Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Midwest Rowing Championship

This weekend the Wisconsin lightweights will race in the Midwest Rowing Championships. They'll race a light four against themselves and Northern Michigan and they'll race a light eight against the Rochester Rowing Club. They'll also race some heavyweight events against, well, mostly their own heavies. The MRC is often criticized as a Wisconsin inter-squad regatta and even Wisco seems to recognize that's what it is. Juniors even make up a large portion of the entries.

It wasn't always that way, however. Years ago, when it was known as the Midwest Sprints, it was the premier championship regatta for all of the midwest rowing schools. Wisconsin still usually won every event they entered, but there was always someone there to throw a scare into them, if not outright win a race. A silver medal at the Midwest Sprints was meaningful. Almost every program other than Wisconsin was club, so the racing among those crews was intense and resulted in some major bragging rights. It was a typical midwestern regatta - cold, rainy, windy weather with few spectators other than teammates. The Wisconsin crews were never actually sighted where the mere mortals launched; they simply appeared at the starting line having boated out from some unknown Elysian fields.

Now that Title IX and the NCAA have exerted their influence, the regatta has changed. Wisconsin is nobly trying to hold on to it, but it seems unlikely it can survive much longer. The women's club teams of the past - Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, K State, KU - are now varsity programs offering scholarships and engaging in the T9 scavenger hunt every year. They race where the NCAA tells them they can qualify for their championship and the athletic conferences now hold their own regattas. The festival that was the Midwest Sprints is gone. No more do men and women travel together to Lake Wingra in car pools, hoping to stay close to Wisco and knock off their midwest rivals. Now everyone goes their separate ways. If you're a T9 woman the only way you know men row at your school is because you see them at the boathouse.

Do the rowers at today's MRC know the difference between betting shirts winner-take-all and round robin? Do the coxswains see the shirt betting negotiations with other teams as an integral part of their job? Not anymore, the NCAA doesn't allow shirt betting, a time honored rowing tradition.

Times change, but not all change is progress. It shouldn't be men's rowing events and women's rowing events, heavyweight rowing events and lightweight rowing events. It should just be rowing. Are there any other sports in which women once competed as equals with men to the same extent? Same regattas, same equipment, same course, even, on occasion, mixed boats in the same races. No longer. The NCAA has instituted its separate but equal doctrine and does not allow men and women to compete for championships together. Unless, thankfully, you are a lightweight woman at IRAs!


Anonymous said...

I know i dont speak for all lightweights, but IRAs is a what i like to call a "sausage fest". The guy to girl ratio has got to be 25 to 1, maybe more. Sorry boys.... I would love to have an NCAA championship that crowned its own NCAA title to women, and then men and compete together. The the lightweights could just be a titled event. It would be nice to have a mens team to travel with but now i guess we will just have to look forward to IRA where we can walk around and see miles and miles of men in spandex and some lightweight men with their baggy spandex. I liked your previous post JWB

Anonymous said...

For the record, the NCAA absolutely does allow shirt bets - the practice was briefly banned in about 1998 when rowing first became an NCAA sport, but was quickly reinstated the following year.