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Andy Foster’s make-or-break vision for the California State Athletic Commission

By Zach Arnold | April 24, 2013

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Andy Foster is busy reading the riot act to officials in California

To read all CSAC-related articles, dating back to May 2012, CLICK HERE.

Since Andy Foster’s arrival on the scene as the new Executive Officer of the California State Athletic Commission, two factors have been very clear when it comes to the job security of officials working for the commission: If you are a full-time state employee and you possess zero fighting or training experience, your days are numbered.

Real fighting experience trumps all. It surpasses any conflict-of-interest scenarios. It surpasses those officials who may be okay at the job but don’t have an extensive background in boxing or MMA. In many respects, this mindset by Andy Foster is similar to an attitude that you see with athletes who question members of the press who criticize them for bad play. It’s usually along the lines of ‘you haven’t played before, so how you are qualified to rip into my performance?’ It’s really no different in this scenario. The Executive Officer believes that you have to have an actual background as a fighter to truly understand what you are seeing in front of you when you are judging or officiating a fight. The same with the athletic inspectors supervising fighters at the show.

And if you don’t have experience as a fighter, then experience in law enforcement will do. If you don’t fall into that category, the job security isn’t there. Whether you disagree with this all-or-nothing philosophy, and many people vehemently do, it is going to be fully implemented.

I think it is instructive to take a look at some of the quotes over the last couple of days from Andy Foster. First, his comments to MMA Junkie:

“I’m picking people who know what they’re looking at,” Foster today told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “I will not pick state workers again to judge these fights in California. I had two brown belts and a purple belt judging a world title fight, and they all have striking experience. You can’t ask for anything better than that.”

“It’s more important for me to get the score right than to hire some state worker and get the score wrong,” Foster said. “We have a problem with incompetence in this sport, and when you hear people say, ‘We need to use fighters; we need to use people that train.’ Well, if we do that, they’re going to trace back in some respect. You can make a connection anywhere.”

What stands out here is the immediate connection between being incompetent and being a full-time state worker. When it comes to the officials (outside of the athletic inspectors), they are licensees. They are paid a fee to work a show. So, money isn’t as big of an issue on that front as it would be for the inspectors. Which gets us to the second point, which is that those who have fighting experience are viewed as being the most qualified & competent to do the job.

The issue of conflict of interest. Andy Foster says that it is hard to avoid conflict of interests when it comes to using officials who have a fighting background. He has to a point… to a degree. Yes, the pool of individuals to pick from is smaller than boxing. However, there are still plenty of qualified individuals who can work shows who don’t have any ties to fighters or possess any sort of conflict of interests.

The issue of conflict of interests has bubbled amongst the officials in California for a while now. It’s a hot-button topic. For example, there are two current athletic inspectors who are attracting heat behind the scenes due to COI issues. First, there is Rose Saavedra. She works for Dr. Richard Gluckman, a Southern California doctor who many fighters go to as a one-shop doctor to get all of their medical exams done in order to meet their requirements with CSAC. We wrote about this topic on January 10th:

The complaints being voiced about Saavedra getting booked as a show inspector has to do with potential conflict-of-interest issues since the inspectors are in charge of the health & safety of fighters. If a person close to a well-known doctor who is doing the medical testing of fighters is acting an inspector, you can understand why there is some scrutiny & concern being voiced.

It also doesn’t help that some inspectors are alleging that she’s handing out Dr. Gluckman business cards to individuals at shows. It is a conflict of interest that goes right to the core of ethics regarding the health & safety of the fighters.

Second, there is new athletic inspector Gene Fields. He has the Gene Fields Kickboxing Academy/Team Voodoo in Turlock. There are fighters that work shows across the state that come from his gym. Gene’s extensive experience means that he has tentacles all over the place when it comes to the local circuit of shows. To his credit, he doesn’t want to work fights involving combatants with direct ties to him. However, when you’re a nine-time kickboxing and Muay Thai champion, it’s pretty damn hard to avoid a conflict of interest situation when you are an athletic inspector and you are assigned to work an MMA event like King of the Cage or a Muay Thai/kickboxing show in Central California. Just ask Jeremiah Metcalf.

Last year, Gene was brought in to check out those participating at a K-1 tryout in Southern California:

K-1 today announced yet another fighting superstar, Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, will be in attendance at Muscle Beach this Thursday for the official K-1 Tryouts. Urquidez joins kickboxing giants Alistair Overeem, Rick Roufus, Tyrone Spong, Mighty Mo, Dewey Cooper and Masato, who are already scheduled for the July 19 event.

Also, K-1 today announced it has confirmed more than a dozen of the best trainers in the business, including Colin Oyama, Gene Fields, Paulo Tocha, Rob Kamen and Mark Breecher to take the more than 200 Hopefuls pre-registered through their drills and the tryout process.

Third, we have Wade Vierra. He was one of the judges in the Ben Henderson/Gilbert Melendez fight. You’ve seen Wade’s name pop up this weekend on the MMA web sites in regards to a potential conflict of interest.

Bottom line? The issue of potential conflict-of-interest scenarios isn’t going to get Andy Foster to budge from his overarching philosophy that using individuals with backgrounds in fighting or law enforcement is the way to go.

