JEFF RICHGELS | Posted: Friday, April 6, 2018 9:00 am
NOTE: This story is freely available to anyone and does not require a subscription. I consider it an important story that needs the widest possible exposure. I have offered Chad Murphy the opportunity to write a response that I will not edit in any way and will post on my site and link to this story.
UPDATE: The USBC Board of Directors sent a letter on this topic on Saturday, April 7, 2018 that I attached to the bottom of this story as a PDF.
At 11 a.m. on Friday, March 23, the United States Bowling Congress opened entries for the 2019 Open Championships. Fourteen minutes later, it put out a news release that detailed rules changes that meant some people who had registered teams right away to get desired dates and squad times did so with committed team line-ups that now were illegal.
It set off a social media firestorm centered on a rule that gave all college bowlers — even those averaging in the 140s and 150s — the same restrictive status as elite national team players and PBA players without Tour titles under age 60. That means a team of low-level college bowlers couldn’t begin a tradition of bowling the Open Championships together. My story is here.
USBC provided no advance notice that changes were coming, much less what they were. The process that resulted in the changes was conducted in secret, with no method for interested members to provide direct input.
With an avalanche of dissatisfaction on social media growing beyond the usual USBC-can-do-no-right crowd to reach a critical mass, USBC on Monday scheduled a conference call for bowling media for Tuesday.
When asked in the call why the changes weren’t announced in advance to give people time to comply, USBC Executive Director Chad Murphy conceded that it was a mistake.
“I think we had a misstep on the timing,” he said. “They were supposed to be out a little earlier and then the registration opened. And it just took a little longer to get it out.”
Anyone who follows or interacts with Murphy knows how rare it is for him to admit a mistake, but it certainly wasn’t the first misstep under his reign, with things getting markedly worse in the last year or two.
There has been the “loftfest” fiasco that led to the world’s best bowler throwing back-up balls at the 2017 U.S. Open, the United States Olympic Committee putting USOC on probation in an ongoing process that could result in USBC losing its status as bowling’s National Governing Body, USBC in 2016 and again 2018 having to admit it didn’t write the rules as it intended them to mean for the Open Championships and issuing corrected rules, an effort to possibly implement new ball technology restrictions that included secret negotiations with manufacturers and could set off an industry war, removing Michael Tang from Team USA after selecting him for the team when questions were raised about his eligibility, a controversial league rerating system announced that led to much controversy and reversals of rerates that obviously shouldn’t have happened, the announcement of potential new lane specification rules that could cost proprietors thousands of dollars and angered many, the continued sharp decline of adult membership and youth membership, and Murphy making bizarre posts on social media such as the one at the end of this story that embarrassed the organization, among other things.
Such missteps shouldn’t be surprising for an organization that operates with little transparency or accountability under a leader who dominates all around him, forcing out or driving away anyone who challenges or questions his views and authority — the kind of people who might be able to prevent mistakes.
That is the characterization provided to 11thFrame.com by a multitude of former USBC employees, bowling industry insiders, and proprietors and bowlers who have dealt with Murphy and USBC under him.
They described a system that produces a Board of Directors of mostly hand-picked candidates that hires, supervises and fires the executive director — one set up to enable Murphy to consolidate power enough to effectively rule unchecked.
The executive director is hired by the Board, which once was authorized for up to 25 people but now is at 20, with 18 positions filled currently.
Currently, just nine director positions are elected by the delegates at the Annual Meeting, with the rest slated for Team USA athletes (4 but at least 20 percent of the Board), proprietors (2), youth committee representatives (2), at large-positions (2), and Youth Ambassador (1). Team USA athletes elect the athletes, the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America the proprietor positions, IBC Youth Committee the youth representatives, and the President the at-large selections. The appointments are subject to Board approval. Details on this are in the USBC bylaws.
The candidates the delegates get to vote on are determined by the nominating committee, with this philosophy, according to this page at BOWL.com: “Nominations for the United States Bowling Congress (“USBC”) Board of Directors shall be determined by the Nominating Committee. The Committee is dedicated to ensuring the board’s expertise aligns with the Mission and Vision of the USBC and in accordance with its bylaws.”
According to this USBC news release, in 2010 — well before Murphy’s tenure — the USBC Board changed the procedure for the Nominating Committee to recommend that it only recommend one candidate for each open position.
"The reason for the procedural change is to give delegates a stronger indication about which candidates the nominating committee feels will be the best fit for the board," Tamoria Adams, USBC Board Secretary and Policy Manual Committee Chair, said in the release. "Delegates will still have a diverse group of candidates to choose from at this year's convention.
"Many non-profit and for-profit organizations slate the same number of candidates as open board spots. USBC is now being consistent with a proven business practice and allowing the committee to select the best candidates based on the skills needed to help the organization."
Other changes included requiring any person wishing to be nominated from the floor to notify the Nominating Committee by March 1 in order to be included in the Meet the Candidates sessions at the convention, with floor candidates not meeting the March 1 deadline still able to run by providing at least 24 hours notice ahead of the Annual Meeting.
