Wednesday, May 31, 2006

UCF Beefs Up Its Eight

As predicted, UCF has brought three lightweight rowers into its lightweight eight who rowed heavyweight all season. Two come in as the stern pair. This move, along with the lineup shift, is calculated to bring more speed to the boat than it had during the regular season, a season notable for its successes. This will be a fast IRA field!

Freudian Slip

It really is all about an NCAA championship for heavy men. A Stanford Daily article titled "MURPHY’S LAW: CREW OUT OF NCAAs" discusses Stanford's decision to not race the number 4 heavy men's V8 in the country at IRAs because they have a freshman in the boat. I feel bad for the freshman, and I tend to think the rule is ill advised, but I do know it exists and everyone knew it in March. How could it have been a surprise to Stanford now? In fact, some have suggested the rule was originally put in place to help the West Coast crews who were less likely to have freshman with prior rowing experience. This is all about making a statement to further the NCAA cause. Maybe Stanford should work through the ECAC rather than trying to make a federal issue out of everything. The Stanford coach also takes a swipe at Harvard, suggesting that without Stanford racing, the Crimson might have a shot at a medal. Big talk when it's shouted from a four. I guess now we know why Stanford dropped the Indian as their mascot - Indians aren't crybabies.

(By the way, the Blogger spell checker flags NCAAs, and suggests Nazis as a replacement.)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

IRA Heats

IRA heats are now listed on row2k. (Thanks to a reader for the notification.)

By the way, when looking at the heat sheets, one thing that jumps out is that the #4 men's heavyweight boat is not listed. That's right, Stanford is continuing it's NCAA temper tantrum by allegedly splitting its fourth ranked eight into fours for the IRA. I raise it here because it's more evidence that this push to make men's heavyweights an NCAA championship sport, and sending a death notice to lightweight rowing, will not die. What apparently prompted this act was the IRA rule barring freshmen from racing in varsity men's events. Stanford has a freshman in it's V8. While this looks like Stanford is cutting off its nose to spite its face, it must not be a big deal to the Cardinal because they don't consider the IRA to be a "legitimate national championship." It's also not a big deal to Stanford because this move shows they obviously had no thoughts of winning the eight. Like a zombie, the heavy men's NCAA championship proposal will continue to rise from the dead.

Monday, May 29, 2006

IRA National Championship Regatta

As we look ahead to IRAs this weekend, we can only wonder what has been going on in twelve boathouses around the country. Who has made changes to their lineup, who has been seat racing, who has switched oars, who has found more speed? Men’s Sprints have come and gone, NCAAs have come and gone, and all has been quiet on the lightweight front. With school over, the crews have become full time athletes. Now is when coaches look for that last bit of speed because after Saturday, there is no tomorrow.

There are several champions racing this weekend – UCF won the Pacific Coast Rowing Championships, Dayton won the Dad Vail, URI won the ECAC Metro, and Wisconsin won Sprints – but on Saturday we’ll crown the National Champion. Some of these boats have seen each other a lot this season and, with the exception of a light-switch Princeton boat, the upper end seedings will be much the same as we might have predicted at the outset. This does not mean it’s been a predictable season, however. Wisconsin was further back than usual at Knecht, UCF and Georgetown are even faster than expected, and Princeton is suddenly vulnerable. Stanford hasn’t traveled East and so is relatively unknown, while Bucknell hasn’t raced lightweight much and is even more of a mystery.

Wisconsin enters as the favorite to win its third National Championship in a row. To do so would be quite an accomplishment because each year the field gets faster and faster. As the Badgers continue to roll, one is left to wonder if in a sport so dependent on walk-ons, schools of a few thousand students can continue to compete with a school with tens of thousands. Layer on top of that athlete pool an outstanding program and one is left to wonder if it will ever end. Of course Radcliffe, who is pretty tired of the color bronze, plans to end it this year. Radcliffe enters as the favorite for silver and the crew that stands to have the best chance of catching Wisconsin. IRAs will be the Radcliffe-Wisconsin rubber match, as each crew has beaten the other once. Radcliffe thinks this is their year, and they may be right. Georgetown comes to New Jersey in the new position of bronze favorite. They’ve spent their season racing the fastest lightweight crews they could find, and it paid off in Hoya speed. This is Georgetown’s best recent chance to medal.

It’s hard to say much about Princeton because we don’t know which boat will show up. If the Sprints boat shows up, the Tigers will be battling in the petites. If the Radcliffe dual boat comes, they’ll take a shot at Wisconsin. If you think a 16 second loss at Sprints is too much to overcome, I have a number for you – 2004. In 2004 Wisconsin lost Sprints to Radcliffe by 3 seconds. At IRAs Wisconsin beat Radcliffe by 13 seconds (Princeton snuck in for the silver). That’s a pickup between the two regattas of, yes, 16 seconds. Hot on the Tigers’ tail will be UCF, which only lost to Georgetown at Knecht by 1 second. Theoretically that makes them faster than Princeton and gives them an argument for the fourth seed. Coming after the Golden Knights will be Stanford, making their first appearance on the East coast, and looking for revenge after the PCRCs. Bucknell enters the fray hoping to upset everyone’s apple cart. Bucknell will be very fast and should be favored for the grand final at least. The Bisons should give UCF and the rest of the field a hard run.

I expect to see those crews in the grand final, although I think one or two of them could be knocked out. In particular, Stanford looks vulnerable this year, and Dayton, OSU, and URI have shown some speed. Lehigh needs to pick up some speed from Dad Vail and I don’t think MIT has had the eight racing quite as much as the rest of the field. They’re both capable of making some noise, however.

The 2006 season has shown just how competitive women’s lightweight rowing has become. Yes, the slower boats in the IRA field will be pretty far behind the winner, but the days when three programs ruled the water are coming to an end. It seems as though each season we see another school emerge from the shadows after it made a decision to focus on lightweight rowing. The season long storylines of dominance and challenge, revenge and redemption, continue right up to the end. From the Dad Vail fours to the Eastern Sprints, the season has been unpredictable, and there’s no reason why it should stop now. Unlike the heavyweights, where one boat bulldozed the country all season, the number one lightweight ranking changed hands three times. The National Championship is still up for grabs - until Saturday at about 2:34pm.