When you decide to use officials based on whether or not they have a background in fighting or training, you are automatically filtering out a good portion of the available pool of officials to book. Then, if you add a second filter where you assign boxing officials to boxing events only and MMA officials to MMA events only, then the pool of talent available becomes even smaller. Here’s how Andy Foster characterized the process to MMA Weekly:

“I think that’s been part of the problem for a long time. This state had boxing judges judging mixed martial arts. It’s my opinion that we should keep the two sports kind of separate.”

(Regarding using fighters as primary officials & any potential conflicts-of-interest) “We rely on their integrity. Are you going to score it right for me or not? These guys I pick have competed themselves. Maybe not mixed martial arts, but certainly in grappling tournaments and striking competitions. They’re depth of knowledge is pretty good.

“You’re going to see more of this from this commission, not less. We want to get the score right for these fighters. I think we got the score right (for Henderson vs. Melendez).”

Pushing forward with new policies in dealing with athletic inspectors & officials

There was a meeting in Los Angeles this past Monday for the California State Athletic Commission. You won’t see video or listen to audio of it. Why? No one from the state recorded the hearing. We asked for the audio and video. There is none. Logistical issues or not, it’s not exactly a transparent way of doing business. That said, the other notable state athletic commissions have lousy records on media availability.

However, there were plenty of people in attendance at the meeting on Monday. David Avila of The Sweet Science was taking notes and caught wind of a couple of very interesting developments.

The Commission also voted to use a grading list devised by the late Larry Rozadilla and used by prior commissions to assess the judges and referees after prizefights.

The Commission also wants a better system of assigning the best referees and judges to fight cards instead of basing assignments on geographic locale.

Of these two items, the bottom item is of great significance. One of the big deals that the politicians in Sacramento have yelled about in regards to the athletic commission is that the Bureau of State Audits determined that about half of the officials booked for local shows were from out-of-the-area. When Andy Foster came into office, it was being indicated that new tools would be used to make sure that officials closest to the shows would work the events. However, that policy took a quick U-turn when officials all over the state got booked recently for bigger shows, regardless of where the officials are located. The defense of this policy is that California is one state and that you shouldn’t treat California as two states (Northern California & Southern California). However, that U-turn flies in the face of political pressure to book as many local officials for shows as possible.

Now, the pretense of the new administration at the commission using local guys based on geography is gone. It’s over. The question then becomes the following: at what point will the politicians start complaining about this? Will it be used as a wedge issue to drive people when they fall out of political favor, just like it was used against George Dodd?

All of this brings us to one item of note that no one in the media paid attention to from Monday’s hearing. It’s actually the most important takeaway from the session. Two months ago at a CSAC meeting in Los Angeles, Andy Foster was listed as saying the following just two months ago:

The commission has started tracking event specific revenues and expenses to show much money is made or lost per events. The commission makes money on most events now. The commission drastically reduced athletic inspector travel costs by using proximity as a major factor in event assignments.

The Executive Officer stated he explored the option of moving athletic inspectors cost reimbursement to a flat-rate. It is the Executive Officer’s understanding that the flat-rate option would take 4-5 months to implement and he is moving towards implementing this. The Executive Officer does not want to move the lead inspectors to a flat rate. The lead job should be rewarded because it is a difficult job and we need to continue paying our leads with an hourly rate. The commission is training additional inspectors in the southern part of the state where the majority of its events are held.”

Right now, all athletic inspectors are treated as intermittent state employees. They are paid by the hour and they are also supposed to get travel time, something which the Department of Consumer Affairs has recently screwed around with in order to try to nickel-and-dime cash away from inspectors who often travel hundreds of miles to work events in remote locations like Chumash or Morongo or Lemoore.

Now, Andy Foster wants to basically create two classes of inspectors officially and treat them as such financially. He wants to continue paying lead inspectors by the hour but he wants to pay the non-lead athletic inspectors a flat rate of $110 per show. The reaction so far amongst the inspectors statewide has been apoplectic. Furious. It’s also putting the lead inspectors in an unenviable position of the having to deal with the other athletic inspectors who are quickly viewing this as an ‘us versus them’ development. The politics will get nastier, guaranteed.

There’s a few ways to look at this news. In one respect, it’s a move that will allow the front office to book more inspectors on shows. Perhaps it will mean more inspectors at local events. That’s the upside. The downsides, however, are ugly. As one experienced source put it, “if you pay for a Volkswagen, don’t expect a BMW.” You get what you pay for, in other words. Those who are already frustrated and disgruntled may balk at the rate cut and simply quit. For the front office, that’s a feature and not a bug. If you are not on the Executive Officer’s approved list and you quit, you’re simply making his job easier by replacing you with someone that he wants.

So, athletic inspectors & officials who aren’t getting booked as much for shows face a choice.

Andy Foster has his vision & philosophy on how to change the climate of combat sports regulation in California. It’s his way or the highway.

Topics: Boxing, CSAC, Media, MMA, Zach Arnold | 1 Comment » | Permalink | Trackback |

One Response to “Andy Foster’s make-or-break vision for the California State Athletic Commission”

  1. In the 28 years that I have promoted boxing and mma shows in California, I have to say that Andy Foster, in just his first six months as Exective Officer, has done more positive things to help get combative sports in our state heading back in the right direction, than any of his predecessors! I have never seen a Commission meeting run as effectively, and never heard more input from the Commissioners, as I have heard at the last three Commission meetings where Andy Foster has been EO.

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