Tuesday, December 27, 2005

How Many Lightweight Programs Are There?

With so many new collegiate rowing programs, varsity and club, springing up around the country, it’s hard to keep track of how many schools actually have teams. Given the ephemeral nature of some women’s lightweight crews, this is especially true for that part of the rowing universe. Superficially at least, a count seems to be important as a way of establishing a baseline for the popularity of women’s lightweights as well as providing some context for how the category fits into US collegiate rowing. With crews racing as heavyweights one week and lightweights the next, counting is nearly impossible, but certainly worth a try.

I have to admit up front that although it took some work to gather the small set of statistics I used, that set is severely limited and my results should be seen only as anecdotal evidence. For my count I looked at all race results listed on row2k for 2004 and 2005. Alarm bells go off immediately because two years cannot show a trend (but counting more years = even more time consuming) and more races take place than those covered by row2k. In addition, row2k results are limited by the descriptions coaches supply and I suspect (although I can’t be sure) that some lightweight boats raced as heavyweights but didn’t note their lightweight status. In addition, some races were combination races of lightweights and other boats, and I didn’t count those unless the lightweight boats were designated. The race and school totals I have should therefore be considered to be minimum numbers. With those caveats, on to the statistics.

In 2004, a total of 74 schools raced lightweight fours or eights. Thirty-four schools raced eights and 58 raced fours (some raced both, of course). These schools raced lightweight boats 274 times (not counting “B” boats) – 143 eights and 131 fours. In 2005, 71 schools raced lightweight boats, with 28 racing eights and 63 racing fours. These schools raced 302 boats – 143 eights and 159 fours. In addition, a reader was kind enough to send me the list of schools claiming to have lightweight teams from the latest CRCA meeting. Comparing that list to my own, I note that there are an additional 14 schools which could bring the total up to 85 or so.

Does that number surprise you? It surprises me. The NCAA web site lists 144 DI, DII, and DIII schools that sponsor women’s rowing. I think 85 compares pretty favorably to that, particularly given that a lack of NCAA sponsorship for lightweights when heavyweights are sponsored amounts to a tacit campaign to kill lightweight rowing. (Keep in mind that the 85 is not a subset of the 144 because some of the 85 are club teams not recognized by the NCAA.) Contrary to conventional wisdom, not only is lightweight rowing not dying, it appears to be growing. A jump from 274 boats raced in 2004 to 302 in 2005 is a pretty big move. The sponsoring schools stayed roughly the same so there must have been some increase in racing opportunities for lightweight crews. At the very least, there was an increase in depth of field.

As you would expect, more schools raced fours than eights. Even though the number of eights raced is pretty close to the number of fours (even more in 2004), that resulted from fewer schools racing their eights more often. The greater number of fours could suggest that schools have fewer lightweights than heavyweights (assuming nearly all also race heavy eights), but it could also mean that coaches are using their best lightweights in their heavyweight boats. For all we know schools are racing heavyweight boats that are really mostly lightweights with a few heavyweights added in. In this case the prominence of heavyweight rowing blinds coaches to the opportunity they have to make a name for their program racing lightweights. It’s all speculation though, because the numbers alone tell us nothing about what is really happening.

In my next post I’ll look at how many schools dropped between 2004 and 2005 and how many added on.


Anonymous said...

What is the average height and range of heights of a women's lightweight collegiate rower?

JW Burk said...

That's a good question, the answer to which I sure don't know. I can take a guess though. I would say that in general lightweights are between 5'5" and 5'8", with most around 5'6".