U.S. National Team Plans: Part 3: Residency Programs: Right time to start? (Financial Considerations)

Will the US National Teams reside at an Olympic Training Center or will they have a more austere arrangements?

Will the US National Teams reside at an Olympic Training Center or will they have more austere arrangements?

In part 1, I tackled the top level question of whether Residency Programs were a good strategy for U.S. National Team development.  In Part 2, I started to address whether it was a good time to start Residency Programs by assessing U.S. chances for 2016 Olympic Qualification.  In this part, I continue that assessment, this time by addressing the financial costs of Residency Programs and whether the U.S. Federation can afford such programs at this point in time.

How much does a Residency Program cost?

The obvious first step in assessing the funding considerations for Residency Programs is to figure out how much those programs would cost.  I won’t try to break down exact dollar figures as doing so would require quite a bit of research and guesswork as there are several variables in terms of “in kind” support that might be provided by organizations like the USOC.  What I will try to do, however, is identify the key budget line items and provide a few notes as to what each might entail in terms of costs at the high and low end.

Practice Facilities
– High end: Rental fees for gym and weight room
– Low end: Free; provided by USOC or other source

– High end:  $100K/year/coach or $200K/year
– Low end:  Volunteers with minor stipend; $10K/year/coach or $20K/year

Athlete Lodging
– High end:  Rental costs for apartments or dorm rooms
– Low end:  Nothing (athlete’s responsibility) or free; provided by USOC or other source

Athlete Meals
– High end:  Contract costs for cafeteria
– Low end:  Nothing (athlete’s responsibility) or free; provided by USOC or other source

Athlete Insurance/Medical
– High end:  High end plan paid by Federation
– Low end:  Low end plan paid by Federation or free; provided by USOC or other source

Athlete Stipends
– High end:  $25K/year/athlete or for 32 athletes ($800K)
– Low end:  Nothing provided

Athlete College Tuition Assistance
– High end:  Full ride scholarship provided as part of host college program arrangement
– Low end:  Nothing provided

Athlete Travel
– High end:  2 round trips home/year; extra funding also available to bring European based athletes to U.S. for periodic training
– Low end:  Nothing provided

– High end:  Full time recruiting coordinator; substantial travel budget for athlete tryouts and recruiting visits
– Low end:  Recruiting performed by coaches; very limited travel budget.

Full Fledged vs. Austere

If one does a little back of the envelope calculation into the high end costs it’s fairly easy to come up with Residency Program costs of $2/3M/year.  Of course, given the current state of Federation finances it would be impossible to fund programs at anywhere near that level.  Even when the Federation had more funding the Residency Programs were more towards the low end even if in kind support from the USOC at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, helped stretch limited funding.

Obviously, more can be done when the funding is tilted toward the high end of the scale and such a full fledged program would have a better chance of success.  Better facilities, better coaching and more competition opportunities are bound to result in better results.  And better living arrangements and financial incentives would vastly improve the odds of attracting talented athletes to the program.  In particular, if these programs are ever going to have any chance of attracting decent athletes in the 18-22 age bracket they are going to have to provide benefits that approach those that are offered by NCAA sports.

If the funding is not available for a full-fledged program, however, it’s still possible to offer a more austere one.   And, even without all the bells and whistles there will still be athletes interested in participating such programs.  From 2004 to 2007, the women’s team trained in Cortland, NY and this program was clearly at the low end of the scale.  This account of an ESPN writer’s tryout with the team gives you some insight as to how austere that program was.  A men’s program that was in place for a year in Philadelphia had similar conditions and even the Residency Programs that were established in Atlanta prior to the Olympics were nothing to write home about.

Hidden Costs

Aside from the actual dollars that would have to be spent on Residency Programs it’s important to note there are also some pretty significant costs that won’t necessarily show up in any accounting ledger.  In particular, the man hours involved in the initial organization and continued management of the programs would be substantial.  These programs would also become the most visible aspect of the Federation and how they are managed and how the teams perform will be closely scrutinized, especially if the USOC is providing assistance.

And, as anyone who works for a living knows, where you are scrutinized is where you usually spend more of your time and energy.  Not always, mind you, but it’s usually the case.  For better or for worse, more and more time will be spent by Federation staff to support National Team activities.  We could argue about just how pronounced that shift will be, but there will be one.  And the hidden cost is whatever grass roots development, marketing initiative or club programs activity that might have been done will now not be undertaken.

Austere Program or No Program?

So, if one factors in the actual dollar costs and hidden costs of even an austere program does it still make sense to start Residency Programs?  Maybe, but rest assured it not’s a simple decision or one that should be taken lightly.  A lot of it depends on what the available funding is and how austere it is.  If the program is too austere, it runs the risk of being pointless.  If it’s too robust, it runs the risk of diverting too many resources from everything else the Federation would like to accomplish.

It remains to be seen just what the “flexible residency programs” that are being mentioned will consist of, but they will surely be pretty austere programs if the U.S. Federation is counting every penny.  Either that or the USOC is going to come through in a big way with Olympic Training Center access to include facilities, dorms and cafeteria.

When will these programs actually start?

In addition to the lack of information regarding what these programs will consist of there’s been some strong indications that there are no firm plans in regards to their start.  The initial announcement indicated that the programs were “tentatively scheduled to begin in early fall of 2013.”  A follow up email from CEO Matt Van Houten, indicated that athletes identified at tryouts would “be sent to the club system to learn the game but the goal is to establish a residency program for full time training.” A federation webpage on national teams also referred to the Residency Programs starting in 2013/2014.

The words which I’ve put in bold face (tentatively, goal and 2014) all point to a fair bit of uncertainty in terms to their actual start.  This could be for a number of reasons, but I’ll speculate that the actual start hinges on a number of factors to include sponsor funding, USOC support and Women’s team performances in upcoming tournaments.  And on top of the shifting date there surely are some floating plans as to where the programs will be on the sliding scale between full-fledged and austere.   One could even conclude that there might not even be funding currently in place for even an austere program.   All of this leads to some very obvious questions:

Did it make sense for the Federation to announce plans for Residency Programs if it doesn’t really know when they would start or what they would consist of? 

Or, would it have been better to wait until plans were more firmly in place?

So, I’ve now addressed Olympic qualification and financial issues in regards to the timing for starting Residency Programs.  In the next part I’ll tackle planning issues.   And, in particular, planning considerations that should be carefully weighed in order to get the best possible arrangements for Residency Programs. Part 4