Cricket's national governing body must be willing to create a large community of players, administrators, fans and followers. Is ACF willing to go the extra mile and does its constitution permit that?
By Venu Palaparthi
In Part One of this series on ACF's draft constitution, I analyzed whether the ACF constitution would have been more effective in the context of the many issues we have experienced since 2011. My conclusion was that it had adequate safeguards and was generally well thought out.
An organization surely cannot exist to right the wrongs of another. I am going to quote verbatim from Mike Thomas' article from June 11, 2012, titled "Suggestions for those that would rule, reform or replace," a brilliant piece that influenced ACF during its early days. I know first-hand because I participated in some of those early discussions as a representative of the Cricket League of New Jersey, let there be no mystery to that. My league had been disqualified and our appeal was turned down. It was not the best of times.
That is when Mike's piece appeared on DreamCricket. "Frustration, disgust and a sense of helplessness are powerful disincentives to commitment," he wrote in his piece. "Get the Constitution right to start with, preferably both decentralized and with strong independent oversight of the Executive." Then, Mike wrote, "win the hearts and minds of all cricket constituencies – by effort, achievement and providing service."
But how successful was ACF in making that its own vision? This is precisely what I want to explore today in Part Two.
Importance of winning hearts and minds
Let me first illustrate the importance of winning the hearts and minds with the story of a town nearer home called Edison, N.J. Now, Edison is known to have 'America’s liveliest Little India' according to The New York Times.
Several Edison schools have cricket grounds. The town has 400 Indian businesses and Indians make up roughly 25 percent of the population. The Oak Tree Road area wore a festive look during the 2011 ICC World Cup. Not one, but two radio stations broadcast cricket talk shows into this town. TV Asia, the only cable broadcaster of domestic cricket, is based here. Edison is also the home of the Edison Cricket Club - a club which is visited by cricketing legends and dignitaries each year. Its members include U.S. Congressman Frank Pallone and N.J. Deputy Speaker Upendra Chivukula.
I am certain Edison contributes a sum north of $1 million to the cricketing eco-system. The town easily accounts for a few thousand Willow or Neo subscribers, and per capita, residents play or watch more cricket than any other town in the country.
Yes, Cricket is part of Edison’s DNA. In my estimate, just this one town could provide enough funds to match USA cricket's 2011 development spend.
But Edison, whose cricketing interest has been the subject of articles in magazines ranging from SPAN to ESPN, might as well be on another planet when it comes to USACA. USACA neither offers individual memberships nor grants voting privileges to clubs, so the town’s large base of cricket fans does not count at all.
Pic (Right): U.S. Congressman Frank Pallone is welcome at Edison Cricket Club. But he may not become a member of USACA, even if he wanted to.
Edison is not alone. In towns across the USA, there are hundreds of thousands of cricket fans and followers, hundreds of teams and clubs, and dozens of leagues which could contribute to the game’s growth.
I am not suggesting at all that USA cricket be limited to immigrants. I am asking that USA cricket places reliance on their love and devotion for the game as a solid foundation on which to build cricket. Other sports including soccer have done it, why not cricket?
For that to happen, the national governing body must be willing to create a large community of players, administrators, fans and followers. Is ACF willing to go the extra mile and does its constitution permit that?
The answer is a resounding Yes!
Everyone is welcome
Article 3 ("Membership") of ACF's constitution is an open embrace - "Membership in the Federation shall be open to: (a) Any youth player, adult player, coach, trainer, manager, administrator, official, fan or other individual active or interested in the sport of cricket. (b) Any affiliated sports organization or amateur sports organization."
This is similar to other world class sports organizations. Here is an excerpt from the Membership section of the bylaws for USA Baseball: “Any individual or sports organization active in baseball, or any individual or sports organization interested in the advancement of baseball in the United States and throughout the world.” USA Baseball specifically states that Board approval is not necessary for this class of members.
In comparison, membership in the USACA constitution’s membership section is somewhat exclusive - "Membership in USACA is open to all organized cricket leagues, clubs, colleges and universities, with a verifiable membership base of at least fifteen members."
