USATH Restructure raises major budget and planning questions

On November 5th, USA Team Handball (USATH) abruptly decided to lay off its East and West Regional Directors, Dominique Dumont and Brian Finley. In an interview posted in October at THN, the USATH staff consisted of 7 full time and 7 part time employees/interns. Now the full time staff has shrunk to 4 full time and 1 part time employee/intern in 2 locations. General Manager Steve Pastorino and Membership Director, Dan Bush, constitute the Salt Lake City HQ, while Technical Director, Mariusz Wartalowic, Chief Marketing Officer, Greg Myers and Public Relations Manager, Alex Leopold are all based in Chicago.

The sudden nature of this development and its contradictions with much publicized grass roots efforts raises some serious questions as to how USATH has been budgeting and planning its limited resources. It also raises some serious questions as to whether plans going forward may have to be altered substantially so that expenses across the board can match expected revenue. The Board of Directors is scheduled to meet later this week. Here are some questions that Board might want to consider asking:

[b]1) Was this restructuring really a direct result of USOC funding cuts?[/b] The USATH press release and an earlier email I received from General Manager, Steve Pastorino tied the reductions to a decrease in USOC funding. The extent of this “slash” in funding wasn’t noted on the USATH website, but reportedly it’s around a 20% cut. USOC support last year was $260,000 out of an $800,000 budget. A $52,000 cut is significant, but shouldn’t be immediately back breaking. As the press release alludes to, it seems likely that the shortfall only becomes significant in size when it’s subtracted from an expected increase in funding, vice a funding level similar to previous USOC grants.

[b]2) If true, why was USATH using an inflated funding line from the USOC to project salary and other expenses?[/b] You’ll get no argument from me whatsoever that the USOC should fund a major sport like Team Handball as well as it does Bobsledding or Basketball. But, the USOC has been making it clear for several years that funding grants would be tied to performance. A bogus Catch-22 for a sport with incredible challenges just to be competitive against the world’s best, but the unfair hand that our sport’s been dealt. Perhaps the USOC was sending strong signals of a substantial increase in funding, but it probably would have been better to wait till that funding actually materialized before planning around it.

[b]3) Why did the staff reductions come seemingly out of nowhere?[/b] If you read the interview that I conducted recently with General Manager, Steve Pastorino you won’t find anything that explicitly warns of an impending budget crisis. You will, however, find some vague answers that if you read between the lines that pointed to fiscal uncertainty. In short, it was clear that USATH operations were largely being funded through the goodwill of Dieter Esch and other Board Members. There was no indication, though, that this goodwill had some limits that would be exercised soon. I wasn’t alone in thinking this as the employees involved were seemingly blind-sided by their terminations.

[b]4) With an apparently new fiscal reality, will USATH re-evaluate its priorities going forward?[/b] For the past two years, USATH has had a many pronged effort to run a sports federation, to market the sport, engage with international organizations and to focus on youth programs and grassroots. It was always emphasized that the grass roots come first. With the dismissal of two regional directors, one might argue that this priority has already been re-evaluated.

[b]5) Will these new priorities be written down and communicated to the USATH membership?[/b] I would argue, however, that USATH has never fully articulated what its priorities have been other then the vague generality that grass roots come first. It’s time to think long and hard about what this Federation’s priorities are. It’s also time to put that thinking on paper in a Strategic Plan that clearly describes where we are now, where we want to go and a clear roadmap, complete with benchmarks, on how to get there.

[b]6) Will USATH start to pay its accounts in a timely manner? [/b] Over the past few months I have also gotten reports that the USATH has not been very responsive in paying referees and other short term employees in a timely manner. In hindsight, this was a strong indicator of more fiscal problems to come. There really is no excuse for not paying people for their services in a timely manner. Hopefully, this tangible shortcoming can be fixed in due course.

USATH: USATH Consolidates Staff (15 Nov 10):
USATH: Staff Page:
THN (5 Oct 10): Interview: USA Team Handball General Manager, Steve Pastorino: Part 4: Federation Organization and Financial Status: