The 92 directors of USA Track & Field (USATF) will meet in San Francisco on Dec. 3 in a session that will go a long way toward deciding their sport's future in the U.S. They will vote on whether to renew the contract of the USATF's executive director, Ollan Cassell. In October the organization's executive committee recommended, by a vote of 12-9, that his contract not be renewed. And it should not be.
During Cassell's 31-year tenure as head of track and field in this country, the sport's vital signs have grown faint. In 1986 there were 14 indoor Grand Prix meets in the U.S.; in '96—an Olympic year—there were nine. Cassell, 59, lacks energy and imagination and is an embarrassment as a banner carrier, as well as a mangier of names, a purveyor of malapropisms. "In all my years of dealing with executives, I've never met someone as incompetent as Ollan Cassell," then Mobil vice president Jim Mann said in 1994. Mobil, which once pumped millions into the sport, has now reportedly decided to take its sponsorship dollars elsewhere.
There are questions about Cassell's integrity, too. Nick Petredis, a San Jose lawyer who heads the committee that hopes to secure the 1999 World Track and Field Championships for Palo Alto, Calif., says that at a 1995 breakfast meeting in Atlanta, John Mansoor, one of Cassell's administrators, asked Petredis to support Cassell's campaign to become president of the International Amateur Athletic Federation, track and field's governing body. Petredis asked if that meant money, and Mansoor said yes. Petredis thought it was possible that that financial support was a quid pro quo for Cassell's supporting the Palo Alto bid. When rumors to that effect reached the USATF executive committee months later, USATF president Larry Ellis, Cassell's right-hand man, launched an investigation. Cassell denied culpability, and not surprisingly, the inquiry was perfunctory. Ellis's four-member panel did not even question Petredis before it cleared Cassell and gave a gentle scolding to Mansoor.
For too long Cassell has been running track and field ineptly and imperiously. Now it's time for him to stop running it altogether.