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USSA to Drop Funding for Nordic Combined, Jarrett Accepts Challenge

From left to right: Todd Lodwick, Billy Demong, Bryan Fletcher and Taylor Fletcher with their bronze medals from Sunday's team event at the 2013 Nordic Combined World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy. (Photo: Fiemme2013)

U.S. Nordic Combined’s Todd Lodwick (l), Billy Demong (second from l), Bryan Fletcher and Taylor Fletcher (r) after winning bronze in the 2013 World Championships team event in Val di Fiemme, Italy. (Photo: Fiemme2013)

When U.S. Nordic Combined coaches Dave Jarrett and Greg Poirier sat down with Tiger Shaw and Luke Bodensteiner of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) on Monday, Jarrett said he wasn’t exactly sure what they were in for.

The national-team head coach for the last six years, he had a sense of what was in store for his sport — challenges, big ones, before and after the Olympics. But every nordic “free-heel” sport deals with the same thing, he said.

By 8 a.m. Monday, it became pretty clear what Shaw, USSA’s new CEO, and Bodensteiner, vice president of athletics, wanted to talk to them about in person. After July 31, 2014, USSA would no longer fund nordic combined’s “traditional team infrastructure,” according to a mass email from Shaw that was sent to Jarrett and several other stakeholders. That would leave U.S. Nordic Combined essentially on its own for financial support, which Jarrett said will most immediately affect the employment of himself and Poirier, the development coach.

Bryan Fletcher (U.S. Nordic Combined) jumping to ninth on Day 2 of the Nordic Combined World Cup Triple in Seefeld, Austria. Fletcher improved to sixth in the 10 k. (Photo: Fast Big Dog)

Bryan Fletcher (U.S. Nordic Combined) at the Nordic Combined World Cup Triple last season in Seefeld, Austria. (Photo: Fast Big Dog)

In the meantime, he said not to worry about the athletes — they’ll train for next season as usual. The ones that were in Park City, Utah, on Monday — Billy Demong, Bryan Fletcher and Taylor Fletcher — also spoke with Shaw and Bodensteiner in a second meeting about the decision.

“I had a sense for a while that something wasn’t right,” Jarrett said on the phone Tuesday. “Planning started as normal and then it took a slight detour with the timeline of how you get things done. It became clear that something wasn’t right. I knew something wasn’t totally clear. Luke gave us a heads up that this was a scenario.”

That didn’t necessarily soften the blow, but rather than retaliate, Jarrett said he began to brainstorm. Women’s Ski Jumping USA and men’s USA Ski Jumping did it on their own — they could, too.

“We haven’t stopped spinning from the news,” Demong told Steamboat Today. “We have to turn that into solution making.”

“Based on [USSA's] study in 2010 that eliminated jumping in other sports, they didn’t think nordic combined was a podium-potential sport for 2018 or 2022,” Jarrett explained. “As of July 31st, it’s gonna be the end of my job and Greg’s job, so funding stops then. In the meantime, if we’re able to raise operating capital, they have offered to run [fundraising] through USSA. If somebody wanted to donate or underwrite our needs that they would be able to donate to USSA [which would go] directly for nordic combined.”

There’s also the possibility of U.S. nordic combined signing sponsors outside of USSA’s contracts. According to Shaw’s email, USSA “will continue to provide direct funding for qualifying elite athletes. … We will work with the nordic combined community to look at alternatives in structure and funding. The USA has an engaged and passionate club-based pipeline, especially in communities of Lake Placid, Steamboat Springs and Park City. The USSA will continue to work with these clubs to provide an infrastructure for athletic success and sport development.”

“Unless you win the Powerball or something, there’s no way to create a slush fund for a rainy day for this to happen.” — U.S. Nordic Combined Head Coach Dave Jarrett

Jarrett emailed members of the nordic community on Tuesday morning with the subject heading: “Tall Order”. While many were disappointed and some shocked by the news, he said he encouraged them to think of solutions.

“I see this challenge as an opportunity for autonomy of our program,” his email stated. “All revenue we generate will go directly to our program. The more we generate the deeper we can reach as a program while at the same time remaining within the USSA.  If we want to have an A-Team, B-Team and Junior Team it is up to us.  We need to think about all options, opportunities and ideas.”

Jarrett said he’d spent much of the last two days gathering information and talking to people like Dave Knoop of the National Nordic Foundation (NNF), which directly raises money for U.S. nordic combined and cross-country skiing, as well as Alan Johnson of USA Ski Jumping and Robbie Beck of Women’s Ski Jumping USA.

“‘[We’re] trying to just use this as a rallying cry for the nordic-combined community specifically, but also for everybody that this is around the corner for any program,” Jarrett said. “Instead of being pissed or feeling sorry for ourselves … we need to rally around this and find solutions. I think there’s solutions out there.”

While he aims to assemble as much support as possible and explore the idea of uniting all nordic sports — men’s and women’s ski jumping, nordic combined and cross-country skiing — into one autonomous entity, Jarrett’s also looking forward to getting nordic stakeholders together at the USSA Spring Congress in a month.