Those procedures have since been changed so that no candidate can run from the floor unless their nomination is received by the Nominating Committee chair 30 days prior to the start of the annual meeting. Some insiders say this was a reaction to noted independent thinker Bill Vint — see this story — getting elected from the floor a few years ago.
Details on the procedures are at this page at BOWL.com.
“Candidates from the floor are stepchildren and treated that way during the entire election process,” said a former USBC insider who didn’t want to be named to avoid possible retaliation as they still are involved in bowling.
Mike Italia is the only other Board member elected from the floor in the past decade that I could find. In 2010, the Nominating Committee passed him over while he was a sitting Board member.
All of this makes the nominating committee crucial to the process. And Murphy is on the nominating committee, along with other USBC staff and the assigned Board members. USBC committees are listed here on BOWL.com. (Note: The original posting of this paragraph incorrectly said the information wasn't on BOWL.com)
While Murphy does not vote with the board members who choose the nominating committee candidates, he sits in on the interviews, and the former insider noted the inherent conflict of interest: “The only employee that directly reports to the Board is involved in the process of choosing candidates that could potentially be responsible for evaluating that employee.”
Roger Dalkin served as USBC/American Bowling Congress head man for a decade before retiring in 2007, shortly before USBC moved from the Milwaukee suburb of Greendale to the Dallas suburb of Arlington in 2008. The USBC Hall of Famer said he couldn’t recall ever sitting in on nominating committee interviews with potential candidates.
“I reported to the Board,” he said. “It would be a potential conflict (of interest). If by some chance I sat in as the ranking staff member, I definitely would not participate in the interview or discussion. I do recall suggesting at-large candidates during my ABC tenure to fill in skill gaps for the board to consider.”
I attempted to interview an associations trade group expert on best practices, but was unable to hook up with anyone in time for this story. I will add the information to the story if I gain an interview. Here are widely accepted industry standards for associations according to ASAE.
One bowling executive who has had no involvement with USBC and who didn’t want to be named said it was a clear conflict of interest for Murphy to take part in the nominating committee interviews, and the person also criticized the procedures that make it so difficult for candidates to run from the floor.
Jonathan Burke is a former local association official who now lives in upstate New York who experienced the process first-hand in trying to become a board member both before Murphy’s tenure and during it. And he said Murphy’s involvement was far more pronounced than his predecessor Stu Upson, who did sit in on his 2013 interview with the Nominating Committee but only as a fill-in, according to Burke’s understanding.
Burke’s 2013 interview was before a panel of board members consisting of Darlene Baker, Marci Williams, Tony Manna and Libbi Fletcher, with Upson sitting in.
“For the next hour, I was grilled on everything — my values, my leadership, my stance on the future of bowling,” Burke said. “That year, I wasn’t selected to the board. I was told I was too enthusiastic about the coaching aspect to keep the kids involved, and missed some of the bigger picture items. I took the advice, and applied the next year.”
He failed to get invited before the nominating committee, didn’t apply for a year, then applied again in 2016, and was selected to go before the nominating committee again.
He said the panel he appeared before in Charlotte, N.C., on Jan. 20, 2017, included board members Frank Wilkinson, Jay Daryman, Karen Jost, Melissa McDaniel, Bill O’Neill, Dan Patterson and Mark Martin, with Murphy sitting in.
He perceived two of the four slated slots to be “locked up” by current board members Karl Kielich and Jo Dimond. They eventually were elected, along with Adam Mitchell.
Burke said the first task was a group session with the other potential nominees discussing, “How do you define success?”
“Chad’s involvement was pronounced, even as a liaison to the meeting,” Burke said. “He continuously interrupted the group session to re-direct us, to a point, often added commentary to the discussion, and seemed to try and influence the direction of things at all times.
“In the subsequent face-to-face interview with the same group, each person asked one question, going around the room. I did my best to brown nose where I could, without it being blatant. I played to my strengths, touched on the values each member stood for who asked me their question. When it got to Chad, he asked about why people began to stray from bowling, and why I thought membership was declining. I was blunt, more or less. I commented on how the game is becoming a choice for parents when their kids want to play other sports. How there’s little scholarship opportunity that’s openly visible. At the higher level of play, I spoke to declining USBC OC numbers, and how the rule changes, division changes, hiding the patterns all played into it, PLUS the Reno fatigue that was setting in. Rather than take any of my comments as plausible, he pointed to the divorce rate in the country, and how that could possibly be contributing to the decline in membership, as fewer families were going bowling together. He seemed to have his mind made up about what he wanted to blame membership decline on, and I didn’t agree with it.
“Two questions later, I was asked about social media – and how its role is affecting things, as well as whether I thought it was proper to reply to something on social media if I were elected to the board. I, again, bluntly stated that if it were a falsehood, it should be corrected. The key is to get out in front of bad ideas, misinformation, and badmouthing the organization. Chad chimed in, again, this time not on his own question, and advocated for his non-answer methodology. I really didn’t feel like pushing back at that point about how clarity is a virtue worth showing your membership, but it didn’t seem like he cared much.”
