what their recent experiences have been in the hands of USACA. If USACA's financial situation gets better or if governance improves, or if ACF underwhelms, leagues will undoubtedly reconsider their options and do what is right based.
Is ACF different from past efforts to build alternatives such as USCF, CLP, MLC et. al.?
USACA, formed in 1961, was neither the first nor only attempt at creating a national association for cricket. USA cricket has seen many initiatives to create 'national associations' and there will be many more in the future too. The Cricketers Association of the United States was formed in 1877. The Associated Clubs as well as the Inter-collegiate Cricket Association were formed in 1895. That should tell you something.
For cricket to realize its potential, it needs an environment that is conducive for its growth. If any of the aforementioned organizations had succeeded in created such an environment, we would neither have USACA nor would I be writing this article today about ACF.
It is true that US Cricket Federation (USCF), ICC's Project USA, USACA's Council of League Presidents (CLP), Major League Cricket had the right intentions, but none succeeded in bringing about true and permanent changes. USCF merged with USACA after ICC despatched Sir Julian Hunte to persuade the two organizations to negotiate. ICC's own Project USA was suspended in 2005, after the relationship between the ICC and USACA deteriorated. Legal actions by USACA scuttled the CLP around the middle of the last decade. ICC's capitulation to USACA in 2006 grounded the MLC.
The common theme here is not ICC's eagerness to bring about a truce or USACA's rigidity. At each of these negotiations, USACA promised to change its ways, and it actually changed its ways in many instances. One might argue that what was needed was surgery and what we got was a bandage job. But these efforts were not entirely wasted.
In March of 2005, in the aftermath of the suspension of ICC's Project USA, the program's CEO Gary Hopkins (picture at right) had this to say about USACA. His observations are as relevant today as they were then: "The current perception around the world is of an organisation out of control and riddled with incompetence and petty politics. Whether this is correct or not, this is the perception. This I would think needs fixing. Hopefully a correctly run, transparent and fully inclusive election will go a way towards this."
While some think USACA has an agenda of hostility and that its leadership is corrupt, I disagree with that view. I would characterize USACA as an organization that has not articulated its vision, not been able to implement its promises, not been able to strike the right chords, and lost the trust of its membership as a result.
If ACF wishes to bring about lasting changes, it must be prepared for the long haul. It must also stay clear of any legal confrontations or premature negotiations with USACA. And ACF should not assume that it will receive ICC's support. If it wants to succeed, it must compete for the hearts of the cricketers through execution and through implementation of its own vision. There are simply no short cuts to lasting change.
Won't this battle hinder cricket's growth?
Like many who have invested a lot of time and money in USA cricket, I am acutely aware of the repurcussions of this battle. At DreamCricket, we do everything we can to unfragment the game, so cricketers can feel proud to be part of one community. Yes, the outlook is not pretty. But I am not too distraught.
Splits in sport are not unheard of in the US, whether it is among organizations that oversee amateur sports (as is the case with USACA and ACF), or among those that oversee semi-pro or professional sports, where the stakes are higher and the smell of money is intense. And yet, organizations eventually figure out a way to work together, and everyone - fans, players, stakeholders - they all come out stronger in the end. In case you don't believe me, here are some examples.
Basketball: In 1967, a bunch of businessmen banded together and formed the American Basketball Association. In 1970, faced with the loss of players and officials, the National Basketball Association's board voted 13-4 to work toward a merger.
After the 1970-71 season Basketball Weekly wrote, "The American basketball public is clamoring for a merger. So are the NBA and ABA owners, the two commissioners, and every college coach. The war is over. The Armistice will be signed soon." The combined NBA was stronger, benefited from the ABA's faster pace of play and the players' salaries increased as a result of the competition.
Football: The upstart American Football League (AFL) fired its opening salvo in 1960 by signing 75% of NFL first round draft picks that year. From the beginning, the AFL focused on more offense oriented rules and a generous ABC contract. The leagues agreed to a merger in 1966 and the concept of a championship game called the Super Bowl was first mooted by the AFL then.
Baseball: The National League (NL) experienced competition from the American Association, which began to play in 1882. The American Association focused on making the game more accessible organizing Sunday games, obtaining alcohol permits at the grounds and slashing the gate fee by 50%. This was enough to cause the National League to shrink 25% by 1900. That year, the NL had to fold teams in Baltimore, Cleveland, Louisville and Washington. The same year, the newly formed American League (AL) opened for business with these four cities as its initial franchisees. By 1903, the AL went head to head with the NL in the cities of Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. The NL was in no mood to recognize the AL, but by 1903, economics dictated that each league be accepted by the other as an equal partner in Major League Baseball and strike an alliance.
Soccer: In 1958, the American Soccer League paid USSFA $25 per club for the rights to start a professional league. In 1966, three powerful men drew up plans for soccer leagues in the aftermath of a massively successful World Cup which was televised on NBC. Seeing dollar signs, USSFA jacked up the prices to $25,000 per club. ASL's rights were revoked and the United Soccer Association obtained the rights. Sports entrepreneur and former Philadelphia Phillies owner Bill Cox pulled together several prominent baseball and football club owners and formed the National Professional Soccer League. Branded an outlaw league, the NPSL took a top-down approach, recruited players from Europe and signed a network TV deal with CBS for $1million. By the end of the year, the NPSL and United Soccer Association leagues merged at the request of FIFA, which led to the birth of the North American Soccer League.
Rugby League: This is the most recent instance of a division in USA. Here is how the story goes - the American National Rugby League (AMNRL), led by David Niu, is the internationally recognized governing body for rugby in the US. In January 2011, seeking a more democratic set-up, nine AMNRL teams split away to form a new league, the USA Rugby League (USARL).
Although the strongest players were with USARL, the trump card of recognition by the international federation was held by AMNRL. Two years later, the rugby league community still hopes for a merger, but reconcilation attempts have not succeeded.
Conclusion: Right now, USACA is a limping horse with one strong leg (ICC recognition), one wobbly leg that everyone hopes will get stronger (CHALLC), and two broken legs (poor governance and league distrust), and a new jockey (Darren Beazley).
ACF is an ambitious young foal that has just barely begun to walk. With league support and coaching, and if it gets the right management, it could turn into a race horse. Until it learns to run, ACF is better off focusing on developing its own strengths instead of thinking about the other horses in the race, the length of the race or whether it will be recognized by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.
As for the leagues, this country's cricket history and the leagues' own experiences will undoubtedly weight heavily on whether or not they ought to accept ACF's invitation for membership. As I wrote in Part 3, there is no doubt in my mind that ACF will attract members. But membership is only a means to an end. The end goal for ACF is to provide services to members and to develop cricket. If it shows progress in these areas, it will attract even more members. If USACA makes amends because of competition from ACF, then that too will be a measure of ACF's success.
[Disclaimer: The author is a co-founder of DreamCricket Academy, which is a former associate member of USACA (now a USACA member-in-waiting for over six months); a former representative of CLNJ on USACA's Atlantic Region board (CLNJ, which is NJ's largest league, was disqualified by USACA in 2012); and an administrator of CLNJ-Youth, the largest youth cricket program in the state of New Jersey. He also served as CLNJ's delegate to the ACF when ACF was not yet incorporated. However, the opinions expressed are his own and should not be viewed as CLNJ's or DreamCricket Academy's inputs.]