Sunday, January 29, 2006

2006 Season Preview - Lehigh

It's almost February, some crews have already gone south for water time, others will be headed there in the coming days and weeks. In about eight weeks the season will be in full swing. Plenty of erg days lay ahead, but soon we'll be slipping and sliding on icy docks as we carry our boats to the water. (If you row in the south, well, please gloat silently.) With all this in mind, it's a good time to look ahead at the coming season. Most schools have published their spring schedules, so I'll take a look at what will be some highlights. I'll go through school by school, starting with last year's number 10 V8 and ending with last year's number 1. Doing one or two teams each week brings us to the season. By the way, since I have the only season ending ranking, by default my ranking is the OFFICIAL national ranking.

This week we start with Lehigh. It can be problematic to do a preview for some of these programs because we can't even be sure they will race a lightweight boat, much less know which races on their schedule will include a lightweight race. In Lehigh's case, they have raced lightweight boats in 2004 and 2005, so I'll assume they will continue, and press on.

Lehigh begins the season on the Schuylkill in Philadelphia against Delaware and St. Joe's. Delaware doesn't race lightweights but St. Joe's often does, so there may be a light eight or four race that day. St. Joe's has the potential to make some noise in the lightweight ranks so if they race a light eight this year, this will be a good test for both. The next week is Villanova in Philly. Villanova often puts out lightweight boats so there may be another opportunity to race. Lehigh may just as well camp out along the Schuylkill because the following week is the Murphy Cup. The Murphy Cup usually has a good field of light fours.

April Fool's Day brings the rivalry race against Lafayette. In 2004 a light eight was contested while in 2005 only a light four was raced. Whatever is raced this year, Lehigh needs to win it if they hope to play any national role.

The following week is the Knecht Cup in Camden. The Knecht Cup has become one of the premier lightweight women's events, but Lehigh hasn't raced it recently. If they have a serious light boat, this is chance to find out what it's made of. The next race with lightweight possibilities is a dual with Bucknell. Bucknell wasn't a factor last year, but they are getting serious about lightweights so maybe they'll have a varsity boat to pit against Lehigh. If so, this will be a key race for Lehigh. The Patriot League Championship follows. This may or may not have a lightweight race so it probably won't be a highlight. Next come Dad Vails and IRAs to end the season.

Early races are just that - early races. They are important for training, less important for results. The Knecht Cup will be big, but still a bit early. The Bucknell race is late enough, however, that if both crews are racing lightweight eights, this will be a key match-up and can provide some good momentum entering the championship season. Of course, if Lehigh doesn't actually race a lightweight eight this year - NEVER MIND! [Update: Lehigh has confirmed that they will be racing lightweights this spring.]

Next up is the University of Central Florida.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Dropping Dangerously

When I first saw this article in the Columbia Spectator, I thought, "Uh oh, here we go again." When I read it, though, I found it to be a fairly reasonable look at weight issues in lightweight rowing. Columbia only has men's lightweight crew, but for the most part the issues are similar. The author took the time to interview Columbia's trainer and lightweight coach, which added to the depth of the information.

Because Columbia has wrestling, it was included in the article along with lightweight crew. This, I think, unfairly suggests that the weight issues in the two sports are similar. In wrestling, because it has multiple weight classes, every athlete is dropping weight. In rowing, with one weight limit, many athletes (most?) don't have to lose any weight at all or are simply monitoring their weight.

Columbia's head trainer draws an important but rarely made distinction between eating disorders and disordered eating. Eating disorders among female lightweight rowers are no more common than they are among the general college age population (I owe you backup for that statement). Meanwhile, disordered eating, which I've never seen actually defined in the many studies that discuss it among athletes, is sometimes found to be prevalent among female athletes (more backup required). In the absence of a definition of that term, I am left to believe that anyone on a diet is guilty of disordered eating. Do you know any college age woman not on a diet? That doesn't make the practice healthy, it just makes it not the result of lightweight rowing. In fact, because lightweight rowers actually have to perform athletically, their diets are generally better than the binge diets to which most college women succumb. "Disordered eating" is the term seen when a researcher has just finished another inconclusive study on female athletes and eating disorders, but intuitively believes there must be a positive correlation - Didn't see any eating disorders, but did see a lot of disordered eating (women on diets).

An interesting claim made in the article is that lightweight rowing is particularly at risk because it is not regulated by the NCAA. Given the NCAA's effect on rowing so far... Actually, the NCAA could be a force for good here if it required programs or leagues to develop their own weight monitoring plans. Unfortunately the NCAA's modus operandi is to require an NCAA developed plan which would undoubtedly be less than satisfactory. Incidentally, as mentioned in the article, most (probably all) varsity lightweight programs have such a plan. In my experience, those schools with serious lightweight women's crews monitor the heck out of them. Health "problems" are uncovered and corrected in lightweights that no doubt exist in 95% of the student population (e.g. slight anemia, slight dehydration). In the case of lightweight women's rowing, though, we see how the NCAA has chosen to address any perceived problems - pretend it doesn't exist and maybe it will go away.

