I’m publishing this post the night before the Board meets to vote whether to remove Mike Foley as USPSA President. I’m assuming (and hoping) they get the votes required to do that. By my reading of the bylaws, the Vice President will be acting President until an election can be held to fill the position for the remainder of the current term through the end of 2023. The number of people talking about running is truly wild, but we will see who actually puts their name in and how the election shakes out. This article is my best effort to synthesize the changes I see as being most crucial to bringing USPSA out of the troubled waters it finds itself in.
Right The Past Wrongs
It is absurd that Tony Cowden was allowed to stay in the sport and keep his GM card while Ryan Flowers, also a match director working to build the sport, who owned up to what he did, was banned for life for it. An organization that turns a blind eye to cheating while giving the harshest punishment possible to those that tell the truth sends a clear message: if you are caught, admit nothing and threaten to sue. Under no conditions accept what you did and show a good faith willingness to fix things. You will only be banned for life for your trouble.
USPSA should publicly right the wrong and send the message that honest mistakes will be handled with grace but cheating will be dealt with seriously. Ryan Flowers should be reinstated as a member and a new investigation should be launched into Tony Cowden’s irregularities, including his “invitation only” classifier match where he made GM in two divisions and M in the third.
Roll Back The Changes That Shortchange The Membership
Go back to having a proper process for changing the rules, which includes proposed changes for member review before approval. Undo the bylaw change to allow changing the equipment rules at will. The whole point of that bylaw was to gather changes in a batch and release them all at once. When things change multiple times a year, people stop trying to keep up with the changes and give up. When members of the sport give up on keeping current with the rules, you have failed at your task at making enforceable rules.
Start printing paper rulebooks again. I know it’s expensive when you revise the rulebook. That’s the point.
Start sending out classification cards again. Sure it’s a legacy of a bygone era, but people appreciate having the physical token of an intangible achievement. People pay $40 a year for a membership; you can afford to send them a card every now and then.
Hire competent mobile developers to rebuild the mobile app. Make it reliable. Take the ads out. Sponsors and rules should be kept separate.
Stop Sucking Up To The Industry
Rather than trying to change USPSA to appease sponsors, make it so undeniably popular and influential that they have no choice but to do what it takes to play by our rules. Make Production Division something they want to comply with, instead of lowering the bar so any conceivable gun qualifies.
Stop the social media feeds from constantly shilling sponsors’ gear. The point of the organization is to create a level playing field for them to prove the quality of their wares, not be their spokesman.
Change the magazine back to Front Sight and remember it’s meant to be a newsletter for the members. It is not supposed to be just another second-tier gun rag doing bland positive reviews of guns that have nothing to do with competition.
Roll Back Division Changes
With the proper notice to the members, make it clear that Production is going back to the rules as they were before it was “clarified” that a hammer on a CZ was a “minor internal component”.
When things have settled down a bit, have an honest discussion with the members about bringing ourselves closer to the international ruleset that we are nominally a regional affiliate of, and gauge the interest in increasing the magazine capacity of Production to 15. This should not be done as a top-down decision, but as an honest reflection of the will of the membership, if indeed they want it.
Consider other divisions and gather feedback on whether the changes to open them up has actually been good for competition, or simply a boost for participation. Was anyone in Single Stack actually looking to raise the weight limit or allow polymer frames, or was it just a desperate bid to satisfy sponsors?
Support The Tools That Power The Sport
The single most significant change to the sport since I joined in 2013 has been the widespread adoption of PractiScore. The app is free, and if it were to stop being maintained or require payment, the sport has no backup. USPSA has a top line revenue of $2.7 million, and USPSA matches overwhelmingly use Practiscore. We should make sure this piece of critical infrastructure is well supported so matches can continue to use it.