IRA Schedule

There's been some confusion about the schedule of events for IRAs. The ECAC has a schedule posted, showing heats and finals on Saturday. I don't think that is correct, however. row2k also had a preliminary schedule posted here, which shows heats and reps on Friday, with the final on Saturday. I think this is currently the best guess.

The women's lightweight final is scheduled right after the heavyweight men's final and right before the lightweight men. I think this is the way it went last year, which resulted in more attention on the medal ceremony for the heavy men than on the lightweight women coming down the course. A good announcer can control that situation, but I don't remember that happening last year. No matter how you try to schedule the finals, more people are there to see the heavy men so the regatta should just go with it and run that final last.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

IRA Entry List

The IRA entry list is out and there's a strong 12 boat field in the lightweight eight event. Last year saw only 10 boats compete for the National Championship. This is only the second year since 1997 that there is a 12 boat field (2004 is the other). San Diego State and Marist drop out from last year, while Bucknell, Dayton, MIT,and URI join. While it's never good to see boats drop, these are great additions. Given my previous post, I'm obviously happy to see Bucknell racing. Dayton deserves to finally make it to the big show after two years of excellent results. I say finally only because they could have been there last year but missed it. It's good to see MIT back in the hunt. MIT is a traditional lightweight program with a lot of history and URI is an up and coming program that is in the midst of a pretty good season.

It's worth noting that the women have the same number of entries as the lightweight men. In fairness, I think the entries are limited to 12 in these events, although there have been years (2004 for one) when the men had less than twelve.

By the way, it's fascinating to look at the old results. As an example, here were the final standings in 1997:

1) Radcliffe
2) Villanova
3) Wisconsin A
4) UMass
5) George Washington
6) LaSalle
7) Seattle Pacific
8) Wisconsin B
9) Humboldt

Princeton didn't even have a lightweight program. In 1998 Villanova won the National Championship by beating Radcliffe by about half a second. Think of some of these schools that no longer race lightweights - have they ever found themselves on the national stage since? Many of them moved on to middling heavyweight obscurity when perhaps they could have become lightweight powerhouses. Who knows?

Monday, May 22, 2006

O Bucknell Where Art Thou?

Some readers have noted the absence of Bucknell from the lightweight eight event at Dad Vails. Bucknell‚'s light eight was there, of course, but it was competing as a junior varsity eight as it has nearly all season. When Bucknell announced a strong group of lightweight recruits for the Class of 2009, it looked like the school was poised to become a leader in women's lightweight rowing. Dad Vail, unfortunately, showed that its priorities remain firmly with the heavyweights. No one can say if the Bisons would have won the light eight if they entered, but my guess is they would have at least been second and certainly would have given Dayton a run for their money. (No use comparing times, because I don't think Dayton was pushed as hard as Bucknell in their respective finals.) In my view then, Bucknell chose to trade at least a varsity lightweight silver medal for a junior varsity heavyweight silver medal. That says it all, doesn't it?

I suspect that Bucknell has some good reasons for racing the lights as junior varsity, but I have at least two major objections to this practice. The first is that it makes the lightweights second-class citizens. Literally, it makes them second varsity citizens. The Bucknell lightweight eight is one of the fastest light eights in the country. The talented athletes in that boat are not second anythings, they're first varsity lightweights. They're not cute little heavyweights. Jordan Bice not withstanding, they may very well be the best athletes on the Bucknell squad, yet every week they have to tell their parents and friends they are the junior varsity. This is demeaning to lightweight rowing.

Secondly, this practice makes US lightweight rowing look weaker and less robust than it actually is. The more boats racing lightweight every week, the stronger the category becomes. It's self-perpetuating. As more programs see more lightweight competition, they're more likely to field lightweight boats. Conversely, if schools see less competition, they're less likely to race lightweights. Granted, Bucknell is only one school, but because it's a fast boat it would add a lot to the quality of the field. Yes, the Bisons will be there at IRAs, but that's not enough. If you're going to have a light eight, race a light eight.

Let me try to anticipate a couple of reasons for Bucknell's practice. First, would be the desire to win the Patriot League, which doesn't have a light eight. Clearly that's an important goal at Bucknell, one they accomplished this year, but which only requires one race as a JV boat. I can't believe that racing the Wisconsin, Radcliffe, or Georgetown lights wouldn't prepare them for racing junior varsity at Patriots. Another reason may be the desire to win the points trophy at Dad Vail. My contention is that no one cares about points trophies except coaches, athletic directors, and the NCAA. Points trophies only give the V8 winners more to brag about, or give the V8 losers a reason to say, "Yeah, but..." Unfortunately, the fact that ADs care makes it difficult for coaches to ignore them.

I see a big missed opportunity here. The Bucknell coaches have done an outstanding job developing that program into a national contender. There are excellent athletes in the program that would be a credit to any other crew in the country. Right now, today, the school can take a leadership position in women's lightweight rowing, or it can continue to let others do the heavy lifting. As an example, UCF, while not perfect, has chosen to lead. They race their lightweights as lightweights throughout the season, even taking them across the country to race when the heavies are somewhere else. Yes, they still pull lightweights into the heavyweight boat if they can make it faster, but they see their lightweights as first varsity athletes, not little second varsity heavyweights.

There are no doubt many other schools racing lightweights as junior varsity, but because of the high quality of Bucknell's lights, they are the most visible. They're scheduled to race IRAs and they'll be fast. My wish is that after that regatta they go back to the Patriot League, show them how a program can become national contenders with a little focus, and talk the other schools into starting lightweight programs. The athletes have shown themselves to be lightweight racers, now it's time for Bucknell to show itself to be a lightweight advocate.

Friday, May 19, 2006


One frequent criticism of lightweight women's rowing is that the same schools always win the national championship. The first question should be, Compared to what? I assume, it's compared to the other categories. While I didn't find the lightweight men's IRA records, I did look up the heavy men and heavy women. Since the first NCAA heavyweight women's championship in 1997, 4 schools have won the varsity eight event. In the last ten years at the IRA Regatta, 4 schools have won the heavyweight men's varsity eight event. In the last ten years at the IRA Regatta, 4 schools have won the lightweight women's varsity eight event.

