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An Interview With USAC’s Gerard Bisceglia by Matt Howey
 
By Janna Trevisanut
Date: 12/23/2002
An Interview With USAC’s Gerard Bisceglia by Matt Howey
 

By Matt Howey, SpokePost.com Cycling News

[Matt Howey of SpokePost.com Cycling News is also a race organizer in the Northeastern United States. As such he is very interested in issues affecting cycling in the USA.  Thanks ever so much to Matt for sharing this fascinating interview.]

SpokePost.com caught up with the head of USA Cycling recently and discussed their plans to straighten out cycling in the United States by forming state associations and by supporting grassroots and regional racing efforts. The focus was particularly on the formation of a possible New York State association. I’d like to thank Gerard for taking the time out of his ridiculously busy schedule to find time to speak with us!

SpokePost.com: First, could you just explain to me what the reasoning behind the whole association "push" is – what it is – people generally know that it’s 20% of the license fees are going to come back to the state associations…

Gerard Bisceglia: Well, let me give you a historical background, how’s that?

SpokePost.com: OK…

Gerard Bisceglia: It’s born from one of the most efficient programs that we’ve had…it was a program called the "District Rep" program. A number of years ago, which is foreign to me, but it’s in the recent past – we discontinued the district rep program and replaced it with a regional coordinator program, and your regional coordinator is Judy Miller…

SpokePost.com: Right…

Gerard Bisceglia: Well, when I got here and started assessing the situation, I looked at these five people and realized that we were running 3,000 races a year, so each one of them was going to be responsible for 600 races. I had heard people talk about the District Rep program and also recognized that the demise of the District Rep program was instrumental in creating the divisiveness (separation) inside of USA Cycling – I started looking at it more closely and asking, "Are we giving the customer service that we need to the racers and the promoters?"

SpokePost.com: Sure…

Gerard Bisceglia: First and foremost, when I came here, I decided that rather than acting as a monolithic governing body for the sport of cycling in the United States, that USA Cycling is really there to serve the role of customer service and that the people that really do all the heavy lifting in cycling in the United States are the local promoters and the local clubs. They look to us for guidance and direction, but the fact of the matter is that they’re the ones out there really doing all the work as volunteers with little to no compensation…

SpokePost.com: Right…

Gerard Bisceglia: …so I realized also that we probably couldn’t just go out and replace the District Rep program as it had been known in the past – and I also saw that the background of all this was financial as well…the amount of money that we were spending on the Regional Coordinator program was the same amount of money that we had already spent previously on the District Rep program. So when we discontinued the District Rep and went to five Regional Coordinators, we really didn’t save any money. The only people that suffered were the "field" people like yourself because we didn’t have the number of bodies to provide the service. So I thought how do we get resources down to the lowest level and I started getting indications that it might be smart to look at the state associations and I thought, "Why don’t we support these folks financially…so that they can assist in local bicycle racing issues that are on their agenda?" It really depends on how developed racing is in their geographic locale. If it’s someplace that’s highly developed and say they want to buy timing systems with cameras and such, in some places it’s not developed at all and they need to put together a website and buy cones, while other places are very focused on junior racing and want to support their juniors – no matter what it is, let the local people decide what is most important in their areas – and that way, they would sort of serve the function of the old District Reps…

The second reason that I like this setup is because, rather than paying a District Rep, like it or not - I’m not going to be critical of the District Reps at all, the did a great job – but the fact of the matter is that the money that was going to the District Reps was income for them.

SpokePost.com: Sure, yeah…

Gerard Bisceglia: I thought by doing it this way, instead of the money just becoming income for a group of individuals, it gets re-invested in the sport at large.

SpokePost.com: Of course…

Gerard Bisceglia: …and then the third thing was…when you’re dealing with a state association, or a regional association, whatever it may be, you have a much better chance for creating purpose, because now you’re dealing with the cycling community as a whole, rather than as an individual – if an individual quits, gets transferred, gets annoyed because something happened, or doesn’t do a good job and gets fired…then you’re starting from scratch…whereas if you acknowledge and identify a state association, the continuity of that association gives you a better chance of making sure what’s happening in that area is to the benefit of cycling, and by us helping to fund it, it can then have a guaranteed level of resources on an annual basis, so they can do better budgeting and prepare better…

So, all of our motives were how to get money back down to the local level – now some have expressed the concern that we were "forcing you to start a state association…" – that’s not the case at all. You don’t have to. If you don’t start a state association, we have no place to give that ten dollars to, so where that ten dollars goes is to the resources that we’re going to have to expend to support New York in an appropriate manner. So what we’re saying is that if you don’t have a state association that we still recognize that it is our responsibility to handle those chores, but since there’s no place to send the money, it stays here to help fund those chores. We do not in any way, shape or form want to force you to feel that you HAVE to have a state association…

