At least one of Baaron Pittenger's supporters came to the U.S. Olympic Committee's executive board meeting Saturday primed for a fight. But Pittenger apparently wanted no part of it, graciously bowing out as the USOC's executive director.
His other supporters took their cue from him, enabling Harvey Schiller to be elected as the new executive director in a unanimous, but not particularly enthusiastic, voice vote.
But although that battle was averted, others were not as USOC executive board members engaged in their most contentious session in years. Considering that the USOC is entering a period of restructuring with a new executive director, a streamlined administration and more aggressive marketing strategies, President Robert Helmick said that debate is healthy.
If anyone believes, however, that the USOC has lost its perspective, it should be noted that vicepresident George Steinbrenner interrupted one heated discussion to read the day's college football scores.
He apparently was in a better temper Saturday than he was the night before, when he and Ollan Cassell, the powerful executive director of track and field's governing body, The Athletics Congress, tried to shout each other down in a disagreement at a committee meeting over a proposed television package for the USOC.
That argument occurred behind closed doors. One that did not came during the executive board meeting Saturday, when legislation was introduced that would decrease the voting power of the nine grass-roots, community service organizations, such as the Boys Club of America, the YMCA, the YWCA, the Boys Scouts, the Catholic Youth Organization and the Jewish Welfare Board.
After considerable debate, the measure passed, 58-45. But a committee was formed to seek a compromise before the issue goes before the House of Delegates for a decisive vote next February in Phoenix.
That could be the last meeting of the 400-member House of Delegates, which will be asked to vote itself out of existence. The executive board voted to recommend that business in the future be conducted by a board of directors, which would have about 80 members, and a 17-member executive committee.
The House of Delegates will not be missed nearly as much as Pittenger, who has been an administrator at USOC headquarters in Colorado Springs for 12 years and has served much of the last 50 months as executive director.
The only time he stepped down during that period was in January, 1988, when Schiller replaced him. Pittenger returned to the office 19 days later, when Schiller abruptly resigned to return to his position as commissioner of the Southeastern Conference.
But a USOC search committee formed last April decided two weeks ago that Pittenger again should be replaced by Schiller, 50. Pittenger's $150,000-a-year contract was due to expire in December, 1990. He has been asked to remain with the USOC as a senior consultant.
"I must concede I had hoped for a longer run as executive director," Pittenger said. "I must tell you I'm most disappointed. But some of that I can trace to a selfish desire for recognition. I will leave with something that is much more important, which is satisfaction."
When he finished, he received a standing ovation.
One person who remained standing when the others sat was Gene Edwards, former president of the U.S. Soccer Federation.
"I'm completely shocked that Baaron has already capitulated and somebody else has been named (executive director)," he said after receiving permission to address the executive board. "I know a snow job when I see it.
"We have had a dearth of statesmen and an overabundance of politicians."
He emphasized that he had no objections to Schiller. But he said that he believed the nine members of the search committee decided from the beginning that Schiller was their candidate and did not give Pittenger a fair hearing.
He said later that 10 to 12 other executive board members indicated in discussions with him before the meeting that they had similar feelings and expressed disappointment because none joined him on the floor. When the voice vote was called, no one spoke against Schiller.
But Edwards claimed a small victory because the vote for Schiller was not louder.
"You could have heard a pin drop," he said.