Pot, kettle, black?

Novice Rowing and the NCAA

You may recall that a few weeks ago a reader wrote with the suggestion that freshmen lightweight boats be all novices and that recruits or otherwise experienced rowers row with the varsity. This would hopefully have the effect of providing a much-needed 2V and keep more walk-ons rowing. This reader also contended that by racing only two eights and a four at its championship, the NCAA is killing off novice racing, and to prove that sent some statistics from Eastern Sprints.

The charts below (click for a larger size) show the average number of women per team, for both heavyweights and lightweights, competing at the Eastern Sprints. The first chart is heavyweight women. You'll notice that with the exception of a slight upward blip in 2001 and 2002 novice participation has fallen steadily since the NCAA championship began (1997).

Conversely, the next chart shows that with the exception of a downward blip in 2003 lightweight novice participation has grown steadily.
Because novices aren't raced at NCAAs there is less incentive for heavyweight coaches to develop and race novice boats. In a sport like rowing, where many (most, really) athletes learn the sport in college, novice competitions are particularly important. Over time, we can expect more emphasis on recruits who can impact the varsity immediately, and less on walk-ons.

Once again, this shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature and traditions of rowing by the NCAA. Much of the odd writing about rowing we see coming out of school athletic sites is rooted in the NCAA's belief that rowing is a "team" (meaning all boats, all levels) sport. For example, the headlines that proclaim Slide U. beats Oar College 3 - 2. The notion that you total up races won and races lost to get a regatta winner is just silly, but that's NCAA style thinking.

By the way, when you look at the lightweight chart, it's great to see how lightweight rowing at Sprints has grown. While it might not be dramatic, it is a steady climb, even as the heavyweights have been steady or shown a slight decline.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

More on Weight Loss

Several people have posted comments on my previous post, and a few themes have emerged. First, of course, is a general condemnation of losing a lot of weight immediately prior to a race. Not only is this dangerous but it also degrades performance. Second, is a recognition that coaches have a responsibility to the health of their rowers and should not allow such a practice. Some have suggested that moving weigh-in day will only encourage greater weight loss because now rowers have a day more to rehydrate and eat. One reader pointed out this specific problem at IRAs. Another reader noted the inconclusiveness of the "adequate hydration" presumption.

Needless to say, I agree that this kind of quick weight loss behavior is irresponsible and that coaches are the first line of defense against it. Real lightweight programs have responsible coaches who don't allow it. As for the IRAs, I think the in-season weigh-in requirement is intended to guard against quick weight loss just for that regatta. I think that new rule is a good one.

If we're going to have a lightweight category, we have to have a weight limit and whatever that limit is, there will be people right there. I don't think it's a problem for a natural 133 or even a 135 pounder to drop a few pounds to row lightweight. The problem comes in really knowing what is natural. If a girl arrives at school at 135 does that mean it's her natural weight or that she just forced off five pounds last summer? It's a judgment call and that's where you need experienced, responsible coaches. There will always be some weight loss and weight monitoring in the sport, it's inevitable. It's when it goes from weight loss to weight abuse that it becomes a problem. Oddly, USRowing doesn't help.

Although not exactly on point, over the winter a spate of articles and studies came out discussing women's sports and eating disorders and I posted on some of them. For what it's worth, those posts have some more thoughts on weight and rowing. The posts were "Should the Weight Limit be Raised?" and "Dropping Dangerously" and "Tis' the Season?" (some statistics here) and "Make...It...Stop...".

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Tragic Dad Vail Chapter Closed

This past week a tragic chapter in the history of the Dad Vail regatta was closed with the publication on row2k of the Scott Laio Medical Assessment. Among other things, the Assessment says that "there was absolutely NO reason for Scott not to participate in competitive rowing given the data from the autopsy, the results of the EKG performed on Scott 4 years earlier, and the results from a cardiology exam (electrocardiogram, stress test and echocardiogram) performed as a reference last June on Scott's 17 year old brother, Michael who is also a competitive rower. Scott was a model picture of good health and physical condition." Of particular note to the lightweight world was the finding that "one could presume adequate hydration." So, despite constant media insinuations to the contrary, Scott Laio did not abuse his health to row as a lightweight.

Unfortunately, the insinuations continue. On May 11, the day this assessment was published on row2k, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a story about the elimination of race-day weigh-ins. In that story is a paragraph that states, "In late June, the Philadelphia medical examiner issued a report that determined Laio died from a fluid and electrolyte imbalance and heat stress, conditions that can be related to dehydration, according to some physicians." The following day, on May 12th, the Inquirer published another Dad Vail story which stated, "The Philadelphia medical examiner determined that Laio died from a fluid and electrolyte imbalance and heat stress, which could have been related to dehydration." The Assessment stated, "Blood tests showed electrolyte levels of potassium and sodium consistent with expected levels for an athlete at the end of a competitive race."

When it comes to lightweight rowing erroneous assumptions like these are made all the time, in everything from newspaper articles to research papers. Assumptions like these are at the root of the NCAA's desire to kill lightweight rowing. And assumptions like these are wrong. Why is it that when a non-athlete watches what she eats she's "taking care of her body," but when a lightweight rower watches what she eats it's "disordered eating?" Lightweight women really aren't the psychological wrecks the politically correct world makes them out to be, they're just exceptional athletes who aren't... "big."

Monday, May 15, 2006

Robbing the Cradle

A recent article in the Harvard Crimson noted the rise of freshmen on Radcliffe varsity crews and sees this as reflective of a national trend. This trend fits in well with my reader’s suggestion (discussed in an earlier post) for how to increase participation in women’s lightweight rowing. Moving recruits into the varsity as freshmen forces programs to rely on walk-ons for their novice boats, giving more women a chance to row and experience good racing. There is more than this going on in the heavyweight ranks, however, because the NCAA discourages novice events by not including them in its championship. As a result, although heavy crews still race novice boats, the results have no bearing on NCAA bids or championships so they dismantle them for NCAAs. It’s easy to see a time when you’ll be as likely to see a heavyweight women’s novice race as you would be to see a freshmen college football game. Whether you think this is good or bad, it’s more evidence of the NCAA’s effect on women’s rowing.

