ANALYSIS : Resignation of TAC's Criss Signals Shift

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Alvin Criss has never won an Olympic medal or competed in an international track and field meet.

Yet he was one of the most influential members of The Athletics Congress, the governing body of U.S. track and field. With the vague title of special assistant to TAC's executive director, Criss wielded enormous power as a behind-the-scenes deal maker who threw his weight around in the areas of trust funds, drug testing and the punishment of U.S. athletes who competed in South Africa.

Some of what Criss has done has greatly helped track and field, but other decisions he has made have been the subject of much criticism.

Criss, 60, formally resigned June 29 as Executive Director Ollan Cassell's assistant. However, the resignation was not announced until last weekend in Chicago at TAC's executive committee meetings.

It is widely believed that his departure from TAC is a milestone signaling a change in the sport as we know it.

Criss' resignation is only one of the major changes the group is expected to encounter. Cassell also is expected to lose much of the power he previously held. Frank Greenberg, TAC president, said Monday the national office in Indianapolis will be restructured in the fall with many of Cassell's duties being reassigned.

TAC will create four senior staff positions--directorships in administration, communications, marketing and operations--to enhance its effort to remain a viable organization.

A bit of history is needed to understand the significance of these changes.

For the decade of its existence, volunteer members and athletes who make up TAC have complained that too much power existed in the hands of Cassell and his chosen few, including Criss. They say the national office was unresponsive to their needs. It was their contention there was too much power at the top.

Change has come suddenly as the sport has entered the 1990s. Track is facing a crisis in the United States that could be difficult to reverse. The problem is mostly one of image and public perception.

Attendance is dwindling at major meets such as the recent national championships at Cerritos College, for which fewer than 7,000 tickets were sold for the three days of competition.

And as attendance decreases, so does the sport's television coverage and the exposure and revenue gained from it.

TAC also lost credibility when prominent members of its drug-testing committees resigned in May. The members--Edwin Moses, a four-time Olympian who holds the world record in the 400-meter hurdles; Harvey Glance, a former world-class sprinter, and Doriane Lambelet, once an outstanding 800-meter runner--are all respected in the track and field community.

They left because the national office was not operating a systematic drug-testing program. Last month, The Times quoted documents that showed flaws and selective enforcement in the program.

Cassell has denied any wrongdoing with his handling of the drug-testing program, which for the past year has performed random testing of out-of-competition athletes.

Still, the negative perception of the program has prompted wholesale changes.

"Basically, for the past 10 years there has been little or no respect for athletes or advisory committee members by the national office," said Rich Nichols, a member of TAC's National Board of Review.

The belief expressed Monday by TAC officials suggests that it is time to regroup if track is to challenge baseball, football and basketball in the competitive marketplace.

"We'd be foolish not to be concerned," said Robert M. Hersh, TAC's general counsel. "It is an appropriate time to take stock and see what changes are needed."

Moses, although cautious, is among those willing to give TAC a second chance.

"In the past three weeks I've seen a lot of attitudes change," Moses said. "But the athletes are still going to maintain a watchful eye. There will be no great peace until things are working a lot smoother than they were in the past couple of years."

These complaints are not new. TAC officials say problems have been festering for years. Many TAC members have expressed dissatisfaction with Criss, whose abrasive style has been the source of much resentment.

Criss was involved in numerous drug-testing controversies. The most prominent involved Chuck DeBus, the former UCLA and Cal State Northridge track coach accused of allegedly giving athletes steroids. Criss tried to strike a deal with DeBus that would assess the coach a lesser penalty if he would name athletes and other coaches allegedly using drugs. The case still is pending.

But Criss has supporters. He was instrumental in developing a trust fund from which athletes could be paid while retaining their amateur status. He also helped transform long-distance running from a weekend hobby into a professional career.

Was he forced from office as part of TAC's face-lift? Or was he nothing more than a scapegoat?

Criss would not say.

What are his plans?

"No comment," he said. "It's none of your readers' business."

Criss told Road Race Management, a trade publication, that he was leaving to spend more time with his family in New York. He also said he will remain a consultant with TAC to finish pending business.

The business at hand, it seems, no longer involves Alvin Criss. The remaining officials will be more concerned with righting a foundering ship.

For the Record Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 11, 1990 Home Edition Sports Part C Page 4 Column 4 Sports Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction TAC--The name of Alvin Chriss, former special assistant to the executive director of The Athletics Congress, was misspelled in a story in The Times on Tuesday.
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