USA Team Handball’s marketing arm in Auburn, Alabama, Blue Turtle, recently started a crowd sourcing campaign to help pay for the USA Women’s National Team’s upcoming trip to the Pan American Championships in Cuba. The campaign seeks $25,000 for the tournament which takes place from 21-28 May. Not surprisingly this has sparked some controversy in regards to USA Team Handball’s funding priorities. For sure, it raises a number of valid questions like:
- Why isn’t funding available to pay for this trip?
- What budget items are being assessed as a higher priority?
- What kind of message does it send to current residency program athletes?
- What kind of message does it send to prospective recruits to the residency program?
I’ll try to tackle these questions one at a time
Why isn’t funding available to pay for this trip?
Well, one can only infer so much from Board of Director’s Meeting Minutes and IRS Form 990’s, but the short answer is probably that there simply is not enough revenue. I’ll speculate that the long answer is related to the challenges of budgeting in a pre-Olympic year. In fact, this isn’t the first time that USA Team Handball has come up short in terms of funding for major National Team events like this qualifier for the World Championships. Back in 2011 USA Team Handball came up short for funding for Men’s 2nd Chance Tournament to qualify for the PANAM Games. Outraged, I wrote this commentary that was critical of the hand wringing going on.
So what makes a pre-Olympic year challenging budget wise? The simplistic answer is that the number of important qualification events for our national teams roughly triples. In 3 years out of a 4 year cycle there are usually just 2 events related to either Men or Women’s World Championship Qualification. But in Pre-Olympic there are 4 events for U.S. Men and Women’s Olympic qualification on top of 2 events for Women’s World Championship Qualification. So instead of 2 events, there are 6 events. (Qualification requirements vary and the USOC does help with some events, but without a doubt costs for national team participation rise significantly.)
And, that’s only counting the trips for official PATHF competition. In the past year the USA Women have also has taken trips to Brazil, Puerto Rico and Guadaloupe for friendly competition. If all or a portion of the funding for those trips were paid for by USA Team Handball one really has to ask the question why those funds weren’t saved for future more important competitions.
For sure, if USA Team Handball is counting every penny it can be really tough for a budget plan that’s scraping by in a lower cost year to suddenly handle the increased expenditure requirements of a pre-Olympic year. Such a problem can be addressed in a number of ways to include:
- Save funds for the pre-Olympic year extra expenses
- Cut back on non National Team related items in the Pre-Olympic Year
- Go into debt
- Hope that the extra money comes from somewhere
- Reluctantly don’t participate in some of the National Team Qualification events
In 2011, the Federation opted for #5, but then got bailed out by the U.S. Team Handball Foundation. In 2015, it appears that the Federation is going for option #4, but then will go with option #5 if funds can’t be found. Except, just as was the case in 2011, $25,000 most likely could be taken from some other funding line. For whatever reason, USA Team Handball is reluctant to do so which leads to the next question.
What budget items are being assessed as a higher priority?
Again, Board Minute minutes and IRS Form 990s can only provide a top level insight as to the decisions that are being made. Here’s a breakout of the expenses for the most current Fiscal Year. (July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014)
$340,798 Salaries and other Compensation
$82,807 National Team Expenses
$6,561 All Other Expenses
$5,275 Office Expenses
$3,310 Bank Charges
$2,942 Membership Fees
Well, for starters, let’s be clear: $572K is not a lot to work with. Still, one would like to think that $25K could be found somewhere. Here’s where to look:
Salaries and other Compensation ($341K): With salaries taking up almost 60% of the pie it’s logically the first place to look, but I suspect this has already been chopped a bit since June 2014. Notably, with the quiet departure of Mariusz Wartalowicz sometime in 2014, Federation Administrative functions are pretty much a one man operation headed by CEO, Mike Cavanaugh. Perhaps, Maurice Godwin, the Communication Specialist also receives a small salary, but logically it couldn’t be very substantial. Then, there are the 2 National Team coaches, Javier Garcia Cuesta and Christian Latulippe and I’ve been told they are being paid $60K/year. Depending on your frame of reference this is either a great deal or a bit over priced. But, if you’re a believer in the Residency Program model, it’s pretty hard to run such a program without salaried coaches. All told I suspect that the $341K in salaries is now closer to $250K with the reduction in this spending line having been redirected towards National Team expenses.
National Team Expenses and Travel ($160K): As I alluded to earlier I would guess that the National Team budget has increased some. How much, though, is hard to say. Also, there’s no detailed breakout of just what is included in these two lines. I’m guessing that some of the travel is national team related, but other travel surely is to attend conferences, national championship tournaments, etc. The costs of different trips that the National Teams have taken are unknown. One can guesstimate airfare and lodging costs, but I suspect that some trips were really done on the cheap with players even self funding portions of the cost (more on that self funding aspect later). Regardless, this internal National Team funding line is probably the best candidate for “finding the money.” And, that search would undoubtedly lead to some earlier trip not being taking to ensure that funds were readily available for the Pan American Championship later. Again, I would suspect (I’m getting tired of using that word), however, that the money has already been spent. Hence, the bake sale for the National Team.
Everything Else ($71K): I won’t go into much detail here. This isn’t much money and running even a small organization is going to have administrative costs.
So answering the basic question, “What budget items are being assessed as a higher priority?” results in a dilemma. Money could be taken from some other funding lines, but those funding lines are needed if you’re going to have a viable residency training program. There’s just not enough funding to go around. We could pay for the trip easily if we didn’t have a residency program. But, then we wouldn’t have the trappings of a Residency Program to build a team with a better chance to compete for an Olympic or World Championships slot.
Truth be told, though, our current austere residency program can only upgrade our National Teams so much. It might be sufficient to secure a WC slot, but such a program would be hard pressed to ever qualify for an Olympics. And, I’ve got my doubts as to whether even a full fledged residency could do the trick and running such a program properly might actually cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $2M to $3M a year. A funding level USA Team Handball is far short of having currently. Sure, Residency Programs can be done more austerely, but there are some fundamental problems in doing so on the cheap.
What are some of those fundamental problems with an austere residency program? In Part 2, I’ll look at the message it sends to hard working dedicated athletes already in place and more importantly, the athletes USA Team Handball would like to recruit.