I think that the overall impression the article gives, however, is fairly accurate. Lightweight rowing, like every other sport, can cause health problems if not properly implemented and left in the hands of uneducated coaches and administrators, but it rarely is. Rather, nearly all serious lightweight programs are in the hands of capable coaches, trainers, and administrators who understand that the sport is for lightweights, not wannabe lightweights, and that the way to win is to maintain strength and health while rowing better than your opponents. The answer to any problems isn't found in fewer programs, but rather in more focused programs.

(I've promised a review of health studies of lightweight women rowers and it is coming.)

Monday, January 23, 2006

Why Aren't There More Lightweight Programs (cont.)?

A few months back I began discussing the first of three reasons given me by the head coach of a women’s heavyweight program at an Ivy League school for why there aren’t more lightweight programs. The first reason covered was a lack of resources. The second reason given, which I’ll discuss now, was that many schools have “close-to lightweights rowing in priority boats.”

The argument here is that pulling lightweights into their own program would slow down the heavy boats. The major heavyweight schools, those that hope to win the NCAAs each year, generally don’t have lightweights in their priority boats. Of course, there are a few exceptions that prove the rule (Kok atVirginia and Peters at Columbia), but the recruiting scavenger hunt that heavyweight coaches conduct each year just doesn’t result in lightweights. This argument, therefore, does not apply to the major heavyweight programs and they are back to claiming poverty.

So what about the smaller schools? There is no question that there are lightweights rowing in heavyweight boats at Dad Vail schools and some of the smaller Division I schools. These schools need to take a hard look at the size of women they can recruit (this is mostly on-campus recruiting), the success they’ve had as heavyweights, and the likelihood that they can recruit ever larger girls, and then decide where they can have the most success. Why get knocked out in the semis of the Dad Vail heavy eight when with some focus you might be able to win the light eight (see Dayton)? And, the Dad Vail winner always has a good shot at making the IRA final. The Dad Vail heavyweight winner is sitting at home during NCAAs while the lightweight winner is racing for the national championship at IRAs. Do they compare? There will always be heavyweight programs that race lightweight when it turns out that they have enough for a boat. Why aren’t there lightweight programs that race heavyweight when they have enough heavies for a boat? Villanova seemed to spend a couple of years doing that and they won the lightweight national championship at IRAs. Then they started to concentrate on heavyweights and now they occasionally bounce in and out of the Dad Vail medals. Once they stopped focusing on lightweights, they gave up their chance to win a national championship. Can lightweights be that hard to find on college campuses? We’ve already seen that a typical lightweight falls into the national average size for college age women.

Programs that think pulling lightweights into their own boats would hurt their heavy eights should reassess their programs. They might realize that trying to boat a heavy eight every year is eliminating their chance to win the lightweight national championship. I understand that the heavyweights are seen as more glamorous (racing wise, I mean) than the lightweights, but I also know that winning an IRA medal is more glamorous than sitting at home hitting the refresh button on your computer during NCAAs.

Saturday, January 21, 2006


In a press release announcing heavyweight coach Lori Dauphiny's talk at the NCAA press conference announcing the location of the heavyweight national championships, Princeton describes the IRAs as the "national championships for both men's crew and women's lightweight crew." It's nice to see someone describe the IRAs as the lightweight national championship. I wonder if Princeton's proud heritage of national championship lightweight crews has anything to do with that? Speaking of which, why aren't the NCAA championships referred to as the women's heavyweight national championship, because that is what they are?

A10 Polls

Dayton took note of its ranking in the recently released A10 poll. The ranking is a team ranking, not a boat ranking (I'm still not sure I get that), so it does not address lightweights specifically. Dayton's release notes that the lightweight 8+ was ranked as high as 13th nationally in 2005. No poll is done at the end of the season and I had Dayton at number 6 at year end.

Among lightweights this year, my guess is that the A10 will come down to a battle between Dayton and URI, although St. Joe's has the capacity to put out a fast 8+. Nonetheless, with 6 rowers returning from last year's 8+, I think Dayton is the boat to beat in the A10.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Will the NCAA Continue to Tear Rowing Apart?

In one of my earlier scoops (you heard it here first), I discussed the Pac-10's proposal to make men's rowing an NCAA sport with an NCAA championship. Well, here's the proposal.

This is all about some Pac-10 men worrying that their competition has more scholarships. The proposal does not mention lightweight men (or women, of course) so it's not clear what happens to them. If there is a NCAA championship regatta for heavyweight men, lightweight women would not be able to race there. According to the NCAA's separate but equal doctrine, the sexes and weights may not mix. The potential for damage to lightweight rowing is great here - I wonder if lightweight coaches have focused on it?

If the NCAA wants a model for a sport that treats women and men the same, maybe they should look at rowing. Both sexes compete in exactly the same manner, using exactly the same equipment, and train exactly the same way. In some events, they even compete together (mixed boats). What is more equal than that? Why does the NCAA (and now the Pac-10 men) want to tear this apart?

