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By Venu Palaparthi
On January 20, the American Cricket Federation (ACF) published a draft constitution and invited comments from the various constituents. With this, ACF took the first step into creating a role for itself. In AGMs and among Executive Committees across the country, discussions have begun on the draft constitution.
The initial reactions from most stakeholders are somewhat existential and logical. Does USA really need another cricket organization? What are the prospects of this organization? A range of questions fall out of this, such as, what will the ICC do, what impact will it have on players, and so on.
For those who have followed USA cricket over the last decade and have seen several attempts to change the system fail, the response is a somewhat cynical shrug. Depending on the level of cynicism and political awareness, their questions range from “ACF is USACA in sheep's clothing?" to "Aren't these the same people who ran the game at USACA?” For the folks who have studied USACA's history, the questions are “How can we be sure that ACF won’t meet with the same fate as the Council of League Presidents and Major League Cricket?” And for the eternal optimists, there is also, "with New Zealand Cricket and Cricket Holdings America involved, USACA will change from within."
"Mere Paas Maa Hai"
I also spoke to a couple of stakeholders who are more closely aligned with USACA. Naturally, their reaction is based on political calculus: “I expect the ACF leagues to abandon the mother ship at the sight of the first USACA carrot.” The underlying assumption, and not entirely without basis, is that at least some of the dissident leagues are driven by short term goals. They also draw strength from the fact that a large percentage of participants of many leagues are unconcerned about anything beyond the weekend game. Long range planning and strategic thinking take a backseat as a result.
USACA's confidence also arises from the fact that the ICC and CHA continue to shower unconditional love on it. A friend and I were joking that it was like the legendary "Mere Paas Maa Hai" dialogue from the movie "Deewar." The joke goes like this:
ACF to USACA: "Mere paas cricketers ka trust hain, leagues ka support hain, turf wickets hain, achcha constitution hain, tournaments hain. Tere paas kya hain." [I have the trust of the cricket community, support of the leagues, turf wickets, a great constitution and tournament schedule. What do you have?]
USACA replies "Mere paas ICC ka mamta hai!" [I have ICC's love.]
A good start for a guiding document
In part one of this series, I will explore whether ACF's constitution provides the right starting point. In part two, I will attempt to analyze areas of the ACF constitution that are completely new territory and in part three, I will dwell on the philosophical aspect of whether ACF has a chance at all.
In order for the ACF to win the support of the cricket community, it must first be reviewed through the prism of recent impasses and issues that USA cricket has faced. Incidents from 2011 and 2012 have left deep wounds and if ACF cannot address these issues meaningfully, it won't get the traction it seeks.
The issues are well documented - the controversial handling of the last election, the heartless disqualification of two-thirds of USA’s leagues from voting, the organization’s insistence on recognizing a national board member as the vote-carrying representative of a league despite the league’s public disavowal of the said person, and the manner in which appeals and complaints were dealt with before, during and after the election.
ACF must convince cricketers that it has the answers on matters of election timelines, voting eligibility and dispute resolution. That is the first litmus test for ACF.
Election Timeline: Let’s take the issue of a timeline for elections, an area where history has repeated itself with amazing irregularity, if you will forgive the pun. USACA is no stranger to elections controversies - elections were delayed in 2002 (eventually held in 2003), in 2007 (eventually held in 2008) and in 2011 (eventually held in 2012).
ACF does not leave any room for maneuvering on the topic of elections. By stating that the terms of directors begin on January 1 of the year following an election and that elections shall be held before the first Saturday of December, the ACF constitution eliminates the election cycle vagueness that has enveloped USA elections. It also prevents any meddlesome interference in the conduct of elections - the kind witnessed in 2011.
In fact, the ACF goes one step further and enhances accountability for the conduct of elections. Section 7.10 stipulates that each director pay ACF an non-compliance penalty of $50 per day when a deadline is missed. In my estimate, USACA would be richer by a six-figure amount if it had such a provision. [If such a penalty was also imposed for missed tournaments, USACA would probably have a high seven-figure bank balance.]