Likewise, Sketchup, the dominant tool for stage design in the sport, is owned by a for-profit company that is making it increasingly difficult to use the app without a subscription. The power that 3D stage design allows for making interesting stages is hard to overstate. USPSA should find some arrangement to make sure that affiliate clubs have access to Sketchup or something similar for use in designing their stages. Maybe it’s a kind of enterprise Sketchup license, maybe it’s working with the developers of a competing product. I can’t say for sure. But the landscape is shifting and USPSA should not be blindsided by the change.
Make Nationals Great
HQ only has a few jobs: standardize the rules, approve stages for major matches, and put on Nationals. The current goal of Nationals appears to be to get the most bodies in the door instead of being the premier practical shooting event of the year. I wrote yesterday about some things that I think contribute to fixing that. Get started.
Make The Classifier HHF Process Transparent
For people who never travel to Nationals, the classifier system is their sole way of “shooting against” the best in the country. The current state of the classification system is a mess. There are by my count currently 85 active classifiers, each of which has a High Hit Factor (HHF) set for 8 divisions. How many of those 640 HHFs are accurate? It’s generally understood that the 99 and 03 classifiers are “shot up” and impossible to do well on, while it has regularly been the case that the 18, 19, and 20 series classifiers have had very easy HHFs set based on stage wins at Nationals. Whether those statements are true or not doesn’t matter; the perception that the system is unfair is enough to hurt the confidence of the members.
We should have fewer classifiers, perhaps 20 or 30. But critically, we must make sure the membership has faith that every single one is a tough but realistic test of skill. 100% should be difficult but achievable on all of them, and none of them should have a HHF that is some statistical outlier. In both 2018 and 2019, the High Hit Factors were updated with no advance notice to the membership and no clarity on how and why the adjustments were made. Have there been further adjustments since then? What is the process used to decide? If the members are going to trust the classifier system is anything more than luck and picking recent classifiers, this needs to be addressed.
NROI Needs To Actually Encourage Good Stage Design
One of the key attributes of a Level 2 or above match is that the stages have been vetted for quality, not just rubber stamped. NROI approval of stages is basically meaningless in the modern scenario. It allows through obviously illegal stages while at the same time requiring stages to be changed because “someone could trip over a wall in the shooting area” and “someone could reach around a wall and shoot a popper at 3 yards with one hand”.
Nationals should be a tour de force of good stage design. There should be a binder (or PDF) of 50 good stages sent out to each new club to help them understand what it means to set up good USPSA stages. Good stage design should be regularly recognized. Bad stage design should be called out and discouraged.
USPSA Should Grow Membership And Clubs, Not Just Participation and Activities
Counting the success of a USPSA Nationals by its size is, to borrow a phrase, like measure progress of an airplane by its weight. If you only count activity, there is no difference between a new shooter attending their first match or getting some Steel Challenge guy to shoot a second gun at a match he’s already attending. But the impact of getting a new shooter to try the sport is obviously greater.
USPSA should be actively soliciting ranges to start matches and figure out what hurdles they have to getting a match set up. The current model where a club has to jump through hoops and if they fall out during the process they just didn’t want it bad enough is absurd. If we grow the membership but they have nowhere to shoot because all the matches fill up weeks in advance, what’s the point?
I am personally involved in starting up a match a local indoor range, and the value proposition of affiliating with USPSA is all hassle and no gain. We’re running it as a simple outlaw, time-plus match. People will see the match on Practiscore, sign up, bring whatever guns they want to compete with, and have a good time. Practiscore is free. People can watch some match videos to get an idea of our stages and rules. What possible value would affiliating with USPSA present that would be worth the $3/shooter fee? Don’t mistake me: I want USPSA to be an irresistible value proposition. But I also recognize that currently, it is not.
In summary, there is no shortage of work to do. I’m sure there are many more issues than I’ve listed here that also require fixing, and they should be prioritized and resolved in order. But we also need to recognize this is a very particular moment for practical shooting and its place in the US. We need vision and leadership to roll back the unwise changes of the past and institute the overdue ones to secure the future of the sport. Let’s get to work.