Burke described his two interviews as “very different.”
“The first was intimate, friendly, and against a stacked field,” he said. “The second was almost pre-determined, and just going through the motions. From what I saw in the group interview, the non-incumbents were truly unclear about their stances on issues. None of them articulated a viewpoint, but it didn’t seem to matter. I feel like I wasted membership revenue by flying down there, and staying over in a five-star hotel. There didn’t seem to be any rationale behind the decision, and when Jay Daryman called to explain the board’s decision, all I got was that I wasn’t passionate enough, a bit too restrained. I poured my soul out to that group, and I just truly feel it wouldn’t have mattered what came out of my mouth — they picked who they wanted before we even flew in.”
At the Annual Meeting later this month, the delegates will vote for three delegates, which is exactly how many candidates the Nominating Committee moved forward, as I reported in this story.
Since the time has passed for someone to register to be nominated from the floor, the delegates will have no choice (unless someone has and USBC hasn’t announced it).
Three more hand-picked candidates from a process Murphy is intimately involved with will advance to the Board, where they will be responsible for supervising him.
Could there be a more blatant conflict of interest?
A former USBC insider from years ago said the typical practice was to advance more candidates than the number of openings to give delegates choices, and that has happened since the 2010 change with four candidates for three positions at least one year.
The insider said having “control” of the Board enables a person or group to make decisions in advance and any discussion by the Board at the meeting becomes moot.
And “if the powers that be control the other entities — Nominating Committee, IBC Youth Committee, BPAA — they can unofficially control who gets placed there. That's the beauty of it, they can hide behind the process.”
Update: A few days after this story was posted, Burke announced on his Facebook page that he would apply for the Board again for 2019 and planned to run from the floor if USBC didn't pick him as a slated candidate.
I’ve gotten numerous stories about the process and Murphy off the record for years, but could do little since people declined to even be quoted without their names being used — that is the extent of the intimidation power of Murphy.
However, after the firestorm that began with the 2019 Open Championships changes announcement, a few stepped forward willing to go on the record, including Burke and former USBC executives Neil Stremmel and Steve Wunderlich. Many others agreed to be quoted so long as they weren’t named, even though doing so could threaten their positions in bowling if their identities were somehow learned.
Stremmel worked at USBC for years before Murphy’s tenure, heading the Equipment and Specifications department and later serving as Managing Director, National Governing Body before he left in early 2016 to become Standards Manager at the Acoustical Society of America. He still serves as the Chair of the Technical Committee with World Bowling, the governing body recognized by the International Olympic Committee for the sport globally.
Murphy became interim executive director in early 2014, a job Stremmel acknowledges he wanted, and worked two years with Murphy as his boss before leaving because he came to believe he couldn’t trust Murphy and Murphy didn’t trust him.
“I’ve had a lot of bosses over the years — various industries besides bowling,” Stremmel said. “Chad by far is the worst boss I have ever had. We called him the bully boss immediately because that’s his MO. He’s a huge micromanager and ultimately gets his way. When he was my equal it was a different story – we had fights and battles but he just stopped inviting me to his meetings. Once he was my boss it was fights and battles, but in the end he would just try to wear me down or force a decision on me.
“He’s got positives too. I’ve always said he has relentless energy. And you have to have that to be the micromanager he is. Most micromanagers can’t get very far up the ladder because you can’t just do everything. But because of his energy, he’s able to stick his nose in every little thing, and make virtually every decision.
“The next person who goes in after him is going to have a lot of trouble, because he’s worn everybody down and it’s gotten to the point where nobody really questions him or pushes him. He basically makes the decision.”
Wunderlich calls Murphy a “classic bully” who forced him out of USBC in 2015 in a way that he didn’t get all the severance pay he deserved.
A 3-time PBA Tour champion whose titles included the USBC Masters, Wunderlich worked in both Wisconsin and Texas for USBC, heading Sport Bowling and later serving as Director of Business Development. He currently manages Cowtown Bowling Palace in Fort Worth, Texas.
After he was forced out, Wunderlich said he contacted an attorney who told him his case for the severance pay was potentially winnable. However, he ultimately decided not to sue because he was persuaded by trusted friends not to cause a stir in bowling with such a lawsuit.
About a month after his time at USBC ended, Wunderlich drafted a letter he planned to send to then-USBC President Andrew Cain regarding his case, but never sent after speaking with trusted people who related to him that Cain had “drank the Chad Kool-Aid.” Rather than going through it all in an interview with me, he shared that letter with me.
Wunderlich said that at a meeting in June with Murphy and Deputy Executive Director Jason Overstreet he was told that changes were going to be made to the sponsorship department and that the intent was to bring in an agency to handle many of the responsibilities Wunderlich was managing.
He said he was told he had two options: handling the day-to-day logistics of the partnerships and sponsorships, or become part of the Associations team and be on the road for 16 to 20 days per month. Both options featured a 40 percent reduction in salary.