Voting Eligibility: On suspensions of rights including voting privileges, the ACF constitution states that a member shall be suspended if they fail to submit membership dues as required for membership or for not meeting the terms of any agreement with the ACF.
While I agree that non-payment of dues before a record date should be the basis, there are two sides to that coin. We have also seen how holding off indefinitely on processing membership applications has impacted leagues desiring to become members. We have also seen issues like lost mail, delayed deposits or late payments leading to confusion surrounding voting eligibility.
We have also seen how the national body can lose the plot entirely when exercising its powers. As an example, my own league (CLNJ) paid $4300 for 43 clubs during 2010. But USACA's compliance consultant contended that the league should have paid for 44 clubs since it had identified 44 clubs on its website. Our explanation that the 44th club was inactive throughout the season fell on deaf ears ("In 2010 , one of the teams dropped out at the start of the season and hence dues were paid for 43 teams," our league pleaded). In 2011, we added a team and paid for 44 clubs. In any event, CLNJ was disqualified and among the reasons given was non-payment of dues. We paid $4300 for 2010 and $4400 in 2011. Another $100 was not going to break the bank, but our genuine reasoning was not accepted.
The ACF constitution attempts to solve these types of issues by making several provisions. First, the ACF constitution vests voting privileges in the hands of a broad membership, which includes players, clubs and leagues. In this manner, voting is not an exclusive privilege of leagues. And disqualifying leagues or pronouncing bogus leagues as vote-eligible does not affect electoral outcomes as it has with the national board.
Secondly, suspension of a member cannot be arbitrary. Under 3.9(b), the process of suspending a member must be conducted according to the Dispute Resolution Process.
Thirdly, the ACF constitution lays out a clear timeline for elections. The election deadline, election process and the appeals process, each have built-in notification periods and provide reasonable times for suspended members to take steps to restore their privileges.
In my view, a few additional provisions could further enhance the organization's reputation and allay fears of potential members. As an example, ACF could make reasonable attempts to notify a member approaching their membership anniversary date that the membership would be suspended unless payment is received by a certain deadline. If the fees are not received after a second reminder or after the anniversary date, suspension should be triggered. Suspension for non-payment should be lifted if payment is received (together with a penalty) within 30 days of the anniversary date. If not, membership should be cancelled.
Also, new members accepted within eight weeks of an election should not be allowed to vote. That will prevent gaming of the voting process by candidates. The ACF constitution already requires that eligibility lists be produced no later than eight weeks before an election and appeals by ineligible voters must occur no later than 6 weeks before the election. These eligibility related appeals must be heard in an expedited manner because the 45-day window under the Judicial Proceedings section may place the member at risk of being pronounced denied a vote just a tad later than needed if his appeal is upheld.
In summary, on the subject of voting eligibility, the ACF constitution gets a passing grade but should include some additional safeguards either within the constitution or through membership agreements. It should also take a more service-oriented approach by sending out reminders.
Term Limits: Term limits are not exactly a novel concept but not all organizations embrace limits with equal enthusiasm. After all, it wasn't until the 22nd amendment was ratified in 1951 that a two-term limit was placed for election to the office of the US president. Generally speaking, an organization's embrace of term limits reflects the importance the organization places on fresh ideas.
The ACF constitution stipulates a two term-limit for members of the Advisory and Judicial Committee. This is adequate.
For the Directors, it sets a 8-year cap since a length of a term may vary from one year to four years. This is a great start. In order to fully capture the spirit of term-limits, ACF should consider limiting candidates from contesting in an election if winning the election would lead to three successive terms or 8 years. In fact, ACF should consider going one step further. The maximum length of time a person should be allowed to serve in any capacity at the national level should be 8 years in any 16-year period.
