Thank you for this opportunity to speak to the USST for its lack of cooperation with the collegiate system.

For years, when Pat Miller and I were rebuilding the Uni. of Utah’s ski racing program (1976-1981), cooperation between the colleges and the USST was sketchy at best. We were just another feeder program for the USST. I wholeheartedly side with Mr. Dodge in his frustrations for the ability of the USST to do so. Cooperation is still woefully lacking. Not much has changed in 40 years. Shame on you Tiger. It was the NCAA system that helped you shine.

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Back then, Collegiate skiing got a bum rap from the skiing community at large for its foreign recruitment. I was chastised by many local Intermountain Skiing parents for doing so. As the head Alpine coach at Utah, we tried our best to support American Nordic and Alpine ski racers.

It wasn’t until the winter of 1979 our attitude on recruiting shifted. At the time, Utah had one of the best American ski jumpers in the US. He was given an ultimatum by the USST if he was to be considered to compete in the 1980 Olympics. To do so, he would have to spend the winter of 1979 in Europe. We pleaded with the Director of the USST Nordic program to work with us on sharing the jumper’s talent for the NCAA final competition in Steamboat, CO. The Jumper decided after our unproductive haggling with the USST to leave us in the lurch. Going into the final day of competition with ski jumping, Utah was in 1st place ahead of the Uni. of Colorado. By the end of that day, we finished second 23 points behind the University of Colorado.

It was much safer for us in the later years to go to Europe for our competitors than try to ford an alliance with the USST. I beg Mr. Shaw to support collegiate skiing. It was his bread and butter back when he was competing for Dartmouth. Utah Racers like Mark Halverson would never have made it to the USST if not for the University feeder programs.

— Roo Harris

Editor’s note: This letter was submitted in response to the article USST, NCAA butt heads over NorAm schedule. Have some thoughts on this? Send a letter to the editor. If it’s good, we’ll publish it.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. The United States Ski Team is a prototypical American NGB. It reflects the culture of the USOPC which essentially commoditizes athletes in order to generate revenue and preserve itself. In the wake of the Nasser scandal the USOPC commissioned the law firm Ropes and Gray to produce an investigative report. In its report Ropes and Gray notes that the “USOC evaluate[s] athletes much like a professional sports organization or any other company evaluating assets and examine[s] the return in athletic success on its monetary investments.” See https://www.nassarinvestigation.com/en.

    Money devolves from the USOPC to the USST based on medals and resulting publicity. There is, however, one important distinction between professional athletes under contract with their organization and the USST. At least the Boston Red Sox need to consider the long-term health of an athlete with whom they have a contract. The mutuality of interest creates some incentive for the health of the athlete. The USST has no such long term interest. They are free to release an athlete virtually at will.

    The current USOPC/NGB model is the antithesis of athlete centered development. Our NGBs have abandoned the true purpose of sport – to foster the holistic development of children and young adults through a mutually respectful pursuit of excellence. In its place they simply seek to use athletes to generate revenue via international success and thereby preserve their own existence.

    It is my belief that if our NGBs fostered an athlete centered approach not only would success inevitably follow but it would enhance the development of each and every child participating in sport and resultantly broaden the ski community in the United States. Sport is in fact about the children and young adults participating and not generating revenue.

  2. Joe, You hit on important and touchy subjects responding to Roo. But in doing so you bring the focus back where it should be to the athletes. The whole who “controls” the athlete thing has always mystified me. I keep hearing that word. Can’t we work together to keep kids skiing longer and aspiring to the highest levels? Well meaning and motivated college coaches who as Pete Dodge said in the Butting Heads piece just want to help kids ski faster. The constant refrain I hear from college coaches east and west is that they “will do anything” to help their athletes race Nor-Ams or even World Cups and to move on from the college ranks. Look at Middlebury this year supporting Ali Nullmeyer. It’s not just Dartmouth! I was at the Bates Carnival where all the coaches who made that crazy trek to those rescheduled Mt Edouard Nor Ams could hardly keep their eyes open after driving all night so their athletes could make that Carnival start. Plus those colleges have significant financial resources. Colby College aside from just making a sincere commitment to skiing with their new coach hire is currently making an investment in athletics many times the size of the investment in the the CoE and that is just one school and a little one at that! It seems collaboration in the name of the athlete including lining up all of our US skiing resources like those available in our college system would have a significant on our sport but only if we can get over the control issue.

  3. Sounds like all USST and NCAA stake holders should meet for a big conference, which is chartered to reach a compromise, and all the stake holders agree to the charter, before hand. It should be chaired by some one, or a small group, who get a lot of respect, and are skilled in conflict resolution. Reaching a consensus might require some one to do a lot of ground work, before a meeting, it may be necessary to hire a consultant to identify the sticking points. Most everyone can probably agree that its in every ones interest to identify more american skiers who are winners on the WC, because having media stars helps everyone programs by generating enthusiasm for the sport here at home.

  4. I am somewhat comforted that there is someone else out there that remembers four event college skiing. What a shame it died off.

    • Tom,

      The sad part was, not too many colleges and universities at the time could field the jumping event to make for an opportunity for the overall NCAA title. I think it was no more than five to seven schools. I’m betting you remember the skimeister award? To make it a more level playing field for the myriad of schools competing, the XC relay event took its place in the winter of 1980-1981. As an old alpine coach, I loved watching those Nordic guys fly! A number of times, the outcome of the NCAA championships came down to the last event, Jumping.

      Another change I deplored was the implementation of the “rapid ” gate. Although done for the safety of the ski racer, this changed the complexion of how slalom was skied to the point I do not enjoy watching it to this day. As the host University, we used for them for first time in the 1981 NCAA Championships in Park City. Turning around the gate took finesse and an exacting degree of skill. Eventually, this left the beautiful slalom event to bashing down the hill. More of a boxing event instead of poetry in motion. Ah, change!

      Thanks for the reminiscing…

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