“We talked a while about my options and Chad indicated that he really saw me in the Association role,” Wunderlich wrote. “I highlighted that while I really enjoy working with both proprietors and our associations, I was not interested in being on the road for two-thirds of every month. I also want to mention that on three different occasions during the discussion, Chad highlighted ‘most people would not accept this offer.’ This did not seem like someone who was promoting for me to stay and those words would play an important role in how I felt about my long-term future at USBC. He concluded the discussion by asking that I take a few days to consider and let him know what I wanted to do.”
The next Monday, Wunderlich said he told Murphy he would consider staying at USBC in some capacity if he would re-think the salary offer, with the next meeting on Aug. 20.
“Chad starts the discussion stating that they have in fact found an agency and plan to move forward with that plan,” Wunderlich wrote. “He then asked what my thoughts are regarding my future. Frankly, I was not expecting this question. I expected for him to tell me what he wanted me to do. Having said that, after two months of consideration, I had decided if he did not give me any other option than those given previously, that I would decline. Since he did not provide any, I highlighted that he had mentioned three times the last time we had talked that most people would not accept his offer and that I too had decided to pass.
“Chad's response was something like that my response was the most negative thing he had ever heard. ‘You had no idea what we were going to offer and are just making assumptions.’ I can say that at this time, I was totally confused by his complete surprise regarding my response. I was purely responding to information I had been provided two months earlier with nothing additional provided.
“Chad then continued to highlight his disbelief regarding my answer and then stated how he had offered me the options with the salary reduction as a way to stay with the organization and that he could have just let me go like he had done with others. He then indicated that he had some additional offers but my attitude was so poor that he would not provide them.”
Wunderlich said Murphy sent him back to his office, and after a while Overstreet came and asked him to return.
“I told him that I did not believe Chad wants me to stay and it is a waste of time,” Wunderlich wrote. “He asked me to come and listen to him so I did. Again, the minute I walk into his office, Chad goes off on me about not being interested in the two opportunities and that he had planned to offer other opportunities. I said I would love to hear them and he said, ‘No, I am not going to tell you.’ That I did not deserve other options. I highlighted that when I came into the meeting, he asked me what I thought and I was honest and said that I was not interested in either option. Now he says there are other options but he won't tell me.”
“After we banter back and forth for a couple of minutes about how I would like to hear the additional options and how he is not going to tell me, he then says, ‘So where are we now?’ I say it sounds like I am not going to be working here much longer. He jumps up and says, ‘You quit!’ I say, ‘No I never said I quit, I just said I am not accepting either of the jobs you have offered me.’ He says, ‘No, you quit, go and pack your office.’ “
Wunderlich said he went back to his office, Murphy came in a couple of minutes later and ordered him to leave and come back and pack up at 5 p.m.
“When I returned he was there to watch me pack,” Wunderlich wrote. “I highlighted to him again that at no time had I ever quit, that I liked my job very much and unless he fired me, I was quite content in my role. He of course continued to highlight that I quit and that was that! During this conversation, Chad also indicated that he had talked to (USBC President Andrew Cain) and (Cain) had decided to give me two weeks severance. I of course highlighted that I had been there for over 12 years and was owed an additional 10 weeks. He stated that I was lucky to get the two weeks.
“In reflection, in the days following it was blatantly obvious that he had wanted me to quit all along and since I would not do so, he bullied me into what he claimed was me quitting.”
Wunderlich’s wife Cindy, who also was a long-time USBC employee, was let go by USBC a month after Steve.
Almost without exception, the people I have talked to over the years have — like Stremmel and Wunderlich — used the term “bully” when describing Murphy.
And it’s something I’ve experienced personally, but never revealed publicly.
Early in his tenure, he once told me I’d make a great Board member and encouraged me to apply. I told him I’d never do that because I’d have to give up 11thFrame.com.
I was elected to the USBC Hall of Fame in 2011 and then was asked to serve on the Hall of Fame Committee for five years before not being asked back, which I surmised was related to stories I had written that weren’t in support of USBC policies like hiding lane patterns. I accepted it without complaint because I had such great respect for my fellow committee members, who I knew would continue to do a conscientious job, and because I had no interest in a public battle that could accomplish nothing.
This happened around the time I received a call one night from Murphy that wasn’t prompted by any request for information from me. The call literally lasted three hours, with Murphy alternately trying to bribe me and bully me to be on USBC’s side in my coverage. He promised USBC social media would be used to build my subscriber base to 10,000 — I have consistently been a little above or below 1,400 — and he threatened to cut me off of all information. He also tried to cajole me into the view that my support would help bowling.
My girlfriend Sue got so disgusted that she went upstairs after about half an hour. I tried patiently to explain to Murphy that I am a professional journalist who operated 11thFrame.com for many years as a free site because I believe the sport deserves such coverage, and that I earned my living from my job at Capital Newspapers and it’s not a concern how many subscribers I have. I also explained that my serious competitive bowling career was over and how much I bowled and how I did was no longer a big deal to me.