A by-product of this exclusivity is that USACA has fewer members.
Also, when you have an organization that is accountable only to a dozen members, you don’t have to worry about discussion or debate. Organizations that have fewer members can quell what little disagreement they encounter through patronage or handouts to a carefully selected few. On the other hand, openness brings with it transparency and broader participation makes for a more effective democracy.
And a vote for all
While continuing to provide a strong voice to the leagues (7 votes on the Board and 3 on the Advisory and Judicial Committee), ACF balances that by providing a direct voice to clubs and individuals (3 votes on the Board and 8 votes on the Advisory and Judicial Committee). Add to that the presence of an independent director, and ACF ends up with each constituency getting a voice while also ensuring that nobody has absolute power.
Combined with better member communications, this could also serve to energize individuals and clubs, especially those that want a more active role.
Another area where ACF blazes a fresh trail is that it recognizes softball, tapeball or heavy tennis ball cricket as a bona fide form of cricket. Most youth cricketers start with a softball or heavy tennis ball before they graduate to the leather ball. A foam filled ball is the best way to introduce a newbie to the game.
Softball cricket accounts for a large portion of the cricket played in this country. Softball leagues and hardball leagues have synergistic relations in cities across USA - grounds are often shared and players cross over from one format to the other. At the purely recreational end of the spectrum, community and charitable organizations frequently organize cricket camps or tournaments where the heavy tennis ball is used. This format is thought to be more inviting and user-friendly.
By welcoming softball, tapeball or heavy tennis ball leagues and ensuring representation for them, the Federation allows itself a larger base on which to draw.
However, the softball phenomenon will need to be carefully managed. Firstly, softball leagues are likely to be intolerant of unfair treatment. So the provision of one representative for softball format on the Board and one representative on the Judicial Committee may need to be reviewed once the floodgates open and ACF's membership drive yields a sizable number of softball leagues.
On the other hand, the inevitable clamour for representation by softball leagues must necessarily be seen alongside the undisputable fact that hardball cricket is still the highest form of the game. These are still early days and perhaps a middle path will emerge that harmonizes the two formats as the organization evolves.
Lastly, ACF must plan tournaments and member benefits that meet the expectations of this constituency.
Lower fees, greater incentives
That brings us to membership fees and incentives. ACF has indicated that it would charge membership dues of $10 for individuals, $50 for clubs, $300 for softball leagues and $500 for hardball leagues. USA Rugby draws a portion of its revenue by charging between $5 and $65 for individual members and $150 per club, and I have always felt that USA Cricket needed to get off the high horse.
Pic (right): US Lacrosse offers a range of benefits, some of its own and some through its sponsors and partners.
Three years ago at USACA’s Dallas AGM, when USACA pondered individual membership for $25, I thought it was a stroke of genius and gave the proposal a lot of play in my coverage of the AGM. As with other USACA initiatives, that proposal went nowhere fast. The ACF's $10 individual membership rate is brilliant. I must applaud ACF for reducing the gap between intent and execution.
ACF constitution not only treats individual members as a crowd-funding opportunity, it grants them votes and has already stated that it will provide them with member incentives.
Also, the ACF is accepting club members at $50 and giving them a vote. This is also a key differentiator. Finally, ACF's league membership rate of $500 is much lower than what a league currently pays USACA. Of course, affordability should not be confused with acceptability. Ultimately, ACF's success will depend on the services it provides.
From what I have seen, ACF is also eager to embrace technology as a differentiator. ACF has already launched an online payment mechanism for membership. Also noteworthy is that, when the organization launched its draft constitution, it sought feedback by making an electronic feedback form available on its website besides encouraging feedback via Facebook.
I recommend that ACF also consider accepting donations, just as USA Rugby does, once it gets its 501(c)3 status.
Introducing cricket to Americans
The most laudable guiding principles are in Article 2 of the ACF constitution titled "Purpose."
