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.


Anonymous said...

bucknells' lights are racing up for ira --the only race that rally matters for lightweights. there are maybe 8 women's light 8s in the usa that have a bit of speed. bucknell is racing up into the 2v -i assume to give their crew the opportunity to be in a battle for 2000m in preparation for ira as opposed to winning by 40 secs at the 1000m mark.

its about winning the ira --not 'representing' in a light 8 at every regatta.

the light 8 in most programs is th 3v and rightly so if you wish to build a 'team'

Anonymous said...

i disagree. I dont think that IRA is the only important race for lightweights. I do think it's the most important, but there are a lot of other races that are important for lightweights.

JW Burk said...

I think it's about maintaining a robust lightweight category so there continues to be a lightweight eight event at IRAs. If every lightweight eight raced as JV during the season, there would be no lightweight eight race at IRAs because it would look as though the category is dead. The problem is letting others do the work of maintaining the category during the season and then simply enjoying the fruits at IRAs.

I also find your implication that Bucknell would be ahead of Dayton and Ohio State, not to mention Wisconsin, Radcliffe, Georgetown, and the rest of the Knecht Cup field by 40 seconds at 1000 meters interesting, if not entirely believable. I'm not sure that placing second in the Dad Vail JV event is "racing up" for IRAs. Bucknell is fast, but 40 seconds over 1000 meters?

Anonymous said...

Dont you think that by racing at dadvails, they got more competition and multiple races in order to prepare for IRS? I think they should be held up for racing openweight and not light. It doesn't hurt lightweight rowing but makes it faster. Wisconsin lightweights did the same thing at the san diego crew classic rowing openweight because there was more competition.

Anonymous said...

If you want to be lightweight, race lightweight. The lightweight guys don't usually race heavies, and neither do the serious lightweight programs on a regular basis. Racing 2Vs at Dad Vails doesn't seem to be faster than the lightweight varsity eight field at IRAs.