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Some ways to remove Chad Murphy and change the course of USBC

JEFF RICHGELS | Posted: Tuesday, May 30, 2023 8:00 am
Some ways to remove Chad Murphy and change the course of USBC

In the wake of the fiasco with the 2023 USBC Queens, there has been a big jump in the number of times I’m getting asked my most-asked question: “How do we get rid of Chad Murphy?”

The reasonable avenues range from simple to very complex, but I have little to no expectation of any of them succeeding.

What I do expect in the next several months is an announcement of a contract extension for Murphy, the USBC executive director who in January 2020 received a 4-year extension through the end of 2024. He was first hired in 2014.

I’m so negative because falling membership, USOPC probation, Bullygate, absurd rules, and the failure to properly govern bowling balls are some of the more notable things that have had no impact. 

This story in April 2018 detailed how the USBC system produces a Board of Directors of mostly hand-picked candidates that hires, supervises and fires the executive director — one that has enabled Murphy and his camp to consolidate power while keeping out/marginalizing those who express dissenting views. 

That was (and remains) 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.

The USBC Board currently is at 21 members, though there will be two members changing with the start of the new bowling season on Aug. 1 based on the Board elections at the 2023 Annual Meeting on April 27 and Team USA athlete elections.

The current Board includes nine directors elected by the delegates at the Annual Meeting, seven elected by Team USA athletes, 2 BPAA representatives, 2 IBC Youth representatives, and one TNBA representative.

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee now requires that the Board of Directors for National Governing Bodies — USBC is the NGB for bowling — include at least one-third Team USA athletes elected by Team USA athletes. That is why there are seven on the Board now when there were fewer in the past — the requirement was 20% at the time of my 2018 story but comprehensive reforms changed much at USOPC.  

The Board behaves like they work for Murphy, instead of the other way around, which is the way the system is supposed to work.

Here is an excellent primer on dysfunctional boards by consultant Joan Gerry.

Board members are under clauses that forbid them from criticizing USBC, which is akin to members of Congress having clauses forbidding them from criticizing the government.

But as I wrote in the case of the Queens fiasco, no one is asking the Board members to do that. Many are asking them to do the opposite: to speak out and take action against words and deeds that put USBC in an extremely negative light — that make the organization a laughingstock for asserting something that any knowledgeable bowler knows is a lie, on top of so many failures by Murphy over the years.

USBC is a quasi-governmental organization in that it falls under the USOPC, and a USBC membership is required to compete in any certified competition, including the PBA, PWBA, Team USA, and the Open and Women’s Championships. In other words, USBC dues are similar to taxes: a competitive bowler must pay them in order to compete in important high-level events just like a person must pay taxes to be a law-abiding citizen.

When you fall under federal law and hold such power over bowlers you should be held to a high standard and act similar to a government body with true transparency. Yet some important committees have operated in total secrecy with members not even identified, and the minutes of USBC Board meetings posted at BOWL.com are laughable when it comes to providing information. There also have been multiple Board meetings since the last meeting minutes were posted from June 2022.

USBC Board minutes were not even posted until USOPC effectively demanded it when it put USBC on probation in 2017 and ordered it to give all USBC members the same hearing and appeal rights and processes as elite athletes (such as Team USA members) in cases of being ruled ineligible for competition or suspended.

USOC said at the time that USBC should post minutes of Board meetings on BOWL.com because an NGB “should be as open and transparent as possible.”

The simplest way to change the direction of USBC and remove Murphy would be to convince a majority of the Board to take such action. By simple, I mean not complex; as I have said, nothing has changed their minds yet and I harbor no illusions that he Queens fiasco would change that.

That does not mean that some have not tried, as I know of many emails/letters that have been written to USBC both before and in the wake of the Queens fiasco. Two were included in my story on the fiasco. (Don't hesitate to email Board members or USBC staff — they work for you.)

Another that deserves the careful attention of USBC Board members was sent over Memorial Day weekend by Yvonne Bennett, a courageous, straight-talking, long-time executive level administrator and employee in and out of bowling who has been the target of bullying by Arlington, as she talked about in this lengthy Q&A.

Her email to USBC Board members, which she shared with me and is attached to this story as a PDF, includes this:
“In all of these roles, and throughout my career, I have worked with controversial issues including those involving potential legal ramifications to the organizations who employed me or on boards/committees I served on as a volunteer. I know what it takes to take the moral high road, when seemingly at all turns, there are those who want to undermine the fiduciary responsibilities we all hold whether we are paid staff or volunteers.
The most recent and public incident of failure on the part of the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) at this past week’s USBC Queens Tournament is yet another embarrassing chapter in the current administration’s operation and performance expected from an NGB. The expectations come not only from the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) but also the members and athletes you represent. As a lifetime member of USBC (dating back to my ABC Lifetime Membership in the 1990’s), I find the recent events to be a grand disappointment and colossal failure of the administration led and managed by your executive director Chad Murphy.
He has historically and continually managed to the detriment of the organization and our sport. He has effectively created a culture through control and command that has people fearful of him and retaliation from the organization. When open and honest, transparent communication is effectively squashed, nothing good can come to the organization.
What has occurred with the controversy at the Queens event at Sam’s Town last week was a public demonstration of just how bad the situation has become. When an organization heavy-handedly levies fines against its members and athletes for commenting on what was obvious with the lane play on Thursday 5/18/23, and in particular on lanes 37&38 and 41&42, the organization’s credibility will suffer in a way that it may not recover.
As someone trained and considered a qualified and competent professional in the field of non/not-for-profit management, I understand the concern that a board of directors must represent the organization and stand in unison. I also fully understand the nature of conflict of interest and non-disclosure documents. I have administered and personally performed my duties over 20 years under such legal documents. What I can tell you is this . . . your legal and fiduciary responsibility first and foremost is to the organization you serve. If there is egregious behavior or situations that are unethical, untrue or outright illegal, you have an obligation to speak up!
And should the situation result in an individual’s need to take action through speaking up, the fear of retaliation should be remedied under whistle blower protection afforded all of us. Further, in the event that legal action is pursued by others, when subpoenaed in such action to provide deposition or testimony under oath, any previously signed conflict of interest or non-disclosure agreements become unenforceable. This is a very important protection for each of you to fully understand, if there is concern about documents you have previously signed as a board member/volunteer.”