As a reader pointed out, the freshmen in the varsity trend has hit the top lightweight teams as well - every V8 at sprints had at least one freshman in it, with freshman strokes in the top two boats.

It’s obvious that currently the NCAA is lightweight women’s rowing’s Darth Vader, but the more I see of its influence, the more I wonder if it isn’t simply the source of all rowing evil. On the plus side, it has clearly increased the number of heavyweight women, but that often has embarrassing results and it tends to leave wreckage from the other categories in its single-minded wake.

By the way, did you catch the shot at the Princeton frosh near the end of the Crimson article?


Whew, it’s getting rough out there!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

News Flash: Lake Mendota Has Thawed

Sprints VL8Wisconsin won its second straight Eastern Sprints title at the Cooper River today by 6 seconds over Radcliffe. Georgetown followed 3 seconds later with Princeton fourth, another 7 seconds back. The Badgers followed their annual springtime rite, losing early in the season and winning later, when it counts. The finish of this race was nearly set at 500 meters in as Wisconsin grabbed the early lead, followed by Radcliffe, then Princeton and Georgetown. The Hoyas passed Princeton in the middle 1000, but no one was going to catch Wisconsin. They rowed powerfully down the course, all crews rowing around a 35, and never seemed to be in danger of relinquishing their lead. Radcliffe hung with them for a while, but with the inevitability of death and taxes the Badgers opened on the field. If Radcliffe wasn't prepared for Wisconsin's speed, they learned early what a mistake that was. Georgetown, meanwhile, seemed to have only one thing on its mind - Princeton. They smelled blood in the water on Lake Carnegie and meant to go for the kill on the Cooper.

Speaking of Princeton, schadenfreude was the order of the day. Georgetown, who may have never beaten the Tigers, celebrated as if they had just won the gold. Radcliffe, avenging an earlier loss to Princeton, looked awfully happy for second place. Princeton, working on winning the Sybil award at the end of the season, had a row so bad that it defies explanation. For the Tigers, this race was like Paula Radcliffe's Olympic marathon. It was like the New Zealand women's pair's heat in the Athens Olympics. It was Mitch Williams pitching to Joe Carter. Somebody else showed up in Black and Orange, and there's no point in trying to figure out who it was. There was a wounded tiger along the Cooper today, and a lot of people were poking it with a stick. Just don't turn your back as you walk away.

In the fours, Princeton's "Rule of Four" won, taking what is the closest we have to a lightweight four national championship. The Tigers were 4 seconds ahead of Radcliffe, which was 3 seconds ahead of Princeton's B boat. MIT, Wisconsin, Radcliffe B, and Georgetown rounded out the field. Princeton's four ends the season undefeated. MIT, continuing its strong season, dropped back a bit from Knecht, but was only 4 seconds out of second place.

Sprints NL8Princeton also won the frosh eight, finishing 7 seconds ahead of Wisconsin. Another 7 seconds back was Radcliffe, followed by MIT and Georgetown. The Princeton frosh were undefeated among lightweights this year, losing only to three heavyweight boats at the Knecht Cup, 50 minutes after racing the lightweight frosh final. At one point in this race, the announcer actually said Princeton picked up a boat length in ten strokes - that's a power ten!

So, to no one's surprise, we leave Eastern Sprints with a reordered V8 ranking. The good news for everyone but Wisconsin is that now we head into the one race that counts the most. It's October baseball - a new season with the power to wash away everything that's gone on before. The carnival stops at the Cooper one more time and anything can happen. Throughout the season there are polls and rankings, rivalries and revenge, but in three weeks we discover what is real and what is not. Wisconsin will enter IRAs with the pressure of the "favorite" label, Radcliffe will enter with the pressure of trying to prove it really is back, and Georgetown will enter with the pressure of being favored for bronze. Oddly, Princeton may be in the best position of all - underdog.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Meanwhile, In California...

UCF has fired the last shots across the bows of Georgetown, Wisconsin, Radcliffe, and Princeton before IRAs, beating Stanford by 8 seconds at the Pacific Coast Rowing Championships. This UCF crew is a freight train barreling through the night and when the sun comes up over The Cooper River in three weeks I wouldn't want to be in its way. I'm not right that often, but I've been on the UCF bandwagon since the start of the year and every time they race they prove me right. They were 1 second behind Georgetown at Knecht and given that Georgetown is pulling themselves into spitting distance of the top three, UCF must be getting there too.

Dad Vail - Dayton and Nova Southeastern Win Championships

Light 4+As expected, the light four final at Dad Vail was a tight finish, with the top three boats within 3 seconds and change of each other. Nova Southeastern continued its tear, winning by 1 second over Pitt, with Virginia Tech another 2 seconds back. Lawrence, Georgia, and Buffalo rounded out the grand final field. As this race approached the 500 meter mark it was impossible to tell if any of the top three boats held an advantage. All the separation seemed to come as they moved through the island with Nova opening a bit on Pitt and Pitt opening a bit more on VT. At the top of the island it seemed clear that Nova had given this race everything they had to give and were desperately looking for the finish line. Pitt was poised to reel them in, but was running out of water. The crowd, anticipating a Pitt sprint, waited for the Panthers' rate to come up, but it never quite did. Light 4+Pitt closed, but not enough, and Nova hung on for the victory. Virginia Tech, rolling down lane one was making their own stealth attack, but didn't have enough left to make any real headway. This was a hard fought race and the fact that the top three finishers all but had their tongues dragging in the water as they crossed the finish line made it all the more obvious. Of course, it's not quite fair to characterize Nova as "hanging on" because they took this race to the rest of the field and won it. When the field was tight, they cranked it up and moved away from the pack, making everyone else try to catch them. Lawrence, Georgia, and Buffalo all finished respectably and, although out of the medals, could take solace in the fact that they were 4th, 5th, and 6th out of 20 boats entered.
Light 4+

As I mentioned in my last post, I really hadn't seen results for Nova SE before so they were a surprise to me. A reader noted that they raced a UCF four early in the year and although they lost, they were fast even then. If we look at the final last year and this year, only Pitt was in both. That kind of turnover makes for exciting regattas.

