Part 1 highlighted why it’s more feasible for the U.S. to develop a competitive women’s national team. This part further explores the implementation and merits of a women’s program development focus.
Overview and Premise: To continue the discussion from the previous part this option would call for a very focused emphasis on developing women’s handball in the U.S. In short, a conscious and deliberative decision to direct the bulk of USA Team Handball’s resources towards women’s program activities. In terms of percentages it would be in the neighborhood of 90 to 95%. Obviously, such a decision would be controversial, but doing so would almost double the funding available for the women’s program. Instead of having 2 overly austere programs, USA Team Handball would be moving closer to having 1 legitimate program. And, as previously discussed the focus would be on the program with a far greater chance of national team success.
Impact to the Men’s Program: The defunding of the men’s program would require a number of cost saving measures to include switching to a part-time unpaid volunteer coach, closing the men’s residency program, and foregoing overseas trips for friendly matches. I would suggest that support would be limited to funding World Championship and Olympic qualification match participation and even this funding might require some self-funding from athletes. In many respects this rollback would be a return to the minimal approach used for both the men’s and women’s programs from 2007 to 2012. (Don’t get me wrong: I understand how painful such steps would be, but it would be necessary if this initiative were approved.)
Possible Implementation Steps
A number of steps could be taken with this initiative, many in conjunction with other initiatives highlighted in this series. Here’s a short list:
- Hire an experienced European Coach with a strong track record. This would not necessarily be a top club coach, but perhaps a coach affiliated with a strong development program. Someone involved with the recently successful Netherlands development program might be a prime target.
- Hire an assistant coach/recruiter. Combining these two roles would theoretically result in more productive recruiting. (Link to option 2)
- Facilitate the establishment of a Women’s collegiate conference. As previously discussed Title IX requirements may draw NCAA interest in supporting women’s handball. Further the USOC is stepping up its efforts to work with the NCAA on funding for nonrevenue Olympic Sports. In theory a quality NCAA supported league could provide the pipeline for a competitive U.S. Women’s team. (Link to option 4)
- Facilitate the development of a Women’s high school league. Again, Title IX could provide a vehicle for development. If high schools are establishing competitions for non-Olympic, non-NCAA sports like flag football, it’s not a stretch to seeing competitions established for Team Handball. As previously discussed High School/Collegiate League development in one geographic area would have additional benefits. (Link to HS flag football commentary)
- Facilitate and provide support to select athletes so that they can join European clubs. It’s hard to imagine league play reaching the level of top clubs in Europe anytime soon. Therefore, developing athletes who can go to Europe at a young age should have renewed focus. The U.S. might even considering an overseas program. (Link to option 3)
- Provide scholarships for select athletes to attend school at Auburn. As previously discussed if funding becomes available a handful of top prospects should be given financial assistance to join the program at Auburn.(Link to option 2)
- Provide funding for multiple overseas trips for competition and exposure to European Clubs. These trips would provide an opportunity for the Women to grow as a team, but also strategically give them needed exposure for a potential professional contract.
Of course, if one adds up all these possible implementation steps it doesn’t take very long to bust the budget. Currently, there’s not enough funding available for one program, let alone two. If more funds do become available, however, the impact of this initiative will continue to grow at a 2-1 ratio. In other words a legitimate, non-austere program might become a reality.
Less strain on resources: As previously highlighted the U.S. would no longer be fully funding 2 programs. Instead resources would be focused on the women’s program giving that program a better chance of sustained success.
Clear focus on fewer goals: And, of course, this will also mean that the bulk of the tasks and issues with running a men’s program would be put on the back burner. Time spent addressing a day to day issue related to the men’s program would now instead be spent tackling some aspect of support to the women’s program. Perhaps several hours on the phone contacting potential recruits or organizing extra clinics for prospective women’s athletes.
Decreased support to men’s activities: There’s no getting around this elephant in the room. Providing less support to men’s activities will stifle development and growth for that gender.
Greater challenges in promoting women’s sports: While it’s more feasible to support and develop a successful women’s program on the court it will likely be more challenging to promote the women’s game via TV and other media opportunities. Rightly or wrongly there is simply more interest in men’s sports. One simply has to look at the limited Women’s sports viewing options on TV and the attendance for women’s sporting events to acknowledge this as a reality.
Pressure to more evenly split resources. Favoring the women’s program is guaranteed to cause controversy even if folks can see the potential benefits. Many observers will surely point out that it’s possible to walk and chew gum at the same time. Why forgo supporting the Men’s program? Maybe a women’s focus, some will say, but why not split resources more like 60-40 or 70-30. Doing so, however, would simply water down the initiative and limit its impact. The U.S. would again be running two austere programs.
It also would not surprise me if some male athletes would take legal action and before this initiative is approved research on how other Federations like Field Hockey have handled legal concerns would be needed.
There are no added costs to implement this option. Instead this is simply a focused redirection of existing resources.
Timing for Implementation
This initiative could be implemented at any time, but a logical starting point may be the summer of 2016. Right now the women’s program is in somewhat disarray with only around 7 players training at Auburn. The program sorely needs new talent and a strong recruiting push in conjunction with the 2016 Olympic Games should have a decent chance of landing some quality athletes. And, some high quality recruits coupled with a better funded program could make some inroads towards respectability fairly quickly in Pan America. I highly doubt that it would lead in Olympic Qualification for 2020, but if the right recruits (younger, more athletic) are found it could set the stage for a realistic run for 2024.
Meanwhile, the first half of 2016 will be an excellent time to review and assess the Men’s Residency Program at Auburn. The U.S. Men will play in two meaningful World Championships Qualifying events. In March they will first participate in the North American & Caribbean Championships (NORCA) at a TBD location (reportedly Auburn is under consideration). Then, if they place in the top 4, they will participate in the Pan American Championships (18-26 June) in Argentina. I’ll speculate, however, that if the U.S. Men are going to have a respectable showing it may well necessitate fielding a roster mostly composed of Non Residency Program athletes. And, if this indeed is the case management should question the validity of the Residency Program after 2.5 years.
As a former Men’s National Team athlete it doesn’t take much for me to speculate how I would have reacted to such a move. Heck, I probably would have led the charge on legal action. But, then again, I would have also reluctantly seen the logic behind such a move. Finally, I fully recognize that while it might be logical to direct resources towards tackling one tough challenge (the one where we’ve got more chance at succeeding) then hopelessly trying to fight two battles, sometimes logic alone doesn’t carry the day.