Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Does the NCAA Govern Lightweight Rowing?

A reader commented on my last post saying, “the ncaa governs womens rowing. lightweight rowing is not its own sport-it is simply an event -like the pair, four etc. -within womens rowing.” This is an interesting statement, and one that I think is worth exploring a bit. First though, we need to ask if it really matters. I think it does because it determines if the NCAA has any power over women’s lightweights and it also has an effect on the likelihood that lightweights will ever have an NCAA championship. Readers of this blog know that I’m conflicted over whether the latter result would be a good thing. I think the answer is yes, ONLY if it increases participation in the sport (or is that “event?”).

As you may remember, not too long ago I posed a series of questions about women’s lightweight rowing to Tina Krah at the NCAA. Some of her answers support my reader’s contention that lightweights are simply an event, while others do not. Her answer to the first question suggests that lightweights are an event as she discusses lightweights in the context of what constitutes a team – eights and fours. In the second question she says that “the championship is in place,” again suggesting that lightweights are just another event. It’s at Question 3, however, where things really get interesting. I ask if schools have to follow NCAA guidelines in their lightweight women’s programs. Her answer is, “The institutions would determine this.” Whoa! That doesn’t sound like the NCAA governs lightweight rowing. This says to me that if Georgetown was caught giving it’s lightweight recruits new Cadillac Escalades when they enrolled, the school could simply say, “We have chosen not to follow your guidelines with women’s lightweights,” and the NCAA would say, “Oh, ok.” Tina does go on to say that this depends on “how the institution is counting the sport on their individual campuses.” I’m not sure what that means – can a school say that they are not counting the sport as an NCAA sport? Maybe it has to do with whether the sport figures into Title IX numbers, my next question. Again, Tina says that whether lightweight rowing counts as a women’s sport for Title IX purposes is “an institutional decision.” These two answers suggest to me that the NCAA has no authority over lightweight rowing unless the school chooses to allow it. Even if it had the authority, how would it exercise it? It couldn’t punish violators because there are no scholarships to lose and no championship to deny. My conclusion – the NCAA does not govern women’s lightweight rowing.

Now, let’s look at this idea that lightweights are an event, not a sport. I don’t want to get caught up in the meaning of sport, I really want to explore if lightweights are simply an event and what the answer to that question means to lightweight rowing. If lightweights are an event, that means that to race in an NCAA championship, coaches (or the NCAA rowing committee) would have to vote for the inclusion of that event. If the event were included, that means that lightweights would count toward the team championship and schools would need to add lightweights to be competitive. I can’t imagine this EVER happening. The committees advising the NCAA are made up almost solely of heavyweight coaches, most of whom believe that adding lightweights would detract from the resources needed to run successful heavyweight programs. Uh oh, that doesn’t sound like just another event to me. (By the way, I think this undue emphasis on “team championships” is an NCAA concoction. I want to laugh every time I see members of a losing varsity eight hoisting a team championship trophy.) I’ve never heard coaches say that they can’t race pairs because they would need to bring in separate coaches and recruit separate athletes. If the NCAA decided to add a pairs event to its championship, teams would just go out and buy some pairs and send the 13th and 14th rowers out to race. You can’t do that if lightweights are added. In fact you do need to recruit completely different athletes and completely different coaches. No, I don't think lightweights are just another event. The women who race in the lightweight varsity eights are the top rowers in their programs. The heavyweight women in the NCAA governed sport cannot simply race a new event – they don’t qualify, that’s the point of lightweight rowing. I think the NCAA’s inability to know its own mind on this point is another sign of that body’s lack of understanding of the sport of rowing.

So what does all this mean? Well, it means that I honestly don’t know how women’s lightweights would ever end up with an NCAA championship. I don’t know the inner workings of the NCAA rowing committee so I’m sure I’ve made some wrong assumptions, but I still believe that the NCAA tries to meddle in lightweight rowing for political reasons while it discourages the sport through active neglect.

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