Stanford is Recruiting Lightweights

Stanford's recruiting announcement for lightweights includes a FAQ that I think makes a couple of interesting points.

First it notes that over half of the current lightweight team learned to row in college. The number of experienced rowers is no doubt inflated by recent recruiting success because it was certainly lower a few years ago. Nonetheless, a few years ago Stanford was still placing in the top five at IRAs. This shows the importance of focusing on a lightweight program versus worrying about whether you have experience. Any national championship lightweight eight has rowers who never rowed before college. Even the experienced rowers simply found out that they love the sport early. If they made it to college not having rowed before, they would still have made the boat.

Another interesting point is that Stanford crew has one of the highest GPAs of all varsity teams on campus. This is generally true among all colleges and most (all?) of the more stringent academic institutions look to the crew programs to raise the overall varsity sport GPA.

UCF to Skip Dad Vail

In a release announcing its participation in the Windemere Cup Regatta, UCF also announced that its lightweights would skip the Dad Vail Regatta to race in the Pacific Coast Rowing Championships. There is no mention whether the lightweights will race in Seattle. Coach Leeanne Crain previously coached at the University of San Diego and understandably has a soft spot for West Coast rowing.

This is a bittersweet announcement. On the one hand it further depletes an already small lightweight eight field at the Vails. Maybe UCF thinks it's no great loss missing the Vails since it can race the top east coast lightweights at IRAs. On the other hand, last year's Vails was a bad race for UCF and you might think they'd want to regain some respect. The reality, though, is that it might be tough to take the heavyweights to the west coast and not take the lightweights.

On the plus side, this brings some good competition to the west coast. Lightweight rowing can be a bit sparse there, so UCF's appearance is a boost for the regatta. UCF almost beat Stanford at last year's IRAs so the PCRC race should be a good one.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Is Lightweight Rowing a "Dying Animal?"

Thinking about how many schools race lightweight women’s boats brings to mind a series of posts that appeared on the Rowers’ World message boards back in November. Several people were lamenting the low number of serious men’s lightweight programs and made some comments that are often applied to both men’s and women’s lightweight rowing. The gist of the discussion was that “lightweight rowing is a dying animal” and that only the Sprints schools have any real interest in perpetuating it.

The arguments seem to be, 1) USRowing doesn’t support lightweight rowing, 2) there are few Olympic lightweight events, 3) only the Sprints schools are competitive at the collegiate level and anyone else who tries to race them gets smoked. These same arguments are often applied to women’s lightweights so let’s forget about the men right now and just concern ourselves with women.

I think it’s true that USRowing doesn’t support lightweight rowing, but I also think this will change. Some of this change will come more quickly because with the USOC emphasis on medal count, USRowing must emphasize small boats. In a quantitative world a lightweight 2x gold counts as much as an 8+ gold. We see the national team already emphasizing small boats and those coaches will love whichever boat offers the best chance of medaling, lightweight or not. Secondly, I believe that FISA will begin to emphasize lightweight rowing more. Given that the Olympic lightweight events constantly seem to be in danger of elimination, this may sound crazy, but the recent vote on the elimination of all of rowing has made FISA understand that the sport needs to become more popular around the world. What’s the best way to do that? More lightweight events so even nations with athletes of smaller stature can compete. If lightweight rowing becomes more prominent internationally, it will be encouraged at the collegiate level.

I continue to believe that the argument that there is no point in boating a lightweight 8+ because you’ll just get smoked by the Sprints schools is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Schools put together half hearted light eights, send them to IRAs, and then wonder why they bothered when they don’t come close to the top tier. Well guess what – those schools that get their lightweight butts handed to them at IRAs would also get their heavyweight butts handed to them by Sprints schools. I say would because their heavyweights don’t even get invited to the NCAAs (the poor stepsister to the IRAs for heavyweight women). The priority boat in these programs (ECAC and Dad Vail schools) is the heavy eight and still they would get hammered by the Sprints schools. So what exactly is the point here? In fact, only in lightweight events can these schools get anywhere near a national championship (other than breaking into Div I and Div II as the heavies do).

This is where we usually hear the argument that putting together a lightweight 8+ would pull rowers from the heavy 8+, making that boat slower. This is undoubtedly true, but why would coaches prefer to win Dad Vail or ECAC than win the light eight at IRAs? If they think it’s more prestigious to win the heavy eight at Dad Vail than the light eight at IRA, there’s a serious image problem. In fact, we all know that there is a serious image problem with lightweight rowing, and it’s a problem propagated by certain coaches, athletic administrators, and doctors. These people want us to believe that women can’t control their weight without becoming anorexic or bulimic. This greatest of rowing canards creates tremendous pressure against lightweights and keeps the IRA champions from getting their proper due. If Wisconsin’s lights were celebrated as much as Cal’s heavies last year, if lightweight results counted in team points at major regattas, if Rowing News talked about the Wisco Era as they talk about the Harvard Era, schools might actually aspire to race lightweights. (Wisconsin gets it.) In the process they would give more rowers a chance to compete at a higher level of excellence and win more races.