Speaking of Pitt, the last time I wrote about them I was wondering what happened to them at Knecht. A silver at Vails is what I call a nice recovery. No doubt they were at least momentarily unhappy with second, but if they think about it they'll recognize a nice achievement.

Light 8+In between thunderstorm delays the V8 race went off with Dayton, Lehigh, and Villanova in the field. The final times show a 5 second difference between 1st and 2nd, but it looked like Dayton was in cruise control as they came over the line. Again, Villanova and Lehigh had respectable races, but it looked like Dayton had more to give. I think this was a case of a program who has put some focus on lightweights racing against boats of opportunity. A great race here would've been Dayton and Bucknell, but Bucknell has other priorities (more on that later).Light 8+

The Dad Vail was marred by rain delays today, which resulted in the regatta committee forgoing the traditional awarding of medals at the medal dock after the race in favor of a simple handover to a team representative. This was a shame and was unnecessary. The sun shone brightly as the regatta officials checked their lightning detectors (I kid you not), determined that there was still danger, and continued to delay the races. Even with the delay, however, it's hard to see why medals couldn't have been awarded to crews at the dock. Nonetheless, the races otherwise were well run and the weather was surprisingly good. And best of all, they actually held lightweight races.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Dad Vail Heats

You can find the results of the Dad Vail light four heats here, so I won't go over them.

Who is Lawrence and where did they come from? It's only a heat, and fourth was comfortably back from third, but still, they're a surprise to me.

Why does the announcer keep calling UMass, Amherst? Doesn't he realize that Amherst is a different school?

Where did Nova Southeastern come from? I don't remember seeing them race a four, but they had the fastest time of the day.

Pittsburgh looks to be getting back on track.

It happens to someone every year, and this year it was Northwestern. Their heat time would have won every heat but the one they were in. Instead they got fourth and miss out on the semis. It's tough to compare heat times because the dynamics of a heat are so much different than a race, but they may be the third or fourth fastest boat at Vails, but we'll never know because they got rooked in the draw. In fairness to the regatta committee, I'm not sure anyone would've thought before the race that heat 3 would be so much faster than the rest, but that's no comfort to Northwestern.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

That Reminds Me...

Reading the Daily Princetonian article reminded me of an article in the Harvard Crimson I read a few years ago. It discusses a member of the Radcliffe heavyweight crew and the key quote from her is,

I love that we’re big women and proud of it and proud that we’re strong and we love to eat. I think that the way that we relate to our bodies is really healthy.

I'm really not that interested in how much or how little heavyweight women eat, but I am interested in how insidious is this politically correct notion that "bad" women watch their weight (are lightweights) and "good" women eat as much as they can (are heavyweights).

Let me be the first to tell you that the emperor is wearing no clothes.

Jordan Bice's World

This article in Princeton’s Daily Princetonian is just too much to resist. It discusses the JP (Junior Paper, I’m guessing?) of Princeton male lightweight Jordan Bice, which explores “the social dynamics of the boathouse and how current media and social pressures affect those dynamics.” The meat of the article as far as FITD is concerned is the following, which discusses the boathouse pecking order:

In the Princeton boathouse, it is as follows: heavyweight men first, lightweight men second, open women third and lightweight women fourth.

"When I asked why that was fair to the teams, they were like [sic], 'It's just the way sports is, it's a meritocracy,'" Bice said.

Bice's study suggested that the heavyweight men and open women as teams seem to show more athleticism than the lightweight men, and if the boathouse really does operate under a meritocracy, the resources weren't divided solely on the basis of athletic merit.

"My own personal experience is that the best athletes are the openweight women, the heavyweight men, the lightweight men and the lightweight women in that order," Bice said.

When Bice noted this discrepancy between what the pecking order should be based on his study and what was actually seen in the boathouse, he decided to examine why the "meritocracy" theory wasn't quite correct.

Whoa, this is a mouthful! Since lightweight women are the least athletic and lowest in the pecking order, according to Bice, they are not discussed after this passage. Before I peck apart Bice’s opinions, let’s understand the personal context in which he operates. First, he is himself a member of a group he is studying, hardly a disinterested observer. This shows through in his pecking order. Secondly, we should note his background. “Hailing from Berkley, Calif., Bice has always lived in a politically active community and has been interested in racial and other forms of institutionalized inequality from the time he was in high school.”

Remember the word "suggested" from the anorexia articles I looked at over the winter? As we saw then, it's a code word for "I want to believe this, but have no actual evidence to support it." One of Bice’s key assumptions is that there is an objective way to compare rowers among teams, not just within teams – the “meritocracy” idea. He orders the teams, however, from best to worst athletes based on “my own personal experience.” That doesn’t sound very objective. Athleticism is not defined. Not one criterion is listed that Bice used to determine the better athletes. Did he use weight adjusted erg scores? Did he use vertical leap as percentage of height? Did he use three mile run times? We have no idea. I hope Princeton requires better work of its students, but since we don’t actually have Bice’s paper, we can’t know. The result is that we’re left with Jordan Bice’s counterintuitive subjective opinion about which team contains the better athletes. The very thesis of his paper seems to be based on an unsupported opinion.

Perhaps most humorous is his pecking order. Now, I really don’t know the actual pecking order in Princeton’s boathouse, but I’m guessing that Jordan spent a lot of time talking to lightweight men (his own team). I’ll give him lightweight women at the bottom, but I won’t give him lightweight men at number two. Sorry guys, you’re three, particularly this year at Princeton. Again, Bice is a member of the group he is studying, comes up with a result that puts his group in a relatively good light, and then goes on to agonize over why this result is so when he thinks they really don’t deserve it (note background). If, on the other hand, he found his group to be third in the pecking order, end of paper, find a new topic. If we dispense with political correctness, the boathouse pecking order is pretty simple. Rowing is a strength sport. As such, the pecking order goes from strongest to weakest, masculine to feminine. First and fourth are obvious, there’s a struggle for second and third.