A while later in early 2016, we had an issue over a story and I followed with a long message I still have trying to explain that I just wanted to have a solid professional relationship between reporter and newsmaker. Journalists can and I believe should be friendly with the people they cover, but not friends. For example, I don’t socialize with PBA’s Tom Clark or World Bowling’s Kevin Dornberger or the Wisconsin State Bowling Association’s Don Hildebrand or the Madison Area Bowling Association’s Bill Dennis, but I am friendly with each.
To Murphy’s credit, things got better between us for a long while and I felt he had accepted that we could agree to disagree on things like hiding lane patterns.
That apparently ended with my story in February about the discipline of Webber International over the use of an ineligible player in which I again wrote about the hypocrisy of bowling’s “amateur” rules, though I’m not sure why that would anger Murphy as the “amateur” situation in bowling long predates his tenure and I wrote that USBC had handled the situation correctly.
Since that story, USBC simply quit responding to my requests for information or comments. All bowlers should be concerned about this since I am the only journalist who covers bowling on a daily basis who has no financial dependency on the major integers of bowling — 11thFrame.com has no business relationships with any of the integers and no advertising, and I pay my bills through my salary from Capital Newspapers of Madison, where I am an online editor and have worked for 38 years, the last 28 full-time. I do receive free USBC dues and accommodations if I travel to the USBC Hall of Fame inductions, but those come from being in the Hall of Fame, not my writing.
The one issue I have is that I am on staff with Storm Products, Turbo and Logo Infusion, all of which is disclosed prominently on my site. Grips and jerseys are not matters of any controversy in bowling and rarely get mentioned in stories. I receive only an equipment stipend from Storm — no salary — and bend over backward to treat all the ball companies as equal as possible in any coverage. I have taken no sides in the possible new ball technology limits stating my long-held position that I have competed successfully since the days when polyester balls ruled and am happy to keep competing whatever the rules are.
The ironic thing is that if you go back through the years, before and after Murphy’s tenure, you will find me on USBC’s side of the great majority of issues. In fact, many things USBC has adopted have been things I championed and supported, such as fresh oil for all squads of the Open Championships, letting all USBC members bowl in the Open Championships, creation of a third division for the Open Championships, the emphasis on lane topography, the return of the PWBA Tour, the saving of the U.S. Open, the dues cap increase, and forced merger legislation, among many others.
But many people who have worked for and with Murphy say you’re either 100 percent with him, or you are a foe.
Stremmel said the people who work for him get so “beaten down” that they give up trying to challenge Murphy, and he believes that has led to some of USBC’s missteps, such as the college rule for the Open Championships.
“If people were pushing him and questioning him, and if he were open that, things would have come out different,” Stremmel said. “One person thinking they know something and not really thinking everything through comes up with what’s been presented. Someone who has some good intelligent people working with them and for them and who aren’t afraid to speak up will come up with something much better than this stupid new (college) rule. You have to have people who are going to question you and push you and help you and be smarter than you. But he thinks he’s the smartest person in the building. And he’ll tell you.
“I know there are a lot of good people at USBC but what good does it do if you are unwilling to truly listen to them? “
Stremmel acknowledged what he says will be portrayed as sour grapes, “And that’s partly why I haven’t said quite so much.”
Mistakes might also be prevented if there was more transparency and accountability to USBC processes.
The United States Bowling Congress has special status under U.S. law: it is the National Governing Body for bowling under the U.S. Olympic Committee and thereby charged with producing U.S. teams for international competition, and it has status as a 501(c)(3) non-profit.
In addition, any bowler who wishes to compete in certified competition must pay USBC dues, which can be likened to a citizen being required to pay taxes. Don’t pay those and you are shut out of certified leagues, association championships, PBA competition, and most major tournaments.
USBC is in essence a quasi-governmental body and therefore should follow the same principles as governmental bodies of conducting its business in an open, transparent and accountable manner, erring on the side of members’ right to know whenever there is any question about whether something should be revealed.
Unfortunately, USBC and its predecessor organizations have never lived up to that ideal, and things have gotten worse under Murphy.
For example, USBC did not reveal that it been placed under probation with the USOC until USOC documents were posted on Facebook roughly a month later, which led to this lengthy story by me last summer.
In the March 27 conference call with bowling media, USBC was asked about the lack of transparency regarding the case and Deputy Executive Director Jason Overstreet responded: “The matter is still in process. When we’re talking about communicating something that is this complex, rather than send out a communication mid-process that generates speculation about an outcome we’re choosing to communicate when the matter is resolved so our members can clearly see and understand precisely what’s changed and how they’re affected, if they’re affected at all.”
This is akin to a governmental body telling citizens about legislation only when it was passed, or a criminal case only when it was completed.
I am sympathetic to USBC’s position in the case and wrote last summer that it was odd that USOC seems to have been fine with USBC's policies and procedures in the area at the heart of the case (athlete discipline rights) since USBC’s rules and policies have not changed since USBC was accepted as bowling's NGB more than a decade ago.
But I’m not sympathetic to a body that essentially tells its members they aren’t worthy of being informed in a timely and consistent manner about such an important matter.
