The U.S. Olympic Committee turned to former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue on Thursday to study how its oft-criticized board does business and determine if changes are needed.
Tagliabue was chosen as chairman of an independent committee that will look at the board to assess its size, structure and operating practices. Other committee members will be named later.
The decision to appoint an independent committee -- and bring on one of the architects of the most successful professiona sports operation in America -- is a sign that change isn't out of the question for the USOC and its board. It has been under intense scrutiny from critics who don't believe the board operates transparently.
The board was scaled down from 125 to 11 people in 2003 (there are currently just nine on the board), but some people believe streamlining has made it too easy to rubber-stamp decisions that aren't always in the organization's best interests.
"The board of the USOC felt the time was right for an independent assessment of our governance structure, and we are extremely pleased that someone with Paul's sport, business and leadership credentials is willing to take on this role," USOC chairman Larry Probst said.
The board forced out CEO Jim Scherr in March and replaced him with Stephanie Streeter, a surprising move that is widely viewed as the start of a downward slide for the federation. That slide culminated last month when Chicago was embarrassed by its first-round ouster from the voting to award the 2016 Olympics. Rio de Janeiro won the bid to host the Games.
Streeter later said she wouldn't seek the CEO position on a permanent basis, and now the board is searching for a new domestic leader -- as well as for a replacement for the board position she vacated upon becoming CEO. The USOC didn't put any time frame on when the committee will act, though it seems unlikely anything major can come from the body before the board hires a new CEO.
The USOC wants Streeter's replacement in place before the Vancouver Olympics in February and has said the end of 2009 is the goal.
Board member Mike Plant, who represents the national governing bodies that have been most openly critical of the USOC over the past months, said he supported the decision to commission an independent committee. The NGBs and other factions of the Olympic movement will be given spots on the committee.
"This is a step in the right direction to evaluate the progress and actions of the past five years and to hear from the key constituencies that are the Olympic movement in the U.S.," Plant said.
Probst, meanwhile, has restated his commitment to staying on as chairman. Initially surprised at the amount of work involved with the job, he has more recently said he is willing to do whatever is necessary to improve America's standing in the international Olympic community.
Among ideas being floated is to increase the chairman's four-year term so the USOC will have a steadier presence abroad.
Also on Thursday, the board passed a resolution to publish all of its meeting agendas in advance, as well as copies of board meetings, on the USOC Web site. It's a move that should give observers a better idea of what happens inside what has been a secretive boardroom.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press