At the end, Bice manages to slam female lightweights without even mentioning them. Speaking of the heavy women the article says,
The team just doesn't ‘go there’ and ‘it would be totally inappropriate’ to talk about weight or tell a girl she was too heavy. Bice also commented, however, on how the team members encourage each other to eat a lot, including carbohydrates.

'Part of their identity is they're girls who eat a lot, and they were sort of proud to take that on.'

Golly, imagine telling an athlete she ought to lose some weight because you’re getting tired of dragging her butt down the river. Wouldn’t be a problem on a men’s team would it? Oh, that’s right, the fragile psyche of a woman.

The notion that Bice determined that lightweight women are the worst athletes in the boathouse is just silly. He offers no definition of an athlete, no supporting evidence, and admits himself that it came from “his experience.” In addition, I would imagine that his boathouse pecking order is self-fulfilling. Finally, he throws in a gratuitous discussion of how we should further recognize the superiority of female heavies (and by implication the inferiority of female lights) as a result of their rejection of traditional standards of beauty and their embrace of heavy eating. Call me an oppressor if you must Jordan, but I embrace traditional standards of beauty.

I was going to leave you with a few "totally inappropriate" links to Bice’s “best athletes in the boathouse” from this year's Big East Championships, but I just can't do it. Instead I'll... well, I'll just eat a funnel cake at Dad Vail.

[Update: See comments for more.]

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Eastern Sprints

After Dad Vail concludes, Eastern Sprints arrives on the scene Sunday in Camden, just across the river from Philadelphia. If you’re in the area for Vails, you’ve got an all rowing weekend in the making.

The upper end of the lightweight rankings will be competing, with one surprising new face – Brown in the light four. You don’t usually see boats of opportunity at Sprints, but Brown hasn’t exactly put out press releases about its new lightweight program, so that’s apparently just what this is. The field is eight strong, including Radcliffe and Princeton B boats. Also competing are MIT, Georgetown, and Wisconsin. Princeton has been winning races all year and should be the favorite in this race. At Knecht, MIT surprised the field and finished second so we’ll see if they’ve maintained that speed. Georgetown was relegated to the petites at Knecht and would no doubt love to redeem themselves here. After beating Radcliffe in the heat at Knecht, Wisconsin finished the final 0.3 seconds behind the Black and White and will not be anxious to have that happen again. Brown, meanwhile, is an unknown quantity. This race has some great storylines to make it more than a simple rematch, not to mention the newcomer thrown into the mix.

The novice eight at Sprints is a five boat final among MIT, Radcliffe, Princeton, Wisconsin, and Georgetown. The Princeton frosh have been the cream of the crop all season but with Wisco second at Knecht, they can’t afford to rest on their laurels. It can’t be said often enough that Wisconsin gets much faster as the season goes on and they’d surely get special Badger treats Sunday night if they could knock off the Tigers. Both Radcliffe and Georgetown have shown themselves to be faster than they were at Knecht in dual races with Princeton so they’re not exactly throwing in the towel. At Knecht, MIT suffered equipment breakage so their true speed is unknown. They’ll have some special motivation here.

The V8 field mirrors the frosh field with the exception of MIT. Although the V8s are ranked, and there is a number one, a number two, and a number three, the fact of the matter is that among Princeton, Radcliffe, and Wisconsin the race is a toss up, with Georgetown close behind. It’s obvious why that’s true between Princeton and Radcliffe, but I throw Wisco in there because of the speed they find every year around this time. While they don’t often win Sprints, they are defending this year and would love to make it two in a row. Radcliffe came off the water in Princeton disappointed with their race and feeling they can do much better. They’ll be out to prove it here. Georgetown remembers how close they were to Princeton at their dual, and are licking their chops at the thought of another shot at the Tigers. If they pass Radcliffe or Wisconsin along the way, so be it. All the while Princeton is getting less respect than any other top ranked boat. They dethroned Radcliffe but didn’t get all the poll votes for number one, cMax has them at number three, Georgetown thinks they can beat them, Radcliffe thinks they had their worst race ever and finished only 3 seconds back, and Wisconsin thinks they lose to them early and then beat them late every year. What’s a girl gotta do? Win two more races, that’s all. Princeton really comes into this race as an underdog and should be raring to go out and prove the doubters wrong.

There’s no toll going into New Jersey, only getting out. I’ll be crossing early to beat the traffic.

Pacific Coast Rowing Championships

The PCRC schedule just came out and the V8 field includes Stanford, UCF, Sacramento State, and Cal. At first blush this looks like a race between Stanford and UCF. Stanford just beat UCF in the heat at IRAs last year and the Golden Knights definitely have revenge on their mind. Not to mention the fact that when a crew travels across the country it intends to come home victorious. Stanford will have its arms full with UCF and better have one of their best rows if they expect to win. UCF may just be too strong. Sacramento State has had some real success in fours, beating Stanford earlier in the year, so they may put together a fast eight, and Cal would like nothing more than to finally beat the Cardinal. At worst this will be a good two boat race, while they may all take it to the wire.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Dad Vail

The Dad Vail Regatta kicks off on Friday with four heats of lightweight fours for a total of twenty boats. Three from each heat of five go to semi-finals so these crews should get in a lot of racing. Looking over the field, we haven't seen results for each of these boats, but I would guess that we have for the faster ones. Then again, where did Penn State come from last week?

The favorites out of the first heat would have to be Penn State and Carnegie Mellon. CMU is a mystery all of a sudden, but I can't imagine they will be 18 seconds behind Penn State this weekend. The second heat contains UConn, which has shown itself capable of beating UMass pretty handily, who is also in the heat. Of the other crews in that heat, Buffalo may show some promise. Buffalo doesn't have an eight entered (wonder why?), so this four may be the fastest from the bigger boat. The third heat has Virginia Tech, the new boat to beat, and Northwestern, last year's winner. The final heat has Pitt, in whom I'm putting some faith to get back on track here, and then a toss-up for second. Perhaps St. Joe's will show some speed in this heat.

This light four event will have some great racing to go with some great storylines. We'll find out if the newly fast, Virginia Tech and Penn State, are for real, if CMU and Pitt can get it together one last time, and if Northwestern can defend their title. Some crews I might like to have seen here are Tampa and Loyola. Tampa had some good races early in the season that might have made them want to test themselves against bigger competition. Loyola also raced earlier in the season and while they took some lumps, they did beat Villanova.

