Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Beating a Dead (For Now) Horse

I think I've already spent too much time on the Pac-10's defeated proposal to create a men's NCAA rowing championship, but last week the Harvard Crimson published an article on it that's worth reading. A Harvard heavyweight speculates that the proposal is all about the location of IRAs, and the scholarship limit is never mentioned. I have some sympathy for the West Coast crews that have to travel across the country every year, but it seems to me that creating a NCAA championship is a rather drastic solution. Just the opposite of the Pac-10 coaches who love to talk about the Ivies' alleged under the table athletic scholarships, the Harvard rowers see NCAA sanctioned scholarships at non-Ivy rowing schools as a threat, not as equality. The article also quotes a male lightweight as worrying about the loss of the ability to bet shirts. Hopefully that's taken a bit out of context since he had much bigger things to worry about.

One thing overlooked in a NCAA takeover, is what it does to the composition of crews. Heavyweight women have no incentive to develop a strong freshman boat. Sure, it can win Sprints, but there is no freshman race at NCAAs. Take what is probably the fastest heavyweight freshmen boat in the country this year - Princeton. What will they be doing on NCAA championship weekend? (Of course, the lightweight freshmen suffer the same fate at IRAs.) Although the big T9 schools still race novice boats, good incoming freshmen are immediately moved to the varsity. For heavyweight programs, only three boats matter - 1V8, 2V8, and V4 - and other boats are afterthoughts.

It's interesting that the article misses the 5 scholarship limit included in the proposal. As I've said before, that is a self imposed limit in the Pac-10 and coaches there saw this proposal as a way to limit their competition too. Here is an article on the USC web site discussing that limit. I have to admit that I don't understand why Stanford and Oregon State wanted it, although the USC coach seems to believe it's to make sure no one offers more scholarships than they.

Wisconsin's men's head coach Chris Clark also weighed in on the proposal at a recent press conference. Clark believed that if the proposal passed it would be "the greatest thing that could ever happen in the history of the sport." He then rambles on about a New York Times article on the NCAA tennis tournament and how rowing has the same sort of problems. (He never tells us what those problems are.) The problem is, tennis IS an NCAA sport, so that obviously didn't help. He also laments the fact that rowing is being "outsourced." This story hit the big time when Dowling beat Temple at Dad Vails several years ago with a boatload of Eastern Europeans. This definitely happens, but I hardly think that makes rowing lawless. He also says that unlike tennis, "you're not dealing with people who've won prize money just because that'’s few and far between in our sport, but it's very similar." Huh? What in rowing is similar to prize money? The only thing I can think of are scholarships, which the NCAA sanctions. Of course, he really laments the unlimited scholarships he imagines his competition offers. He doesn't mention the Ivies, but he doesn't have to. I wonder if he offered his sympathies to the club teams he beat up on at the Midwest Rowing Championships and earlier at the Head of the Iowa.

The real problem here is that Clark coaches at a school with a varsity lightweight women's crew program. One of the best in the country. What he calls "the greatest thing that could ever happen in the history of the sport," would be a giant step toward putting a Wisconsin crew, that is far more successful than his own crews, out of business. Another big supporter is Stanford. Don't these coaches care about their own programs? Maybe they should care about something in the sport other than themselves.

Anyway, you can read the rest yourself; I'm getting tired of it all. Unfortunately, we'll see this proposal on a regular basis and it will need to be beaten back on a regular basis.

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