USOC recommended last year that USBC post minutes of USBC Board of Directors meetings on BOWL.com because an NGB “should be as open and transparent as possible,” although it said USOC rules do not require that. I searched BOWL.com thoroughly and could find no board minutes — if someone points me to them I will correct this.
USBC has made liberal use of secret task forces that help shape important policies like USBC Open Championships rules with no transparency and no accountability. No evidence even is provided that such task forces exist.
In the March 27 conference call, Murphy said the members of the task forces are given anonymity to protect them from social media “mobs.”
The proper response to that is, “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”
Those “mobs” perhaps would have a less vociferous reaction if there was an open process where a public committee considered the rules, with a vehicle for all members to provide input if they so desired. Members would be able to see if the input was considered or the task forces were used to get to a pre-determined endpoint.
Those “mobs” might also react differently if the rules announced late didn’t have such dramatic impact, and if some weren’t so ludicrous like the college rule. And it is not a valid argument to say it only impacts a small group as the college rule does — if there was just one person impacted in such a grossly unfair way that makes it wrong.
I have personal experience having served on a USBC group in 2014 that brought together people of varying backgrounds in bowling to explore different ideas for USBC’s dues structure. I believed in the chance to come up with some innovative ideas that we were told would be presented to the USBC Board for consideration, and I thought there might be several for the Board to examine.
The one idea I really wanted to see explored was a per-entry fee for tournaments of perhaps 10 cents or 25 cents that would have the most serious bowlers who get the most out of USBC services paying the most money to USBC. People like me should pay more than recreational league bowlers and I believe most like me would have no problem doing so in such a structure.
I brought the idea up in my sub-group and when we came together as a big group, Murphy quickly brushed aside my idea and moved on to focus on a traditional dues increase with an added on premium membership possibility.
(At the 2016 Annual Meeting, the delegates passed a $5 dues cap increase for USBC, although USBC pledged to use only $3 of that through 2022-23. Also adopted was a merger mandate for state and local associations. I supported both proposals in my coverage at 11thFrame.com.)
When I later reflected on the group, I came to feel that where we ended up was a pre-determined endpoint and the task force members were just pawns. I truly felt duped.
I also believed we had agreed to keep the task force, which had access to non-public information, secret, which was backed by the fact that no USBC official to my knowledge ever referenced the group. I didn’t have a problem with that because I thought we were just a brainstorming group charged with coming up with ideas for consideration by the Board.
When I wrote against the anonymous task force behind the huge USBC Open Championships changes announced in October 2015 that included secret lane patterns and forced the restructuring of our 11thFrame.com team, Murphy called me to ask about my inconsistency.
When I said I thought the group I had been on was secret, he said it wasn’t but then discouraged me from writing about it when I said I should explain my mistaken belief and seeming inconsistency. I let the matter drop, but probably shouldn’t have.
The whole situation was disturbing, but not that big a deal because the delegates have a final say on the dues legislation, which is not how it is with the Open Championships rules changes, which the delegates don’t vote on.
I would never have served on a non-public task force to consider changes that would receive no public airing, as has been the case with Open Championships rules.
Darlene Baker, a former long-time Board member with WIBC and USBC who served one term as USBC president and whose tenure ended in 2014, said that “It can’t be total transparency. They do things that non-profit boards have to do.” But she added, “Can there be more? Yes.”
Baker said secrecy on the Open Championships task force(s) “shouldn’t be,” adding that “Prior task forces we released who was on.”
There also has been almost no transparency from USBC on the actual give-and-take with ball manufacturers on potential changes to ball technology specifications, with my sources producing stories that were basically the only way bowlers could know about the process.
The situation is akin to a governmental body having secret negotiations with a business group it regulates to craft new regulations, and only occasionally noting that there are such negotiations.
Something as important as this should be conducted in the full light of public scrutiny at every step of the process — a few unscientific Facebook polls and surveys, and a secret task force do not qualify as sufficient public input from members.
As I have written repeatedly, I have competed successfully in every era of bowling from polyester to reactive resin and don’t care what the rules are. I just don’t want bowling entities in conflict and wasting energy that should be spent trying to grow the sport. And I want all bowlers to be kept informed of what is being considered so they can offer their input.
Hiding lane patterns is another area of non-transparency that stands in stark contrast to other major bowling entities like the PBA and World Bowling.
USBC also has minimal transparency in discipline, sometimes announcing a suspension or other discipline with no details, but sometimes not announcing anything. And I am not talking only about high-profile cases involving, for example, Team USA players — arguably of more concern to regular bowlers are cases of, for example, misappropriation of league or tournament funds, or sandbaggers at the Open and Women’s Championships.
To protect all bowlers, there should be a searchable database of convicted/disciplined bowlers, similar to the way a person can look up criminal records, with enough details to understand what happened and determine if this is a person to avoid. To be clear, these would be for those convicted, not just accused.
There should be no higher calling for USBC than to protect its members from such people. And if its lawyers don’t think that’s advisable, then it’s time for USBC to find lawyers who are more oriented toward transparency. A clause on membership applications that you accept publicity if you are convicted of malfeasance in bowling should cover it.
