Wednesday, August 13, 2008

More on "Resetting" the USCF

Steve in Tennessee, who used to be a regular contributor to the ChessUSA site which does in-depth coverage of USCF issues, was kind enough to email me about my post On Reforming/RESETTING the USCF. With his kind permission, I post his reply in full:

Been meaning to respond to your entry... You have put some thought into the situation. I think, however, you've put the cart ahead of the horse in dismantling the USCF even though you have placed your finger on the root problem which is democratic governance. Even in the pre-OMOV days EB (and prior PB) members were voted in by delegates. So it was democracy of a sort even then.

The USCF does need a restructure, but the restructuring needs to be in the realm of governance and management. Right now it is set up with a strong EB and a weak ED, with nominal oversight from a delegate system that meets as a "board of directors" once a year. Even this oversight is troubled in that most delegates that have been elected do not show up for these annual meetings. For instance, this year between 60 and 70 delegates voted on motions over two days of meetings where the appointed delegates outnumbered the elected delegates. What happens is that when not enough elected delegates and alternate delegates show up anyone who is attending the meeting may be appointed by the state chair to represent that state. The USCF has 125-130 elected delegates with about 10 of that number being "delegates at large." Only about 30 showed up for the Sat/Sun meetings. In fact, there were elected delegates that showed up for the Open, but refused to answer "present" at the delegates meetings!

Before spinning off the various USCF assets and properties, I would overhaul the governance/management system. My preference would be for a strong ED (management) to be the "face" of the organization and the CEO in fact as well as in title. The EB should be an oversight board ONLY with quarterly reviews of the organization direction as run by the ED, and only empowered to enforce the will of the delegates between annual meetings. I would expand the EB to between 13-17 members instead of the current 7 to diffuse the "cult" problems the smaller board now faces. I would have delegate elections held enough in advance of the annual meetings to facilitate the currently elected delegates being seated at that meeting. This year's delegates that were elected in June were not seated for this year's meeting -- their first meeting will be in 2009! The delegates seated at this year's meeting were elected two years ago. I would place the expectation of showing up to and being involved in the annual meetings on persons seeking to be delegates.

Bottom line: The USCF needs professional management and is not getting it. Something has to change.

Great points, Steve and thanks again for your reply. As I replied:

I think as far as governance issues go, the strong CEO who really has power and gets some incentive compensation would go a long way. Still like my ideas of how to change the revenue stream away from the membership dues model, though.

As always, any additional input from The Readership is valued and appreciated.


ID 12677402 said...

I've always appreciated Steve's comments on the USCF forums. Balanced, even keel. I have very little time to digest all the grandstanding and flamethrowing that usually occurs in the various chess forums. At 26yrs old I find it all very amusing that everyone finds more time to get into pedantic discussions rather than sitting down to the board and playing. I really think that most controversy is driven by a small (<50 of 80,000 registered members?) group.

Few on the 'net are able to communicate their thoughts without throwing in some barbs or political attacks and I'm glad there are some such as yourself who can carry on a decent conversation without the other crap.

Here are some macro-level thoughts on the USCF that could change the shape of the proposals...

The USCF isn't in the ratings business. Well, they are of course b/c they maintain the ratings...but the rating is just one component of the overall structure. The true business of the USCF might be described as "legitimate organized play." In the history of time organized play is relatively new -- give or take 150 years old. The true value of the USCF is the structure and guidance it gives to organized chess competition in the U.S., however flawed it might be. We have a substantial rule book that covers MANY situations, and that builds a certain level of trust between the organization and the players. Not a total dependent trust of course, but a trust that the TD has received adequate testing for the level of tournament and that the rules are already established and will be followed. In this respect, the internet clubs are late-comers. They do the technical things wonderfully -- real-time ratings updates and such. What the USCF has wrestled with over the last 10 (ten!?!) years is how to sanction and legitimize online play and minimize the risk of cheating. This is a TALL order.