The V8 is a three boat race among Lehigh, Dayton, and Villanova. Lehigh and Villanova are relatively untested in the eight, unlike Dayton, and it's hard to know how fast they'll be. Dayton is having an excellent season and is coming off a win at the A10 championships over URI. I'm disappointed that there are only three boats in this race, most of all for Dayton. The Flyers deserve to defend their championship against a bigger field and the winner of this race should see more boats behind them. It would be great to see Ohio State in this race, but they decided to go to ECACs (which has canceled all lightweight events). Also from last year, UCF is racing in California and UCSB is not racing lightweights. What about URI and Bucknell? Bucknell in particular has been nowhere to be seen. Bucknell is racing heavyweights at Dad Vail but the lights aren't there. I thought they had brought in some lightweight recruits this year but it looks like they may be only a boat of opportunity. In any case, it looks like they're not yet ready to see themselves as a serious lightweight program. This is disappointing because I thought they were making a commitment to lightweights.

While the on-again off-again ECAC debacle hurt the light eight entries, there is a strong field in the fours and we'll see some great racing. In the eights, defending champ Dayton will need to assume the worst racing against relative unknowns, and will do their best not to be surprised. It will be a great two days and will be followed up by Eastern Sprints on Sunday, only fifteen minutes away.

MACCC Results

So, the MACCC results are finally out and, as alluded to by some of you who were there, Virginia Tech won, followed about a second later by Penn State. CMU was third, almost 20 seconds off of VT's time. Susqhehanna and VCU followed.

We should've suspected that VT and Penn State would be fast, but who knew that fast? VT beat NC State by 23 seconds earlier in the season, and NC State had a pretty good fall campaign. Penn State had a good fall themselves, but it was mostly in the eight so their four was an unknown quantity. Meanwhile either CMU had a bad day or VT and Penn State are really fast. As a reader said, it should be a great Dad Vail!

Monday, May 08, 2006

ECAC Cancels All Lightweight Events

The ECAC has canceled all lightweight events, women's and men's. The men's lightweight event showed only one entry on Regatta Central, but the women had three entries. The ECAC, playing its historical role as Dad Vail spoiler, has left Dad Vail with only three lightweight entries while ECAC was scheduled to have three. If I were Ohio State, Ithaca, and Michigan State, I'd be on the phone to the Dad Vail organizing committee right now asking if I could race. They have the lanes and the race will be run anyway, I'd bet those three crews could get in. The ECAC may not be interested in lightweights, but Dad Vail apparently is. People like to talk about the ECAC's perceived advantages over Dad Vail - course, current, etc. - but one advantage Dad Vail has over ECAC is they actually hold a race! There may be a good reason for canceling these races, but it isn't the number of entries. [Update: See comment for more information on this.] If the ECAC is really a championship regatta, why is it running a third varsity eight race instead of a varsity lightweight eight race - so it can crown the third varsity champion? I don't really care if lightweights race at ECACs or Dad Vails, but they should all race at the same regatta. It does no good to split the entries and then cancel races when there isn't a full field. Despite all the talk of a bad course and poor seedings in Philadelphia, the ECACs started because a group of heavyweight men didn't want to race Temple. Now the heavyweight dog is wagging the lightweight women's tail. Whether Temple belongs in the Dad Vail or not is another discussion, but the irony is that now Temple is beatable by ECAC schools, but they're not racing them. At least ECAC never pretended to hold a lightweight four event so those boats all entered Dad Vail and will actually have a race.

MACRA Results

In the two boat JV/LW 8 race at MACRAs on Saturday Ohio State beat Grand Valley (JV? LW?) by 7 seconds. Ohio State also won the fours race by half a second over Northwestern. That must have been a great race. Ohio U. was third followed by Grand Valley. Northwestern lost to Grand Valley earlier in the year but was 22 seconds faster here.

Meanwhile, some readers who were at the MACCs have been leaving comments about what a great race there was among the fours. Apparently the results are a state secret because I can't find them anywhere. Anyway, sounds like Virginia Tech did well and CMU did not. As these readers say, the Dad Vails fours should be a dog fight.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

ECAC Metro Results

At the ECAC Metros yeaterday, URI showed that it is ready to be taken seriously, winning the lightweight eight by 5 seconds over Marist. Although URI was favored, times tend to compress later in the season and it can be difficult to row from the front. Meanwhile Marist surprised Buffalo, beating them by 15 seconds after having lost to them by a boat length earlier in the season. Marist is clearly picking up speed and should feel good about this result. Buffalo continues to struggle a bit, but still took third place, beating Villanova, St. Joe's, and UMass. St. Joe's at 5th is a bit of a surprise because they had earlier come as close to Georgetown as URI. Two boat races in which the winner isn't pressed can produce unreliable results and that may have been the case with the Georgetown/St. Joe race.

Giving the Devil His Due

The latest edition of Rowing News actually gives some decent press to women's lightweight races. The first race discussed in the Knecht Cup article was the lightweight eight. Of course,given the prominence of the lightweight crews racing, it could hardly have been any other way. It goes on, though, to discuss Radcliffe's wins at Windermere and both stories (Knecht and Windermere) include pictures of the Black and White. (There's a group hug thing going on at Knecht, but they're in racing form in the Windermere shot.) Next, the Sports Science column is illustrated with a picture of two Wisconsin lightweights from a year or two back (another hug). Finally, the "let it run..." feature in the back, which publishes reader submitted essays, is about a high school lightweight. I'm happy to see this but let's remember, eternal vigilance is the price of lightweight coverage.

Ohio State News Story

Ohio State has a short recap of their race with Wisconsin and Georgetown. It discusses the importance of being invited to compete in the race and how that shows the rise of the program. While I agree with all of that, I think it downplays too much the result. Wisconsin handled them easily but they were still within 20 seconds and were only 6 seconds back from Georgetown. This was not a bad result and I think OSU can take a little more credit than they did.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

"The Greatest Thing..."