USACA has no limits whatsoever - 2013 marks Gladstone Dainty's 10th year as President.
Judicial process: This area is well thought out and ACF's adoption of checks and balances through the proposed Advisory and Judicial Committee is remarkable. This committee is a good mix of representatives with no one category of members being disproportionately represented.
The judicial process is described in detail and sets timelines for submission, response, rebuttal response, and the meeting of the judicial committee. The only recommendation I can think of in this area is to set a similar timeline when additional questions or clarifications arise and when reconsideration is sought.
Duty to Recuse: ACF's draft constitution also clearly spells out the duty to recuse, something that USACA's constitution does not when it comes to the Appeal Committee. In fact, USACA's constitution empowers the Board to establish an Appeal Committee whose job is to consider appeals to final decisions by the Board. In and of itself, that presents a conflict. Without the expectation of recusal, it is up to the board to ensure that the committee that they appoint is impartial.
Proof is in the pudding, because when the board's decision to disqualify several leagues was appealed, USACA's Appeal Committee consisted of several league presidents, some of whom had a direct interest in the eventual outcome of the appeals in question.
Membership: Article 3 titled "Membership" in the ACF constitution is by far the most elegant and simple. Section 3.2 clearly defines the eligibility requirements for the various classes of members. Section 3.5 lays out when membership takes effect: "Any person, natural or juridical, satisfying the eligibility requirements of any of the classes of membership defined in this article shall be immediately considered a member of the Federation."
In comparison, the USACA constitution has sowed distrust as the membership process is viewed as a tool for the board to pick and choose its members. Section 12 of Article III of the USACA constitution says that Membership "Applications shall be approved by a majority vote of the Board." Elsewhere, the constitution says that a member is not entitled to vote "until the Board is satisfied that the member has met the definition of good standing." These two sections give the incumbent USACA board members control over when membership is granted and when a member may vote.
You will also notice that there is nothing in the USACA constitution that requires the board to review an application for membership within a finite amount of time. Over the last several years, I received numerous emails from league administrators awaiting the fate of their membership applications. Even this website's affiliate, the DreamCricket Academy's bid to renew its existing associate membership hit a roadblock in July 2012 and the matter is still with the board with no timeline for resolution.
Broad Participation: As previously noted, this is another area where ACF sets the right tone. With several classes of voting members, membership and participation are not the privilege of a handful of large leagues. The ACF constitution provides a voice and a vote to every individual, club, league or organization. It is also refreshing to see that ACF is keen on extending a warm welcome to softball and indoor leagues. US Soccer has similar categorization and this is exactly what you would expect from a world class sports organization.
To its credit, ACF gives itself room for expanding the number of categories. I can already think of a few, such as umpires, coaches and statisticians. The constitution committee should consider including them in the final constitution.
The ACF constitution should clearly define privileges that are granted to members who straddle multiple categories. As an example, a 17-year old college level women's player should not be forced to choose between the rights of a Women's Player and Development Player. Instead, she must have the rights associated with both categories. This is largely a feature that can be explored through the membership form.
Ultimately, in order to build goodwill, ACF will need to design and provide services applicable to each category. ACF has said that it expects to release FAQs and a bill of rights. The sooner it releases these documents, the better its chances of signing up members.
Delegates/Agents: This is another area where cricket has not been served too well in recent times. In one instance, a league publicly disavowed an individual who continued to be recognized by the national board as that league's representative. The league's wishes were completely ignored. Instead, the league was notified that the USACA president would take the "matter to the [national] board for resolution."
In other words, the USACA board was going to rule on who would represent a league. This is akin to the US Congress determining who should serve as the representative of a New Jersey district. To make matters more interesting, the league representative who was questioned now sits on the USACA board.
The ACF constitution avoids such conflicts by placing the responsibility squarely in the league's hands - "In the case of League and Club Members, the individual registered as the member's agent shall vote on the member's behalf."
[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.]