“We knew that this was always a possibility,” Jarrett explained. “While we wanted to be prepared for this, unless you win the Powerball or something, there’s no way to create a slush fund for a rainy day for this to happen. … I said it a few years ago after ski jumping: everybody now should be looking over their shoulder because you never know when it’s gonna fall. I don’t think there’s any program that’s safe from it, maybe alpine is the only one that they’re never gonna cut out, but that’s the fact of life. And we have to play the cards we’re dealt.”

As for what it would take to keep the nordic-combined program going, Jarrett said he wasn’t sure whether they’d decide to fund it from bottom up, starting with development, or take care of the elite A-team skiers first. Either way, he said 12 years of experience as a national-team coach had taught him what he can do with a million-dollar budget, half-a-million dollars, or $250,000 — whatever they end up with.

Bodensteiner told Steamboat Today that USSA had funded nordic combined between $580,000 and $650,000 annually for equipment, travel, lodging, food, coaches and wax technicians. In a four-year Olympic cycle, the cost added up to nearly $3 million. He said the decision was based on a number of factors, including nordic combined’s size, as measured by participation, membership, public relevance, and future potential.

“The main thing is that we need to be proactive, looking at all options, all partnerships,” Jarrett said. “We’re all in this kind of nebulous state and perhaps there’s a way to organize everybody or at least parts of it. We can be partners with USSA or partners with each other.”

Stay tuned for follow-up articles and updates.

About Alex Kochon

Alex Kochon (formerly Matthews) is the managing editor at FasterSkier and to most people's surprise, not a guy. When she's not writing, you can find her outdoors in upstate New York or doing the gym thing as a certified personal trainer. Follow her on Twitter @active_alex.

Comments

  1. An ominously negative start for Mr. Shaw. This is akin to Div I universities dropping every sport but mens basketball and football. Willl men’s XC follow in the coming years?

    Thankfully Title IX has practically prevented colleges from gutting their athletic departments. Unfortunately the Amateur Sports Act used to make it much more difficult for governing bodies too. But we can all thank the wisdom of Sen Ted Stevens for gutting that a decade ago. The USOC and its governing bodies need to be more streamlined!!

    On the other hand, you reap what you sow. NC has put all their eggs in a very small centralized basket and ignored the grass roots development of the sport. My guess is the NC gang in Park City will continue down that ill-advised path without significant changes in leadership. Good luck Nordic Dave, the onus will now fall on you.

  2. Martin Hall says:

    Big Joe—-some good points—the 1st step is for all the ski disciplines is to get the USOC to split up it’s sport payment to each of the disciplines rather then just giving it all(one lump sum) to USSA/USST, where it is up to them to decide who gets what share of the big pie. Which is now none!! This should be a negotiating point with the USOC as these disciplines have all been suspended from the funding program. I hope I explained that right. All the ousted disciplines should get together and approach the USOC as to the fact they are being mis-represented in this process and not getting the support funding from the USOC that was scheduled for them as the alpine disciplines have essentially taken all the money.

  3. Hey Marty — I mean this in the most complimentary of terms. After recently watching Hockey Night in Canada… I concluded you are like the Don Cherry of the ski world — absent wearing the living room drapes as a suit of course.

  4. skijumper says:

    I agree with big Joe. As someone who is a nordic combined athlete myself my heart goes out to the athletes and my teammates. I am also somewhat optimistic regarding the future direction of nordic combined. I hope that by losing the support in of the US Ski Team, the hierarchy of nordic combined will be forced to reach out to smaller clubs around the country to help support the sports development pipeline. There has undoubtedly has been a major flaw in the pipeline; everything is based in Steamboat Springs and Park City. How many kids, realistically, can you attract from two major ski towns where the popularity of alpine and freestyle are unparalleled? I have tremendous respect for Dave Jarrett and his impact on nordic combined in our country has been powerful, but as we are losing the top athletes and we need to make a huge focus shift on developing the sport and allowing it to grow in places like Lake Placid and small clubs throughout New England and the Midwest. Again, I 100% support and love nordic combined, but now is a good time to grow and expand.
    Go USNOCO

  5. nordic_dave says:

    I see that I have taught Marty the lesson well. So glad he brought it up.Transperancy of the USOC fund allocations to USSA does not exist, i.e. per line item amounts by sport. It was set up that way on purpose years ago. But Marty already got the non answer last year on that one. Some forensic accounting would be a very interesting exercise here. Even more so for XC. So you can cut jumping and or NC and USSA still gets it’s USOC funding allocation with or without funding the sport……Interesting.

    Big Joe, you are dead on right about the development contrasts as to how XC has done it vs. NC. But it looks to me if NC is to have a future going forward, getting back to it’s roots and building Junior Nordic program will be key and Skijumper nailed that one. I assure you the onus is not on me but am trying to help those engaged to find the right solution. Stay tuned when Nordic Combined comes up with a plan I hope it’s made very public and that it is something that everybody can get behind in a new potentially refreshing funding format. That may or may not be with the NNF I hope it is but that isn’t the most important thing right now. It may be a very dark few weeks and months ahead but with the right plan, these guys can come out looking better than ever. Make no mistake these guys are going on the offense they will not feel sorry for themselves.