SpokePost.com: I think that’s one thing that a lot of people have been confused about …

Gerard Bisceglia: We are not mandating that you start an association…the other thing is that it is not restricted to the state boundaries. That’s where the whole NEBRA thing comes in – my whole familiarity with New York – you’ve got downstate New York – Westchester County, New York City and Long Island…which they may feel like they’re more interested in being with northern Jersey, while the Hudson Valley area may feel like they spend more time racing in New England and they want to affiliate with New England, and you’ve got the western tier that may say, you know what, we want to go in with northwest Pennsylvania and Ohio. It sounds like once you get out of metro New York City, it sounds like the rest of the state has what is necessary to form a state association. By the way, if you think this is premature, but down the road you want to consider it, that’s fine with us as well…we don’t want to put you on a deadline, on a clock, we never wanted this to appear to be threatening – we want to do what is best for the cyclists in the state of New York and at the same time we want to encourage you to get organized, we want to support you financially whenever possible, and we want you to go out there and work as best you can to build up grassroots cycling in the state of New York.

SpokePost.com: OK, one of the things that people have said in that respect is that the 20% of the license fee would basically just end up going to pay – you can’t do the things such as the permitting and the license upgrades, for free. No one is going to do it for free. If you could find someone to do it for free, they’d be a saint and more power to them. So you’re going to end up taking a good portion of that 20% and pouring it right back into whoever heads up the association…

Gerard Bisceglia: Each association is looking at this differently. Some of them have said, "We WANT to do the upgrades…", "We’re MORE QUALIFIED to do the upgrades…", "We WANT to do the permitting…" – now the permitting, you’re going to be able to permit online through our system through the USAC – but what we want the association to do is to check the permits and make sure that it’s accurate, but the permitting is still going to be done by USAC online, but the state or local association is just going to do a review process. If you guys don’t have a state association then Judy Miller will still review…

SpokePost.com: OK, I see…

Gerard Bisceglia: As far as the upgrading goes, there’s nothing saying that you CAN’T pay an individual to do this work – one association is large enough that they want to pay individuals to handle all their administrative work – the only stipulation with the money is that at the end of the year when it is time to renew your charter, just tell us what you did with the money.

SpokePost.com: So basically, if we don’t have an association, and we decide NOT to have an association, it just goes through USA Cycling like it always has? That was one of the questions that was brought up at the promoters meeting…

Gerard Bisceglia: Yes, but we are encouraging them because I believe philosophically and fundamentally that the sport will be served by active groups of individuals in areas, getting together and working together to further cycling.

SpokePost.com: That’s kind of what the clubs have done, it's somewhat confusing, but the association covers a somewhat broader audience…

Gerard Bisceglia: What we’re imagining is that the clubs sort of come together – they still stay their individual clubs – but we were just looking for that trigger point where we could get the funds down to a more grassroots level where it wouldn’t get so diluted…

SpokePost.com: What about the existing clubs…they already have an infrastructure built and you can tell exactly how many licensed riders are in every club, has that been kicked around at all, or…?

Gerard Bisceglia: Well, it has been talked about, but all I can tell you is that this is the conclusion that we came to was the association…because again, trying to deal with some clubs out there that may only have say 10 or 15 members – what we’re trying to do is create a consolidation of resources so that we can get serious stuff done – like buying timing equipment and trailers and things of that nature.

SpokePost.com: Now when you get into getting mutual equipment such as that – I’ve seen it just on the club level – you run into a lot of problems with who’s going to store it, how’s it going to get to the venue, or who’s going to have it one weekend or the next…

Gerard Bisceglia: That’s a decision for each association to make. You might decide that all of the funds that come back to New York go to junior racing. You might use that money to fund the people that qualify for nationals from that state to defray their costs of going to the nationals…you can do whatever you want to do with it as long as it’s to encourage cycling.

SpokePost.com: Speaking of nationals, what direction is the selection process for nationals going to take?

Gerard Bisceglia: Well, most of that stuff hasn’t been finalized yet…but we do want to implement a selection process based on the number of riders in a particular region…so if New York represents 10% of all of the licensed riders in the United States, then New York is going to get 10% of the starting positions at nationals.

SpokePost.com: Interesting…you’ve already answered a lot of the questions that I had…

Gerard Bisceglia: …by the way…I do want to say this is a work in progress, but I don’t want to be redundant because it’s always going to be a work in progress…we’re going to keep changing, we’re going to keep adjusting – because again it goes back to the concept of customer service. We’re going to do certain things now that are going to work, and two years from now they’re going to get stale and two years from now we’re going to change them.

SpokePost.com: So that 80% that you guys are keeping…you hear from a lot of people that say – LOOK – we don’t know WHAT USA Cycling is spending the money on…is that information public? Can you find that information somewhere?