This section serves as a compass for the organization's long journey. Yes, ACF wants to be a national governing body and promote the sport and all that jazz. But among the 19 sections that comprise the organization's purpose, the one thing that jumps out is this line:
"Promote and support the introduction of the sport of cricket to individuals and communities who are not familiar with or traditionally associated with the sport of cricket in order to promote and enhance the overall diversity of individuals engaged in the sport of cricket."
Not enough has been done by the national governing body to spread cricket beyond its core base of first and second generation immigrants. That ACF has embedded this as its purpose and is willing to be measured on this goal is commendable.
The entire arc of a cricketer's lifespan
Equally impressive is the fact that ACF provides a membership option for everyone regardless of age or gender. As Stephen Rooke so perfectly put it at the Orlando meeting: “Our goal is to accommodate a wide array of American cricketing interests and the entire arc of a cricketer’s lifespan as it progresses from youth cricket to adult cricket to senior cricket.” Categorization in this manner allows the Federation to adjust incentives for different levels and, through the use of data mining, ACF could also make informed decisions when promoting the sport.
The best way to get a member for life is start them young. This is a huge deal. My 8 year old has a membership card from the American Taekwondo Association. He is as proud of that as he is of his belt and something tells me he will be an ATA member for life. Sooner or later, he is going to wonder why cricket hadn't given him something he can can be proud of.
People with Disabilities
In August of 2009, DreamCricket Academy got a call from N.J. School for the Deaf to conduct a cricket camp for the kids there. What followed was simply magical. The NJSD kids enjoyed the demo and the game. It was also a great opportunity for the young cricketers from DreamCricket Academy.
While this was initiated by the NJSD, most world class sports governing bodies actively reach out to the impaired. According to the ECB's special web page for disabled cricket, "ECB's vision is to become and remain the world’s leading governing body in providing access to the sport of cricket for people with disabilities."
In the US, USA Baseball has this as part of its purpose: “To encourage and support baseball programs for individuals with disabilities and the participation of such individuals in baseball activity, including, where feasible, the expansion of opportunities for meaningful participation by individuals with disabilities in programs of baseball competition for able-bodied individuals.”
ACF does not shy away from its social responsibility and specifically mentions people with disabilities in its charter. “Cricket shall also include any variation of the sport that deviates from the rules set by the International Cricket Council in order to accommodate mental or physical disabilities as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
Officers and Directors
Another area where ACF’s constitution must be commended is the line it draws between employees and elected representatives.
Since it is topical, I should quote from Article 1 of the US constitution: "No Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a member of either house during his Continuance in Office." The founding fathers included this restriction to create legislative-executive checks and balances.
ACF envisages a similar delineation. Section 6.4 of ACF constitution says: “The CEO and all other employees owe to the Federation the duties of good faith and loyalty. Consistent with this, no person may serve simultaneously as an officer of the Federation and as a member of the Board or the Committee.”
ACF stipulates that the CFO, the Chief of Sporting Operations and the Secretary should be supervised by the CEO and contemplates that all officers who are responsible for day-to-day operations must be compensated in order to be effective and that they must be accountable to the board.
As we all know, USACA’s constitution specifically requires direct elections for the roles of Treasurer and Secretary. When you have just 15 vote-eligible leagues and several candidates in the mix, the winner is sometimes determined by political math. Also, popularity should not be confused with capability. USACA’s recent history is proof that popularity and capability do not always go hand in hand.
One area where ACF’s constitution is surprisingly low on details is the zonal structure. At the ACF Face to Face meeting in Orlando, which I attended as CLNJ’s delegate, there was talk of creating an organization that respects zonal autonomy. League representatives also felt that the present USACA regional structure was imperfect.
Regardless, since the constitution mentions six zonal directors representing three zones, it is important for prospective members to understand the zonal composition and how they will be represented at the national level and within their zone. From a more practical standpoint, ACF will want to await the outcome of its membership drive before it announces the zones or it may end up with unequal zones in terms of size of membership. But not spelling out its current thinking regarding zones makes for poor optics, something ACF should alleviate through a concept document or via the FAQs.
[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 and the inputs on ACF constitution are his own and should not be viewed as CLNJ's or DreamCricket Academy's inputs.]