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Federal Arbitrator Vacates Olympic Team; ASA To Reselect Team

A federal arbitrator has vacated the 2000 Olympic Softball Team chosen by the ASA in September 1999 and ruled that the USA Softball Women's National Team Selection Committee must choose a new team based on the USOC guidelines and sport-specific selection criteria approved by the USOC.

After two days of oral argument in Los Angeles, California, the federal arbitrator ruled that the ASA had not followed its own team selection procedures, which were submitted to and approved by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). The ruling came as a result of a grievance brought by Julie Smith, a 1996 Olympic Softball Gold Medalist and long standing member of the U.S. National Softball Team.

Smith, who serves as the ASA's softball player representative to the USOC, alleged that the ASA failed to follow the rules or guidelines for team selection, thereby denying her the opportunity to fairly and justly try out and be selected to the Olympic Team, and ultimately denying her the right to participate in the 2000 Olympic Games. These athlete rights are established by Article IX of the USOC Constitution and the Amateur Sports Act.

"The USOC's Games Preparation and Services Committee is responsible for approving the selection procedures for all sports. It provides the checks and balances for the national governing bodies that choose Olympic teams," said Smith's attorney Danielle Carver, who represented Smith in the arbitration hearing.

"Two years ago, the ASA was sent guidelines from the USOC's Games Preparation and Services Committee but the ASA didn't abide by the guidelines. They did not submit their own sport-specific guidelines for final approval until August 27, 1999, and they were approved August 29, 1999, just two days prior to the Olympic tryouts, held in Midland, Michigan, September 1-5," said Carver.

The ASA's spokesperson, attorney Bob Tomlinson, said that the ASA had originally submitted the procedures in February of 1999, but they were not approved until August 1999. The reasons for the delay remain unclear to the ASA.

Carver continued, "The arbitrator determined that (1) the ASA procedures did not follow the USOC Games Preparation and Services Committee guidelines, and (2) the ASA contradicted itself several times in the guidelines it proposed, in one place stating that the team will be selected based on evaluations during the past 12 months; in another place, saying that evaluations during the entire quadrennium would be important, and in still another place, stating that the Olympic tryouts would determine the Olympic team.

"Since the guidelines were not approved until two days before the Olympic tryouts, the arbitrator determined that the only way to harmonize the inconsistencies was to determine that (1) player eligibility for the Olympic tryouts would be based on evaluations during the quadrennium, and (2) the Olympic team would be selected based principally on performance at the Olympic Trials, since it was the only scheduled evaluation remaining after selection procedures were approved," Carver added.

In addition, the arbitrator ruled that the ASA could evaluate the team based on the following discretionary factors, but that all members of the ASA selection committee must uniformly agree on how the factors will be defined: (1) leadership; (2) conduct; (3) attitude; (4) experience, and (5) maturity level. Evaluation for these factors can be based on information from the entire quadrennium, not just the Olympic Trials.

Smith said of her reasons for filing the grievance, "There were so many discrepancies in the whole process, but we narrowed it down to whether the ASA followed procedures. I felt that the ASA needed to be accountable for its actions, and be made to follow the rules as established by the USOC," said Smith. "It (the grievance) had to be done for all the future coaches and players who want to fulfill their Olympic dreams. It will be a much fairer system from now on, and the best players will be chosen to represent our country at the Olympics."

Amanda Scott, one of the 39 players invited to the Olympic Trials, also filed a grievance with the American Arbitration Association. Her case was heard by a different arbitrator who ruled in favor of the ASA, finding that the ASA followed team selection procedures "in all material respects."

ASA attorney Tomlinson said that the ASA's approved selection procedures clearly stated that selection would be based on the "entire quadrennium" and the two different arbitrators interpreted the exact same legal issue in different ways -- one as a waiver of the evaluation time issue (Scott case) and one not (Smith case).

Whether Smith fulfills her 2000 Olympic dream is still pending. In a statement released by the ASA, "The arbitrator did not find that any player should be added to or removed from the team. Rather, the arbitrator ordered that the selection committee reconvene in order to make its selections in accordance with the arbitrator’s decision. The ASA is in the process of reconvening the selection committee in accordance with the arbitrator's order."

The ASA selection committee will hold an in-person meeting at an undisclosed location May 3. After reselection of the team and the notification of all 39 players involved in the Olympic Trials, the ASA will make the new team public.

The ASA has notified all 39 players of the arbitrator's order and the selection procedures that will be followed in Wednesday's selection. In addition, the ASA has requested contact information in the event there are additional protests after the new selections. The arbitrator in the Smith case has retained jurisdiction to resolve any disputes that arise as a result of her order and the reconvening of the selection committee.

Carver and Smith believe that the ruling in their favor is a landmark case, since it sets precedent for future team selections, not only in softball but in other sports. Although it remains to be seen if Smith will make the new team, Carver said, "Over the past several years Julie has served her sport and teammates as the player representative and as the softball representative on the USOC's Athlete Advisory Council. We both are devoted to continually protecting the rights of all athletes. If Julie did not follow her heart and her head in continuing her challenge of the ASA's actions, she would not be true to herself and all she has fought for on behalf of the players and the sport she loves so much."