She later writes:
“I am confident in my view that the culture there has been dysfunctional for at least the past five or six years. I have been on the receiving end myself, of rude and obnoxious behavior by your executive director. I have seen him arrogantly berate opinions expressed by others at events such as Bowl Expo. I have been treated disrespectful on more than one occasion and know of others who have provided me with first hand accounts of how they and USBC staff have been handled.
I know that it is difficult to step up and speak out against one who seemingly has a lot of control and power in our industry. But that said, this man works for you . . . the board of directors and not the other way around. If he has engaged in inappropriate behaviors with you, or been present when others have acted in such a way and were not immediately stopped, you owe it to yourself and those you represent to stand up and be heard. Please take action to end this reign of fear and acquiescence so that open, honest and transparent communication may once again be restored in bowling.”

I admire Yvonne and her eloquent words, and hope that perhaps those words and the other correspondence Board members have received will combine with the egregious conduct of Murphy in handling the Queens fiasco to prompt some deep soul searching by USBC Board members and lead to action that should have been taken years ago.

If that doesn’t happen, there are other ways to end Murphy’s reign of error.

One would be a lawsuit. I have received all too many messages over the years about bullying conduct by Murphy that could be grounds for a lawsuit. One of the people who went on the record in the Bullygate story strongly considered a lawsuit. Fear of Murphy and/or not wanting to go through the messiness of a lawsuit has prevented any from being filed.

Another avenue is a formal complaint with the USOPC. Details on the process are at its “Reporting a Concern Page.”

The page includes a USOPC Integrity Reporting Portal that states:
“The Integrity Portal is an online reporting platform that allows individuals to confidentially or anonymously report concerns to the USOPC. Anyone may report a concern through the Integrity Portal relating to the USOPC’s or NGBs’ compliance with their bylaws, policies, or procedures, or the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act; ethics matters such as conflicts of interest; and governance matters concerning the USOPC or NGBs. Anyone may also report alleged employee misconduct, code of conduct violations, or other concerns regarding the USOPC. The USOPC's Speak Up Policy strictly prohibits retaliation against individuals who report concerns.”

Those involved in the case that led to the USBC being put on probation in 2017 had legal representation and with such a process and the stakes involved, I would doubt any complainant would have any chance of success without legal representation.

USOPC has athlete ombuds detailed here for athletes who represent the U.S. in international competition. 

If the USBC Board declines to act, the avenue I believe would be best for bowling is simple democracy: an organized effort to elect delegates who have committed to removing Murphy and changing the course of USBC to transparency, integrity, and generally proper conduct that all bowlers could support and be proud of.

Multiple people have told me they witnessed Murphy watching the messed up lanes at the first round of the Queens. If his prime consideration were the integrity of the sport — which it should be as he is head of bowling’s NGB — his only concern should have been to find out what happened, report the findings with complete transparency, and consult with anyone and everyone who could help USBC find the best way to make the situation as right as possible before the second round began on Friday.

Instead, he showed again why an effort is needed to remove him in favor of someone who would have acted as I laid out in the paragraph above.

I would see such an effort working best if it were led by a group of influential people with high credibility in the industry who would come together to create what essentially would be a bowling political party.

It would lay out a platform and pledge to do the things necessary to enact that platform, including running a slate of candidates for election by the delegates and by the athletes.

Any athletes who are involved in such an effort have special protections from USOPC and any effort to intimidate or retaliate against them should spell the end for the intimidator/retaliator.

From the USOPC website:
“Athletes are afforded certain protections against retaliation including that no employee, contractor, agent, volunteer, or member of the USOPC shall take or threaten action against an athlete as a reprisal for disclosing information to or seeking assistance from the Office of the Athlete Ombuds. Athletes should report instances of retaliation to USOPC Ethics and Compliance.”

Gaining control of the Annual Meeting is another simple matter that isn’t easy.

Typically, the Annual Meeting draws about 700 delegates. A handful typically are athlete delegates, even though a couple thousand-plus qualify.

Per the USBC website here:
"Athlete delegates are individuals who, per USOC Bylaws and USBC Bylaw IX, have demonstrated active engagement in amateur bowling competition by finishing in tournaments as follows:
For Open or Women's Championships tournaments, the top 5% of all amateur finishers in the all-events event in the order in which participants scored;
For Team USA Trials and National Junior Gold Championships tournaments conducted by USBC, the top 50% of all amateur male and female finishers over the age of 18."

I would wager that an overwhelming majority of those athlete delegates oppose Murphy and his policies and if not even half of them signed on with the political party and came to the Annual Meeting they could vote as a block and elect the party’s candidates.

Two or three years in a row of sweeping the Annual Meeting Board elections and at least some Team USA athlete elections and the party would have control of the Board and be able to remove Murphy and enact its platform.  

I also would see the possibility that a sweep in one year would cause some incumbent USBC Board members to see the writing on the wall and join the reform movement.

Obviously, the party’s candidates are not going to get the nod of the USBC Nominating Committee, and will have to run from the floor, a process described here.

The famous quote misattributed to Edmund Burke most definitely has applied to bowling for some time: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

A few have acted, led by those who stood up in my April 2018 story, but nowhere near enough. The question is when others will come forward and join them.