Gerard Bisceglia: If you’re talking about publishing our budget, I can tell you what we spend our money on. We just spent $200,000 creating this entire new software and hardware package for permitting and licensing, a new email system, and obviously you know that we support the national team and send teams to the world championships – you’re going to see much, much more for your money, than you’ve seen in the past. You’re already seeing it now because of the amount of time we are spending out in the field right now. We pay one and a half million dollars in insurance. We’re going to continue to enhance our services with online rankings with VERY current rankings and results rather than something that is three months out of date.

SpokePost.com: How is the rankings and results system going to be coordinated? Is that all through the website as well?

Gerard Bisceglia: Yes, it’s going to be through the website.

SpokePost.com: How far off is the launch of the new website and some of these new services?

Gerard Bisceglia: This morning it was two weeks, but now it looks more like four…it’s very much on the horizon. If it’s not online by April 1st there’s going to be problems in this building. This is one of the things that is going to fix something that I looked at when I first got here…I looked at the license and said, "hey guys, this license is nothing but tax…" – we’re a service organization, we have to make this license something that people desire, and don’t feel that it’s just a tax – we need to continue to keep adding value to it.

SpokePost.com: Perhaps something that could have been done differently is maybe the way that this information was originally disseminated and presented to the cycling public at large…

Gerard Bisceglia: Yes, you are absolutely right…because we’ve been developing this on-the-fly by talking to people…one of the big misnomers is that this package was developed to bring back the breakaway groups – one of the very first things that I told California was that – whatever we develop is going to be offered to everybody in the United States, we’re going to try to develop something that is enticing and whether you take it or not, this is the deal that is going to be put on the table for everybody. It was not the idea of "hey let’s cut some separate deal and make these guys come back…" which is specifically for the reason that – why would I reward people who have left, and not support people who have supported USA Cycling?

SpokePost.com: ABSOLUTELY!

Gerard Bisceglia: But yes, there is no doubt about it that it has not been communicated in a proficient manner and I take a certain level of responsibility for that with having been so busy with actually going out and visiting with people face-to-face

SpokePost.com: …well, yeah, I know you have been doing a lot of traveling and I think that’s great that you are actually getting out there and talking to these people – getting involved – not sitting there in Colorado and saying, "this is how it’s going to be…" – I mean the fact that you are talking to me right now, you know, that says a lot about how you are trying to operate things. There’s been several states that have already said that they are ready to go…

Gerard Bisceglia: You’ve got California, Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, the New England people, and there are a lot of other states that are looking at things and getting their act together – the state of Washington, Nevada, still waiting to hear from Florida – but most of these, it’s just procedural at this point, we’re just trying to get the paperwork together. You guys are important because you are pivotal on the east coast…for instance, if we DO get the Olympics in 2012, I want to make sure that you guys get at the front of the line for the different cycling opportunities that will be there for you – I want to work through the state association and do that.

SpokePost.com: Well, Gerard, I think it’s great to see someone taking some action to get something done. Obviously, there’s been a bit of complacency in USA Cycling in past few years. There’s a lot of potential change happening right now, and I think it’s good…and what I’ve seen here in New York, if anything, is that people are talking – people in Long Island are talking to people in Syracuse who are talking to people in Poughkeepsie – and it’s great to see that these promoters and others are actually communicating now – and this has certainly served a purpose in that respect…

Gerard Bisceglia: Let me tell you what one of my goals is, Matt, and I’d appreciate it if you’d pass this along to your compatriots. If all I do is transfer the energy that used to be spent bitching and complaining about USA Cycling, into energy spent talking about how we can improve the sport…we will be so far ahead of the game…

SpokePost.com: I agree.

Gerard Bisceglia: Justifiably there was a tremendous amount of grinding of teeth and complaints directed at USA Cycling and we deserved every bit of it.

SpokePost.com: Certainly, part of the skepticism that you’re seeing now is a product of the past several years…

Gerard Bisceglia: …and that’s ok with me.

SpokePost.com: Obviously that’s going to take some time to get over and heal.

Gerard Bisceglia: We know it’s not a short-term fix – there’s no way we can just come out and say, "Hey! Everything is changed…" – we need to work at it everyday to make sure that we keep delivering.

SpokePost.com: Well, Gerard, I’ll tell you what…talking to you in person has been a pleasure and I certainly have a much more positive outlook on the future of USA Cycling. I can tell that you’re actually making a concerted effort to do something positive for this sport – you’re working towards clear goals – I appreciate that, and I think when the nay Sayers … sort of … stop worrying about what might go wrong, and start looking at the positive aspects, I think we’ll certainly get somewhere…

Gerard Bisceglia: Thanks for taking the time with me…and Merry Christmas to you!

SpokePost.com: Merry Christmas to you too!


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