The California State Athletic Commission has not had a good year. Mired in financial and personnel issues, the state’s regulatory body for boxing and MMA has been without a day-to-day leader since the resignations of former executive director George Dodd in July and his interim replacement, Kathi Burns, in September, according to MMA Junkie. Finally, though, the organization might be getting a little stability.

Earlier this week, the CSAC announced it had appointed Andy Foster as its new executive director. Foster is a former professional MMA fighter who most recently served as executive director of the Georgia Athletic and Entertainment Commission. He brings 17 years of involvement in MMA to the CSAC, nearly five of which have been spent regulating the sport in Georgia. According to the CSAC news release announcing his appointment, Foster helped increase the Georgia commission’s revenue by 70 percent during his time as executive director, experience which no doubt made him a very attractive candidate to the financially insolvent California regulators.

Surely, Foster’s past success is the result of a lot of reasoned decision making informed by his years as a fighter and in other regulatory roles, and Californians should be optimistic that Foster will help lead their struggling commission back into the black. In the eyes of many invested in MMA, however, his victories as the executive director of the CSAC will be measured in more than dollars and cents.

For people paying attention to more than just the CSAC’s bottom line, that commission and others like it should be just as concerned with how they can once again establish some semblance of credibility among fighters, fans, promoters and anyone else involved in MMA. Between the selection of questionably qualified judges and the shoddy, inconsistent drug-testing policies demonstrated in the last several years, athletic commissions across America have collectively become a bit of a joke.

For starters, the sport of MMA has certainly reached a critical mass of former fighters and coaches who are positively more qualified to judge a fight than some of the people currently filling out scorecards cageside. This isn’t to say that the current crop of judges is unqualified, per se, but most people with experience in the cage (or at least in the gym) are probably better equipped to judge a fight than someone who simply knows the Rules of the Octagon. (Some might argue the same could be said for people who write about MMA, but that’s another conversation.)

Fortunately, MMA is no longer in a place where its top promotions must worry about the quality of the officiating in the cage itself, as John McCarthy, Herb Dean, Mario Yamasaki and the other go-to referees can typically be relied upon to stay out of the action until they absolutely need to intervene. Just as importantly, they know when a fighter has taken enough punishment so the violence inherent to MMA doesn’t become more stomach-turning than necessary. In this way, the CSAC and its contemporaries can rest easy. In a few years, perhaps UFC President Dana White will no longer need to warn fighters not to leave it in the hands of the judges because the frequency of questionable decisions from judges will have dwindled to nearly nothing.

Then there’s the issue of the myriad loopholes throughout the various states’ drug testing policies. This is probably the most pressing issue facing the country’s athletic commissions. On a recent episode of Joe Rogan’s podcast, UFC lightweight Mac Danzig estimated that 60 percent of all MMA fighters are using performance-enhancing drugs “all the time.” When including fighters who go on and off PEDs, Danzig’s estimate jumps to 85 or 90 percent. Even if those numbers are 20 percent over what’s real, that means the majority of fighters are at least using PEDs some of the time, and that fact speaks volumes about the quality of testing among state athletic commissions.

This is to say nothing of the ridiculous “therapeutic use exemptions” that perfectly healthy fighters are given to use certain performance enhancers. It’s as though the state athletic commissions didn’t want to actually punish people for using testosterone replacement therapy, so they decided to make it so easy to get away with using it that they’d never have to do so. It almost makes one wonder how any fighter could be foolish enough to use TRT without the therapeutic use exemption…

If Foster really wants to make the CSAC a regulatory force to be reckoned with, and not just increase the commission’s revenue, he’ll need to make some major changes to how the commission does its business. He’ll need to recruit new, more qualified judges for fights taking place in California to ensure they’re being scored adequately. In addition, he’ll need to lobby for more stringent substance testing for fighters to lessen the staggering number of fighters who allegedly use PEDs

Let’s not forget, however, that an athletic commission is only as effective as its state allows it to be. California has experienced some well-publicized budget woes in recent years, and certainly the state has higher priorities than the quality of PED testing in MMA. Still, if the people in charge are serious about the credibility of the CSAC, they’ll allocate the necessary money to ensure the commission can conduct the sort of screenings that will at least make it slightly more difficult to get away with fighting dirty.

If Foster is able to achieve the sorts of revenue increases in California as he did in Georgia, that will certainly be a great start to his tenure as executive director of the CSAC. After that, though, Foster would be best served to reinvest that money in the CSAC’s testing protocols and in the recruiting and training of qualified judges. These changes will go a long way to once again establishing the CSAC as an athletic commission to be emulated.

Photo: California State Seal

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.