    Cheers, ND

    As always it’s easy to admire the problem, as in oh my heck! Exponentially harder to come up with a solution. Be assured some people are working hard in this aspect

  6. So this is what success gets you from the USSA… Good luck with other funding. The best revenge will be to win again.

  7. jimrenkert says:

    Joe, You’re going to have to enlighten me here regarding your statement that Ted Stevens gutted the Amateur Sports Act a decade ago. How and what exactly did he do? There may very well have been some kind of tweak to the Act (which I’m unaware of) that “gutted” the bill but please be specific. The late Senator Stevens was a driving force behind passage of both Title IX and the Amateur Sports Act and the creation of the USOC. So much so that the ASA is now officially known as the “Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act.” Ted would probably be appalled that funding has been cut for both men’s jumping and Nordic combined. We’ve been rebuilding the jumping and NC facilities and programs here in Alaska and I can say for certain that Ted would have been extremely proud and supportive of those efforts. Something’s not right here.
    Marty – great observations.

  8. As a former nordic combined skier this is tough news to hear, but it is great to see the positive reactions by the current coaching staff, athletes, and nordic community. I’m eager to hear the solutions that are brought forward and am ready to provide the financial support that I am able to when more clarity is given around the future plans and status of the team. In the mean time, keep training and working hard.

    After taking a look at the USOC’s Form 990 (publicly available at the links below), it appears that several nordic clubs and associations receive cash grant money every year earmarked for “Furthering Olympic and Paralympic Support”. While the amounts are not near the amount given to the USSA, it is great to see these associations receiving money from the USOC that is outside of the USSA’s control and goes to support nordic skiing. I’m not sure what the process is to apply for USOC grant money or the restrictions on what the funds can be used for, but I would think this may be worthwhile to explore if the necessary 501(c)(3) organization is created, or an existing one applies for the grant.

    ND- I’ll do some analysis and see if I can develop any insight into the USOC fund allocations to USSA. Even if there is no transparency to the public, it should be possible to form a guess based on information available. Not sure if it will be useful, but it may be interesting to see.

    USOC Tax Disclosures:
    http://www.teamusa.org/Footer/Finance (2012-2010)
    http://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/131548339 (Pre 2010)

  9. Tim Kelley says:

    Does anyone know what percent of USSA revenues come from the USOC? Is it a high percent? Or does revenue from corporate sponsorships make the USOC impact minimal? If the USOC revenues to the USSA are significant and should they not decrease by eliminating a sport, that would seem like a pretty shady business move. On the other hand, if USOC revenues took a big drop this year … then it’s sad to see a traditional sport take the bullet rather than network-driven goofball Alpine skiing sports like slopeside, skicross or halfpipe skiing.

  10. Tim: According to “http://usathletictrust.org” for 2011 (the only information I could find so far) USSA was “the largest recipient of USOC funds” with $3.45 million in grants.

  11. Tim – It looks like the the percent of USSA revenues that comes from the USOC is approximately 20% historically, however it depends if you use the revenue numbers from the USSA annual report or tax returns. It may be better to look at the percentage of USOC grant money received to the amount spent on athletic programs. In this case, the percent of USSA expenses for athletic programs that comes from the USOC is between 20 and 30% looking at the past few years.

  12. teamepokeedsbyn says:

    Would be nice some day if Nordic sports in the country had their own NGB. Jumping such a great arena event too. Oh well….

  13. ya know what’s really sad. Noah Hoffman’s blog get’s more comments on what he had for breakfast than this story is getting here. Goes to show how underground the current administration drove nordic combined.

  14. realitycheck says:

    I feel for the athletes and program and hope all works out for the best (or even better). The idea that Noah Hoffman’s blog gets more comments than this thread because “the current administration” drove nordic combined “underground” is a real stretch. Encourage supporters to promote the hell out of nordic and stay positive. Regardless of any truth involved, sniping at USSA execs or other disciplines and athletes will get you labeled as whiners. Won’t help.

  15. Good points by all. Skijumper and Nordic Dave, I agree that we need to build the base at the club development level for the WHOLE nation. There is some glimmer of hope. At this year’s Junior Nationals, the usually dominant SSWSC was absent from the Team Podium. Don’t recall that happening in a long time. This is not to bash them, but rather point out that we have strong programs and decent level of depth in juniors but don’t have an effective development program structure and funding to support our juniors. We have to look at the pyramid, not the silo model to be successful long term. Interesting to note that Dave Jarrett used the word “opportunity” 4 times in his email. It might be a painful start, but we will be better off shedding the burden of USSA.

  16. skiteamathletes says:

    They can’t fund athletics because they just hired a new EVP, a Chief Development Officer, another VP and are pay other VP’s as much as a whole Team. Only athletics suffers.

  17. skiteamathletes says:

    They can’t fund athletics because they just hired a new EVP, a Chief Development Officer, another VP and are paying other VP’s as much as a whole Team. Only athletics suffers.

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