USBC’s lack of transparency only feeds the conspiracy theories of what I long ago coined the #TinfoilHat crowd.
This is especially pronounced in financial matters. USBC posts its annually required public filings here, with 2016 being the most recent year filings posted.
But it posts no detailed breakdown for things like the Open Championships, Women’s Championships or Junior Gold Championships, which many have called for. USBC officials have told me that it’s nearly impossible to do that because so much of the expenses can’t be broken down to individual events.
It’s also disheartening to see USBC under Murphy accepting and even celebrating membership declines that if not reversed eventually will lead to the demise of USBC.
In the March 27 conference call Murphy reiterated that USBC membership is tracking “still right in line” with the 5.8 percent decline he said in his “State of the Union” address earlier this year. That numbers is in line with the declines USBC has been experiencing for many years.
He called it “a huge, huge value proposition for the organization” when combined with a 30 percent dues increase. He noted that studies show that any dues increase over 20 percent typically “puts 10, if not 15 or 20 percent of your membership at risk.”
Youth membership is down 3.6 percent this year after being down 5.2 percent last year, an improving trend, Murphy said.
When I asked for specific membership numbers, he said those wouldn’t be released until the 2017 annual report comes out after the annual convention in late April.
So it is almost the end of the 2017-18 season and USBC still has not released the membership numbers for the 2016-17 season.
By my reckoning, USBC total membership might be under 1.3 million this season, with youth membership perhaps around 130,000 of that.
From past published reports, adult membership has fallen from 2,735,682 in 2003 to 1,351,250 in 2016, while youth membership has plunged from 320,771 in 2006 to 137,392 in 2016.
I wouldn’t dispute that there is a way to see those numbers in a somewhat positive light, as Murphy did in the conference call. What bothers me is there is no lamenting the decline and vow to do everything possible to achieve growth again. Those are sentiments I have never heard under his leadership — correct me if I am wrong.
When Murphy was named interim director in February 2014, I was enthusiastic for him in part because I thought it was good to have a serious bowler in charge of USBC — Upson was not a serious bowler. My story is here.
I noted Murphy’s lengthy and varied resume highlighted by a stint on Team USA and two World Team Challenge Grand Championships, work in management positions for Columbia and Ebonite, and serving as Director of Youth for BPAA before becoming International Bowling Campus Managing Director of Youth Development in January 2012.
I also thought having what is often jokingly called the “Wichita Mafia” in charge could be a good thing because I think bowling can best advance if the various integers work together. That term referred to the group tied to BPAA powerhouses and Wichita-based bowling center owners Frank and Cathy DeSocio, who Murphy has been tied to by being a pro shop owner in their bowling centers.
The DeSocio’s Northrock Lanes in Wichita is a famed center that has hosted many major events, and is scheduled to host an upcoming U.S. Open.
When Murphy had the interim tag removed in June 2014, I wrote in this story that “The naming of Murphy puts USBC and BPAA in arguably its strongest position ever to work together” due to the ties between Murphy and the DeSocios. Both DeSocios have served in executive positions with BPAA, with Frank currently BPAA executive director and Cathy vice president of the USBC Board.
“Murphy and the Desocios also are strong for the sport of bowling,” I wrote. “Hopefully, this opportunity will lead to great steps forward for the industry.”
And there are some good things that have happened for the sport, with BPAA and USBC stepping in to bring back the U.S. Open, to re-create the PWBA Tour, and to help Junior Gold grow, although it’s possible to see negatives in those as well.
The Open was dead, as I reported in this story in May 2014, and then six days later a deal was announced to resurrect it, the PWBA Tour requires a hefty subsidy and has made minimal progress since it was resurrected (but that's better than no PWBA!), and Junior Gold critics decry the size that some (including me) think is what makes it so valuable.
Some don’t like the cooperation because they see it as BPAA controlling USBC, with one former insider from years ago saying that “a smaller USBC is weaker, allowing BPAA to control more programs and money.”
Therefore, new programs that could grow membership would be discouraged, and membership declines would be portrayed as inevitable. As mentioned earlier, Murphy has said at times that USBC’s success shouldn’t be judged on membership numbers, but I don’t know many people who would argue membership should be growing in today’s society where few people want to commit to the do anything for hours at the same time each week for 30 or so weeks a year.
Long-time USBC foe Jim Salisbury, who is a proprietor in Decorah, Iowa, has been direct in his criticism in this area in a complaint before the USOC asking that it remove USBC’s status as NGB for bowling, which means USBC couldn’t run Team USA anymore. USOC said Tuesday it would appoint a hearing panel in the case, as I reported in this story.
Salisbury’s complaint charges that USBC is not “free from outside restraint” in governing bowling in the U.S., as required by the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act. The complaint charges that “USBC is essentially controlled by the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America” and that USBC Board decisions “reflect the desires and dictates of BPAA.”
