USA Track & Field didn’t learn about lawsuits that jeopardized the 2020 Olympic Trials until two months after its board awarded the meet to Mt. San Antonio College in June 2017, newly revealed documents show.
But by late October 2017, USATF was threatening to pull the showcase event from Mt. SAC — six months before it shocked the track world by reopening bids for the meet.
Adam Schmenk, USATF’s managing director of events and entertainment properties, on Oct. 27 demanded that Mt. SAC provide a construction timeline and a guarantee that Hilmer Lodge Stadium would be built no later than April 2020.
“Should you be unable to provide the above assurance by November 17, we will reopen the bid process to secure a host city who can provide the commitments necessary to host a successful Olympic Trials,” Schmenk wrote Doug Todd, Mt. SAC’s athletic special events director.
Two months later, USATF Deputy General Counsel Donald Woodard doubled down in a letter to Mt. SAC’s president.
“We, and our major partners, are extremely concerned about whether the construction of the appropriate facilities will be complete in sufficient time to host a first class high caliber 2020 Trials,” Woodard wrote William Scroggins.
“Therefore, we require unequivocal proof that the lawsuits have been dismissed or otherwise resolved in such a manner as to remove any doubt that construction of the stadium and other facilities will not be delayed in any way whatsoever,” he said Jan. 3, demanding a Jan. 4 conference call.
Woodard said that at an August 2017 campus meeting, “we were made aware of the existence of two lawsuits filed against Mt. SAC directly or indirectly related to Mt. SAC’s preparation and ability to successfully host a first class 2020 Trials.”
The letters — along with USATF’s 37-page contract with Mt. SAC — were among documents released Friday to Times of San Diego after a California Public Records Act request.
Indianapolis-based USATF did not respond to a request for comment.
But email exchanges with Mt. SAC’s Scroggins and others indicate that USATF chose Mt. SAC over bids from previous Trials hosts University of Oregon and Sacramento State University without knowing Mt. SAC’s $87 million stadium renovation was targeted by suits from the City of Walnut and a group called United Walnut Taxpayers.
“These lawsuits directly impact Mt. SAC’s ability to timely complete construction of the stadium and other necessary facilities and thus, adequately prepare to conduct a premier track and field competition,” Woodard said.
A frustrated Woodard added: “General and ambiguous assurances [that the stadium would be built on time] are insufficient in light of the lawsuits. We are unable to rely on a unilateral construction schedule with known impediments to the process.”
Woodard noted that Todd had said days earlier — Jan. 1 — that “your fears are understandable, of course. I’m concerned as well and will be until we get this [thing] wrapped up.”
The Walnut suit (dating to November 2016) eventually was settled, but the older UWT civil case — challenging Mt. SAC’s use of bond money to demolish and rebuild the home of the Mt. SAC Relays — is pending, with a planned January 2019 jury trial.
On Jan. 11, 2018, Mt. SAC attorney Sean Absher wrote to USATF CEO Max Siegel in an effort to relieve the governing body’s concerns.
“If UWT were to seek interim relief to prevent Mt. SAC from using bond funds to construct the [stadium], we do not believe such relief would be granted by a court,” Absher wrote. “Irrespective of this analysis, Mt. SAC has alternate funding sources to complete the [stadium] in the unlikely event a court were to find in favor of UWT.”
In announcing that USATF had canceled the 2020 Olympic Trials, Mt. SAC’s Scroggins on May 1 said: “We remain confident in our ability to deliver a completed stadium on time and a successful event.”
But Mt. SAC has made no announcement it will bid again for the 10-day meet in late June 2020.
If it does, it may have to sign some sizable checks — again.
Having already paid a $20,000 bid fee, Mt. SAC agreed in a contract signed Jan. 16 to pay a $500,000 nonrefundable rights fee — with all but $187,500 due before Feb. 1, 2018.
Before the contract was presumably dissolved, Mt. SAC also promised to pay USATF $1.25 million for “athlete support” (such as travel and lodging) and the same amount for prize money — both due in 2020.
Under the newly posted Request for Proposals, bids are due May 25, with the announcement of the new Olympic Trials host around June 8.