The USCF should be deliberate about its online interactions and agreements. Ten years ago the Federation blew a lot of money trying to build it's own playing site that would sanction USCF-rated online play. Normally this example is used as an example of incompetence. I contend that this is an example of the federation's willingness to finally be on the bleeding edge of something, and they didn't have the right resources to accomplish the task. The failure of the venture left a bad taste in everyone's mouth (how would you like to be accused of poor management for trying to give players what they want before they wanted it?). Today the political environment has changed somewhat. Online play is allowable, you just have to find two TD's willing to put their name on the dotted line!!! There are many services that accomplish the technical aspects of online play far better than the USCF could ever do. If there was ever an outsourcing opportunity, the hosting of online play is definitely a candidate. Again, the USCF serves to legitimize this type of play as officially recognized and a method that the players can trust. While I question how many USCF members would actually play in online rated tournaments I wouldn't stand in anyone's way over it. Try it and see I guess, but I don't trust that I'm not actually playing Fritz or Crafty until there is a formal structure around online USCF-rated play.

We must be very careful in examining "success" in other countries before comparing to the US. This comment is motivated by numerous UK-oriented comments across many different USCF-related sites over the course of the last two weeks. There is no doubt that the Brits are successful, but they have their own unique baggage. THe row between the UK federation and the Scottish federation is particularly polarizing. However...this could all serve as further proof that a federation can experience many successes while the politics are ugly. There are too many local successes in the U.S. to count in the face of all the national politics. As an example I take your scholastic proposal as evidence that scholastics is indeed a success. That aspect of the organization is more than rife with politics; anytime you involve someone's kid, it's the parents who make life a living hell.

A few thoughts on FIDE and their B.S. The "world player's association" was called the PCA not so long ago. Unfortunately it folded for lack of sponsorship...and related organizations have failed because the founders did not trust the business side of the organization. This distrust is driven by a whole new set of circumstances which may impact the U.S. somewhat. "Fair" means a myriad of things to different nationalities. You cannot change someone's upbringing, and Communism is not truly dead. Paranoia is standard in world chess, and for that reason any significant effort against FIDE will eventually crumble for lack of solidarity. I'm glad that the USCF has, for the most part, left FIDE alone and declined to push any envelopes in this arena. Too much potential for resource drain.

Again, thanks for the actual discussion rather than flamethrowing pronouncements. USCF is more than a ratings service -- it's also the local community and how to best support it. Although the national organization isn't perfect (and what national org is???), the rules put in place and structure allow me to promote chess on a local level to great effect and offers legitimacy to both insiders and outsiders. Best of luck in your other endeavors. I can be PM'd through the USCF forum system.

Polly said...

Steve's comments about elected delegates who were at the US Open, but didn't bother to come to the meetings needs a little clarification. It's not fair to take shots at those individuals.

When USCF prepares the ballots for the election of delegates they ask the state associations to provide a list of names in the order they want them to appear on the ballot. Some states just appoint the people they want to appear on the ballot. other states hold elections.

The average USCF member doesn't give a crap or doesn't really know who theses people are from their state. Quite often they'll end out voting for well known people from their states, who have no interest in attending the meetings or being part of the process.

In this year's election for the 2009, and 2010 delegate slots Joel Benjamin received the most votes for downstate NY. He lives in New Jersey now. I can't recall whether he actually ever has attended a delegates meeting, but I don't think it's high on his list of priorities. Gata Kamsky is also one of the 7 people who received the most votes so he will be a delegate for NY. Do you think he will come to the meeting? (Maybe if someone pays him an appearance fee.)

I have attended the last three US Opens and been a delegate for NY at the three meetings. In this year's election I did not make the top 7, but I am one the alternates. Assuming I can afford to go next year I will be in Indianapolis and will attend the meetings.

There is a flaw in a sytem where grandmasters who have no interest in this stuff are placed on the ballot and elected to serve. It's no wonder we end out with so many "delegates for a day" filling out states where people don't come.

I'm not knocking the "delegates for a day" because many of them have genuine interest in the issues and have taken the time to show up, and get appointed some way or another.

With such a hot topic on the table I do think that there were a number of "delegates for a day" recruited by both sides to try to win on the issue. There were people that I have never seen at the meetings before, and probably won't be seen again until the next super hot issue comes up for a vote.

PS. I'm honored to be your tag line.