The complaint includes charges that BPAA leaders orchestrated USBC’s move of its headquarters from the Milwaukee suburb of Greendale to the Dallas suburb of Arlington a decade ago, and details the number of BPAA executives and former BPAA executives who have held positions of power with USBC, including Murphy, who once was BPAA Director of Youth Bowling.
I feel that in judging USBC and whoever is in control, the bottom line should be its performance: membership, tournament entries, not making mistakes, and being transparent and accountable to members.
Tournament entries have been a mixed bag subject to interpretation, but by all of the rest of those metrics, USBC’s performance has been on the decline, as I’ve laid out in this story. That matters more than who might be exercising power.
I’m often asked by people upset with the actions of USBC what they might do.
Former USBC employee and occasional bowling writer Lucas Wiseman sketched it out superbly in this BowlingDigital.com story in the wake of the March 27 conference call. (Wiseman declined to comment about his tenure at USBC or Murphy.)
In addition to explaining how regular bowlers could get involved and be delegates, he noted that the sport’s elite bowlers could change the direction of USBC as a group if they became involved in the USBC Convention as actively engaged athlete delegates, who are defined by specific performance criteria like all-events scores at the Open Championships.
Wiseman noted that for the 2018 convention next month in Reno, Nevada, there are 3,421 actively engaged athletes eligible to be delegates, but when he wrote his story only five were confirmed to attend, four fewer than attended in 2017.
As Wiseman noted, it would only take about 700 athlete delegates attending the convention to control elections, legislation and make decisions that guide the organization. He called it a “powerful and underutilized voice.”
(I qualify to be an athlete delegate, and attend the convention. But as a journalist I am there to cover the convention and have declined to vote and will continue to do so.)
I know there are those who believe all of this is personal for me related to the impact of Open Championships rules on our teams.
The problem with that is the rules announced in 2015 broke up our multiple Eagle-winning team and what happened with the March 23 announcement was akin to spitting on us after you’ve shot us to death — once our five were broken up anything else was relatively meaningless to us.
And our reaction to the changes for 2019 has been positive: we are expanding our group to four teams, which hardly indicates bitter folks on a personal vendetta.
Anyone who follows my writing and appearance on this Bowlers Journal podcast knows my focus has been on the ludicrous college rule and the manner in which the rules were created and announced after entries had opened.
If I was going to make it personal, I would have written this article after I was not asked back to serve on the Hall of Fame committee, or after Murphy’s 3-hour phone call to me, or after the rules announced in 2015 that broke up our legendary team.
I waited until USBC policies and procedures reached a low that demanded attention.
I told Murphy in a text before the March 27 conference call was announced that I was going to get people on the record and that he should plan his exit strategy. But I have no expectation that that will happen and don’t really care if he stays or not — I just want the way USBC operates to change. I don’t like the guy — I don't like anyone who is a bully — and I’m sure he doesn’t like me, but what this is about is a declining USBC making mistake after mistake and not acting in a manner any right-thinking person should want it to.
I have no idea what will happen from here and won’t be taking any action outside of covering the news. My job is to provide information. Others will need to take action if they feel it’s necessary. I am a candidate for no office or position in bowling — it’s not what journalists do.
My aim is to provide context and analysis on bowling news based on my extensive experience in the sport. I do more than just post both or all sides of a story in operating 11thFrame.com, which is like a daily online bowling newspaper where I act as reporter, columnist and opinion writer. My subscribers pay for the context and analysis that I hope helps them understand the issues. I defy anyone to find coverage of a controversial issue where I’ve taken a stand where I haven’t thoroughly covered all sides.
I also provide the opportunity for people to write guest columns to present other views, as I have offered Murphy in this case. I hope he takes me up on the offer as I'd love to hear his response.
After the story was posted, Tim Robben, another former USBC employee who I didn't contact for the story, made this comment on my Facebook page:
"I can't thank you enough for writing this article. In my close circles there isn't anyone that doesn't understand my disdain for Chad. His narcissism and arrogance within USBC knows no bounds.
Being friends with both Neil and Steve, I was well aware of these stories literally as they happened and can absolutely vouch for them. I have never gone on social media until now because I just figured it would have just simply sounded like sour grapes, regardless of the fact that almost anyone who works or worked for USBC completely got it (There are still obviously enough people still there that completely buy into Chad or don't want to rock the boat). As is noted in your article, that is the only way to last there is to just nod your head yes to everything he says.
Every employee there can fit into one of four categories which I will gladly explain if you like. There is one thing for certain and that there is not one person that has left USBC in the last four years (by their own volition or Chads) with Chad at the helm that isn't happier and better off now then they were working underneath him.
As I am friends with many former employees it is absolutely no surprise when one of them posts an article, story, meme, or whatever that has to do with quality leaders, traits, bosses vs. leaders, etc....they are referring to one and only one person in mind.
Feel free to contact me in the future if you want some more stories. As some have said in your comments, these stories may not be earth shattering or ground breaking but they will definitely make you shake your head or have you saying it doesn't surprise you."
The Facebook post on my page and the dozens of shares of this story generated hundreds of comments. You can read the ones on my post here: