by Robert Johnson, founder LetsRun.com
March 28, 2014
A month ago, the inner workings of USATF became a national story after women’s 3,000 race winner Gabe Grunewald was initially not DQed, then she was DQed, then she wasn’t. Our story on the whole episode went viral:
(The 30-second synopsis of the entire incident: Gabe Grunewald won the women’s 3,000m at the indoor nationals. Rival coach and former marathon great Alberto Salazar protested saying Grunewald fouled his athlete Jordan Hasay with a lap to go, when there was slight contact between them. The meet referee and the Jury of Appeals ruled there was no foul. That decision is supposed to be final unless “new conclusive evidence” is presented. Alberto appealed again and Grunewald was DQed. There was “vociferous criticism” of the the decision by the track and field community. Two days later, the USATF national office reversed course ruling that Grunewald was the champion, presumably because Jordan Hasay had withdrawn her protest. For all internal and external articles on this incident click here.)
The nationwide uproar died down a bit once Grunewald was reinstated as the champion and promises were made by USATF that this wouldn’t happen again.
Many people moved on (including ourselves as we went to World Indoors) but they shouldn’t have.
The whole furor started in the first place because people believed USATF wasn’t following it’s own rules. Well the ironic thing is it appears that Grunewald’s reinstatement as US champion was a violation of USATF’s rules in and of itself.
The day after Grunewald was reinstated as champion LetsRun.com got an email and call from Greg Harger, the Director and Head Coach of the Indiana Invaders track club. Considering the Invaders were formed in 1999, Harger has had a long association with USATF.
Harger was very concerned as it is his belief that Grunewald had been re-instated as champion by the USATF national office and head Max Siegel. Why was he concerned? USATF’s own rules don’t allow it and controversy after controversy with USATF stems from USATF having either vague rules or rules that are simply ignored.
The USATF national office is supposed to have zero say in the actual running of a national championship.
Once a USA national meet begins with the checking in of the first athlete, the entire meet is supposed to by run by the Games Committee as explained by Rule 111:
RULE 111 – Games Committee
111.3 – This Committee shall be responsible for the correct conduct of the meet. It shall provide a place properly laid out and measured to conform to all the requirements of these rules, the appropriate sections of the IAAF Track and Field Facilities Manual and, shall also furnish all implements and equipment necessary for the satisfactory competition of the events scheduled in the official program, and shall have jurisdiction of all matters not assigned by these rules to the Referee or other officials.
The Games Committee, not USATF national, thus runs the meet from start to finish and in this case the women’s 3,000 protest was delegated to the Jury of Appeals. Regarding the Jury of Appeals, the rules are very clear. The decisions of the Jury of Appeal are final and can’t be overturned by anyone, let alone USATF national which has no say in the meet at all:
RULE 119 – Jury of Appeal
119.4.c – The decision of the Jury of Appeal shall be final.
There shall be no further right to appeal.
The Jury of Appeal may, however, reconsider decisions if new conclusive evidence is presented.
If you read those rules, you’ll understand why Harger was incredulous that USATF national and Max Siegel overturned the Grunewald DQ. As Harger said:
Where in the rulebook is there anything regarding procedural reinstatements that allow superseding existing rules? There is NOTHING in the rule book that would allow such stupidity…
The Games Committee is solely responsible for the correct conduct of the meet. Not the CEO, not the board, nobody else. The Games Committee is responsible for all other matters of competition not assigned to the referee or officials. Nobody else has any place to butt in here….
The competition starts when the athlete checks in with the clerk and ends when the results are posted and are final and no one except the clerk, the referee, his umpires and the Jury of Appeals has any legal say in the competition according to our rules. It’s in black and white. Those are the clearest rules in the entire book….
Out of our own ignorance, we’re letting them steal from us left and right it’s just ridiculous. (Some are offering a solution) to go on strike or form a new organization I appreciate all of the passion, but how is any of that going to change anything if we ignore your own rules now? If you form a new organization, are you going to pay attention to the rules then? I think we’ll end up in the same situation we have now.
How can the rules be followed and Grunewald be the champion?
An interesting aspect about the USATF rules is there is no time limitations for the Jury of Appeals to reconsider their decisions. As long as they continue to get ‘new conclusive evidence’ they can keep changing their minds. Thus Harger’s says the only way for Grunewald’s win to be legally valid, the Jury of Appeals must reconvene and declare that based on additional “new conclusive evidence” that their initial DQ of Grunewald was incorrect.
What’s the additional new evidence? Harger says it would be the Jury of Appeals acknowledging that their initial DQ of Grunewald was invalid because they were never presented “new conclusive evidence” that showed the original referee was “clearly erroneous” (Rule 119.4.a) in not DQing Grunewald.
While working on this story, I reached out to USATF spokesperson Jill Geer for comment. I asked Geer to comment on the fact that she had told Jon Gugala that the Jury of Appeals overturned it original decision of no DQ and DQed Grunewald after seeing the same initial replay enlarged and on a computer, not a projector. I asked her if she viewed that as “new” evidence as required by the rules (Harger for his part says that decision is totally up to the Jury of Appeals and it is ‘their call’ as what they consider ‘new’) for Grunewald to be DQed in the first place.
Had the Jury of Appeals reconvened again two days later to reinstate Grunewald as would be required by the rules?
Geer didn’t want to talk about the ‘new’ evidence any more as she wrote:
“The women’s 3,000 at USA Indoors was resolved weeks ago. Moving forward, the analysis of it will be done by the working group announced this week.”
More importantly, she confirmed that Jury of Appeals has not reconvened:
Regarding Grunewald’s reinstatement, it was a procedural reinstatement made possible by the withdrawal of the protest and appeal. The Jury was not “overruled.””
I showed that statement to Harger, who became more incredulous:
“(Geer)’s saying they looked at new evidence – something they deemed (to be new and conclusive) and then rendered a DQ. Well then a DQ is a DQ. You’re gone. Because someone else withdraws a protest doesn’t mean you get your finish back. You were disqualified and (the Jury of Appeals decisions ‘shall be final’). How freaking stupid do they think (we all are)? (Grunewald) was either DQed or she wasn’t DQed. I can’t believe anyone could dig themselves in any deeper in terms of stupidity (but they’ve done it) with this reply….
The decision of the referee shall be upheld unless to be shown to be clearly erroneous. They have to live on that. They (the jury of appeals and now USATF) is saying we looked at something that showed the decision of the referee was clearly erroneous – that’s a real hurdle (to find).
The thing that is just amazing to me – procedural reinstatement. They just decreed with no authority – there is nothing in the rules to allow this – that she was reinstated in the results. So they overrode the Jury of Appeals and the referee and nowhere in our rules does it say that anybody can ever do that.”
Conclusion – The Jury of Appeals needs to reinstate Grunewald or she should be still DQed. Jordan Hasay withdrawing her protest means nothing according to the rules.
Harger’s reading of the rule book is very persuasive. If the Jury of Appeals had conclusive evidence, Grunewald should be DQed. If they didn’t, they need to admit it and reverse their decision. USATF national and CEO Max Siegel should have had no role in it.
Harger offers this up as the solution:
There is no time limits anywhere on the Jury of Appeal reconvening and correcting “clearly erroneous” decisions (nor for that matter the Games Committee).
Gabe was DQ’d and must be listed as such until the Jury of Appeal corrects their error. This is the Games Committee responsibility as per Rule 111. If Gabe is to be reinstated respecting our competition rules as a National Champion then the Jury of Appeal needs to self-examine their process and decision and render a new decision where they recognize that the Referee decision was not clearly erroneous. They simply need to correct their mistake. Then were done and go on happily to outdoor nationals and have fun there.
Interesting PS #1: The fact that USATF is violating it’s own rules is far from a surprise to Harger. He thinks that at every single USA that he’s been to since 1999 USATF has violated it’s own rules:
I can’t think of a single indoor or outdoor US championships (since our club was formed in 1999) where somebody hasn’t been effected one way or another by the men’s and women’s competition committee and its negligence of the rules – its making up of the rules, its allowing of different things one way or the other, where this committee has not abandoned or abdicated its job and responsibilities (in some fashion). And I’m not getting into (why they do it) – that doesn’t matter. What matters is they aren’t doing their job and following their own rules. And they are consciously doing it.
And we have caught them and corrected them on several occasions. They tried to change the entry standards one year and the rule said inside of 45 days you can’t change the standard and field size, but they tried to do it until we called them on it.
Harger has benefited from rules violations before. One year, Collette Liss won a USA indoor title in the mile despite the fact she didn’t technically have a qualifying time (they let her in as she’d run a fast 3k).
Interesting PS #2: While rule violations occur often, they don’t often involve really high profile individuals like the race winner and cancer survivor, Grunewald. Harger:
“That’s where they finally jumped the shark – for the lack of a better term – this year by picking on a little girl won the race that is a two-time cancer survivor. It’s always – and I won’t name names – somebody who is sponsored by Nike or not a big name where it’s really deemed not worth the fight. They finished 18th or whatever. Kind of like the Bumbalough DQ. Many might not think that’s worth the fight (as he was just 8th) but it is worth the fight. We’ve got to put it to an end.”
Interesting PS #3: Harger has a legal solution to the Bumbalough DQ that follows the rules.
I asked Harger if anything could be done about Andrew Bumbalough’s erroneous DQ in the men’s 3,000. Was Bumbalough out of luck since he never filed a formal protest of his DQ within 30 minutes of it being made public? Harger said he was not. The Jury of Appeals can evaluate a Referee’s decision without a protest being filed. Since their is no statue of limitations, the Jury of Appeals could reconvene and say based on “new conclusive evidence” – that of them watching the race replay – it was clear Bumbalough never fouled Galen Rupp. Therefore he is reinstated.
What About the Integrity of the Sport?
LetsRun.com’s biggest concern is that USATF by its actions shows it cares very little about the integrity of the sport. That should be USATF’s #1 priority. The wrong person was clearly disqualified in the men’s 3000m, yet USATF has said nothing about this, presumably because there has been very little media uproar. Harger’s argument above that the Jury of Appeals could still rule on this is persuasive, but even if the DQ could not reverse its decision, USATF could issue a statement saying, “The wrong person was DQd in the men’s 3000m. Our rules prevent us from overturning this. We will continue to evaluate our rules procedures.” That is what an entity that cares about the integrity of the sport does. The NFL regularly admits that officials blow calls.
Yet in the women’s 3k, USATF reversed its DQ after the fact. It did not admit that it didn’t follow it’s rules in the first place, but instead made up new rules saying Grunewald was the champ because Hasay had withdrawn her protest. The rules provide for no such outcome. It’s not hard to conclude USATF reversed its decision because it was unpopular and there was a media firestorm. That’s what kangaroo courts do.
For there to be fair sport, the process is more important than the outcome. USATF and Max Siegel need to realize this ASAP.
PS. After the publicatoin of this piece, we received the following email from Grunewald’s coach Dennis Barker:
“Your piece on Greg Harger and the USATF rules was good in that it points out the consistency in which USATF breaks its own rules. I would add though that I disagree that Gabriele was reinstated as champion because she was “a little girl…that is a two-time cancer survivor.” The USATF reinstatement decision was made after notice was served that the matter would be taken to the USOC Court of Arbitration. I’m guessing USATF got a legal opinion from its counsel indicating that, due to the fact that a rule had been broken in allowing a further protest of the jury’s decision when no “new or compelling evidence” had been presented, the DQ would not stand up. Even though their decision to reinstate may have broken their own rule, the end result would have been the same.”