After reading my post quoting Wisconsin's heavy men's coach saying that a heavy men's NCAA championship would be the greatest thing for rowing (and ignoring that it would probably kill lightweight rowing), a reader wrote in with an alternative proposal of what would be "the greatest thing" for lightweight rowing. It's a serious proposal and one that I think deserves serious consideration.

I'll let my reader explain the concept: "Change the Frosh/Novice eight to a Freshman four and a Novice (true novice – no more than a week long summer camp of prior experience) eight. Imagine if there was a category for a walk-on eight. Suddenly the playing field is leveled for all the new crews. UMass, can compete against Radcliffe and Princeton and Tulsa and Bucknell… Suddenly there is a reason for all those walk-ons to stay, there is a reason to look for walk-ons. Marist could win the novice eight and suddenly have a super excited group of varsity ready to carry on the winning traditions."

Now, some of you are probably thinking, "My boat is all true novices." Yes, and you aren't coming close to boats with recruits. That's the point. And in those programs with recruits, the walk-ons see how difficult it is to make the freshman boat and have little incentive to stay. If only true novices raced in novice events, they would be motivated instead of discouraged their freshman year and stick around for more.

The recruits, meanwhile, would all row with the varsity and provide the rowers for a 2V, which is currently lacking in women's lightweight rowing. My reader's contention is that "80% of the recruited athletes are no better than the walk-ons by the sophomore year," so why cut off the supply of good walk-ons just because recruits are rowing in freshman eights? I think this contention is meant to be specific to lightweights, but if you look at any 1V boats, light or heavy, top ranked or bottom ranked, you'll find walk-ons. Clearly, a program that intentionally or unintentionally discourages freshman walk-ons hurts itself.

So in a nutshell, the proposal is, only true novices race frosh/novice races leaving recruits to go directly to the varsity where they can form the nucleus of a 2V.

I like this idea. The only downside I can see is that the freshman recruits miss out on the cameraderie and fun of racing with their class. I suppose this matters little the next year, however, when they all compete for the same seats in the V8. If this proposal increased the number of rowers and gave us a strong 2V event, this would be a small price to pay. There can be little question that the larger programs slack off on recruiting walk-ons when they know they can fill out a frosh boat with just a few.

What do you think about this proposal? Is there a downside?

My reader also contends that the NCAA championship for heavy women has caused novice rowing to decline, and offers some statistics to support that. I'll discuss that in a future post.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Racing This Weekend

The ECAC Metro Regatta is Saturday and there is a seven boat lightweight eight field. St. Joe's is entered, although I thought they had earlier stopped racing an eight and went to a four. Evidently they found some more lightweights. If this is the same boat that raced before, there should be a tight race for first with URI and St. Joe's expected to be faster than most. Next would come Buffalo and Villanova, followed by Marist, UMass, and Holy Cross. Holy Cross is an unknown so could prove to be fast. Many of these boats have met before so this is an opportunity for payback.

In particular, this is a key race for URI. URI is pulling itself into the ranks of serious lightweight programs, and a win here shows how far they've come and how far they plan to go. St. Joe's and Villanova are boats of opportunity, as is Holy Cross, and you really want to beat those boats. Buffalo had been having a good year until their last race, which just wasn't indicative of their real speed. This is a chance to show what they can do. Marist has been close to Buffalo so they should be able to see a potential upset, and UMass can gain some respect. This is a good field for this regatta and there should be some serious racing.

Meanwhile, Saturday's New England Fours Regatta goes begging with only Holy Cross entered in the lightweight event. No other lightweight fours in New England? Perhaps they're all put into eights for the ECAC Metro.

At the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Crew Championships there is a five boat lightweight four race including Virginia Tech, Penn State, Susquehanna, Carnegie Mellon, and Virginia Commonwealth. I'm not sure we've seen all of these boats race before, but I would think CMU would be the favorite in this race.

MACRAs also take place Saturday. Marietta used to be to MACRAs what Wisconsin is to the Midwest Championships - hosts and dominators. This year, though, it looks like there are only Marietta fours and a pair entered. No reason to care about that here because they're not lightweights, but times have changed. The light eight race at MACRAs is a two boat race between Grand Valley and Ohio State. This is actually listed as a JV/Lightweight race (I hate that) so GV may be a heavy boat. The light four race has Northwestern, Ohio, Ohio State, Grand Valley, and Michigan State. This is a good race with some natural rivalries - OSU and Ohio and Michigan State and Grand Valley - and Northwestern looking for revenge over Grand Valley to whom it previously lost by about 3 seconds. I think OSU should be strong here, but if the four is coming out of the eight it could be a tough race for the Buckeyes since the eight is only about an hour earlier.

Princeton Pretenders?

While taking over the number one position in the latest coaches' poll, Princeton still lost a first place vote to Radcliffe. Clearly someone thinks that the Tigers are made of paper. For further insult, the Princeton rowers need look no further than the cMax rankings (the Cornell ghost boat has remained sunk). Here Princeton is third, behind Wisconsin and Radcliffe. All three of these boats are listed within a second of each other, so that's pretty close to a tie. Nonetheless, Princeton is third.

It's also interesting to compare the separation among the various categories in the cMax rankings. In no other category, men or women, heavy or light, are the top three boats so close together. Move to the top four and the lights look the same as the heavy women. Beyond that, however, things spread out pretty quickly. The #5 boat, UCF, is projected to be 15.2 seconds behind Wisco. To get to 15.2 among the heavies you have to go to the #8 boat. At #6 in the lights is OSU, projected at 19.7 seconds back. You have to go all the way to #20 in the heavies to get that far back. These rankings suggest that no where else in rowing is the top end so competitive, nor is the field so shallow. Therein lies the problem for women's lightweight rowing. Several schools are working on this with dedicated lightweight programs, but boats of opportunity will never catch up. Those programs that truly focus on lightweight rowing create the best competition anywhere and those kinds of programs are the goal. Thank goodness for schools like Georgetown, Stanford, MIT, UCF, and URI, because they are the future of lightweight rowing.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Not Exactly Bulletin Board Material...

but the best line from this Harvard Crimson article on Saturday's race with Princeton is this - "It was not a total disappointment for the lightweight squad, as the team only lost by that three-second margin while racing poorly."