Sunday, July 09, 2006

One Year

Today marks one year since the first post on Fight in the Dog. Since that time we’ve seen the best racing women’s lightweight rowing has to give as more dedicated programs have come on the scene and parity looks achievable. Unfortunately, the sport has also faced one of the largest threats ever to its existence.

FITD began like most blogs, read only by its author. It slowly grew until by the end of the spring season it had readers from teams around the country, including all of the top 10 programs. The first reader who ever contacted me was a former Georgia Tech rower who began to spread the word with a link from her own blog. The first team I knew to read FITD was UCF. Rowers, coaches, parents, and regatta officials have all contacted me about women’s lightweight rowing at some point over the life of FITD. Those who have read and commented on this site are simply proof that women’s lightweight rowing is alive and vibrant in the US. True, there are those involved with women’s rowing who couldn’t be bothered enough to answer my questions about lightweights, and there are those who desperately wish this blog didn’t exist. In the end, though, rowers of all weights and sexes recognize that we all share a love of the same sport, we all take the same strokes, over the same distance, and experience the same pain in the pursuit of perfection. We are all the same.

Not too long ago, a reader posted a comment in which she said that there was nothing on FITD that you couldn’t find on row2k. I have to admit that stung a bit, probably because I had just finished a series of posts that mostly consisted of race results. It did get me wondering, however, just what I might have written about that was new and informative to lightweights. Here are some things I could think of:

- FITD was the first to report to a wide audience (outside of the conference) that the Pac 10 was pushing for a NCAA championship for heavyweight men.

- FITD was the first to publish a Q&A with the NCAA on women’s lightweights

- FITD was the first to report on the 2006 IRA weigh-in requirements

- FITD was the first to do a study of the number of lightweight programs

- FITD is the only place you’ll see eating disorders and lightweight rowing discussed without a politically correct bias

- FITD is the only place to find an ongoing discussion of how the NCAA affects lightweight rowing

- FITD is the only place you’ll find a discussion of why there aren’t more lightweight programs

- FITD was the first to do a post-season ranking of V8s

- FITD was the only place to find race reports of lightweight women’s races

- FITD is the only place to find an analysis of lightweight vs. heavyweight race times

- FITD is the only to place to find season previews for women’s lightweight programs

- FITD was the first to call out the Rowing News on its lack of women’s lightweight coverage in its season preview issue

There was other unique information on FITD but perhaps the biggest scoop was also the one that stimulated the most negative feedback – the IRA dam opening. Of all the outlets reporting on the IRAs no one else was alert enough (or cared enough) to recognize aberrant results and look for the cause. In some quarters FITD will be forever despised for making a lot of people look silly.

As the summer flies by (teams will be back to school next month), lightweights with national team ambitions are testing themselves at U23 trials, Nationals, and Canadian Henley and will provide leadership to their teams and the sport in the fall. Like all major endeavors, progress for women’s lightweights will come in fits and starts. Much progress was made last season, but who knows what will happen this coming season? The trend in dedicated programs is up, in quality of crews is higher, and in parity is more. The 2007 season should be better than the last. More crews than ever have shown they are fast, and more crews than ever believe they can win. As Georgetown and UCF have shown, the top five slots of the national poll are no longer safe. There will always be threats to lightweight rowing, but the best way to fight them off is for more women to row harder, row faster, and row smarter. I firmly believe that will happen, just as I believe the best days of women’s lightweight rowing are yet to come.

“The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”

Tulsa Developing a Lightweight Program

Tulsa coach Kevin Harris has informed me that Tulsa is "'developing' a lightweight program within our existing structure with the hopes of making it a full fledged varsity program in the next few years." There will not be a full time coach, but the program will be "actively recruiting true lightweight women."

This is great news! Where this initiative goes in the coming years will depend a lot on the success enjoyed by Tulsa lights. Clearly programs with a combined heavyweight/lightweight coach can do extremely well, just look at Bucknell and Georgetown of a few years ago. Congratulations to Tulsa and good luck in 2006-07.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


Now that the summer club season is here, it's a good time to think about growing women's lightweight rowing, probably the single most pressing issue in the sport today. We've just finished possibly the most competitive season ever, yet women's lightweight rowing remains the smallest of the four categories in the sport. Total participation is good, and may actually show the women to be close to men's lightweights. When I looked back at the 2004 and 2005 seasons, I found that around 90 schools boated lightweight eights or fours over the two years. Seventy did in each year alone and, of those, 50 were consistent between the two years. The problem, however, is that the dedicated programs are growing realatively slowly (although I think at an accelerating rate). Most of those 50 programs raced fours, as in any one year there were about 20 to 25 schools racing eights. Dedicated programs race eights.

The combination of Title IX and a NCAA championship has resulted in explosive growth for women's heavyweights, and logic would suggest that a NCAA championship for lightweights would do the same. While the desirability of such a championship for any category is far from settled, a major hurdle exists for a lightweight championship - the NCAA considers rowing to be a team sport. The most obvious manifestation of this is the emphasis on team championships. The latest issue of Rowing News announced Cal's team championship in the headline of it's NCAA championship article. A reader had to get into the text to read about Princeton's V8 which won it's championship after one of the most dominating seasons in history. Did any rowers care about the team championship other than Cal? I ask the question again, Would you rather win the V8 or the team championship? A newspaper reporter had an apt description for the team championship - it's like winning the Home Run Derby.

More important to us, however, is the fact that since rowing is a team championship, if lightweights were to be added they would have to be added as an event in that championship. In other words, those teams receiving team bids would need to have lightweights. No teams would receive bids for just a lightweight boat (which would be similar to a team receiving a bid for a V4). Since almost none of the programs sending teams to the NCAAs have lightweights, it's hard to imagine a lightweight event ever making it into the championship. In addition, some of the better lightweight programs are DII or DIII schools, which would not be allowed to mix with DI schools. Perhaps the structure could be changed to allow lightweights in separately, but it's not clear how.

Interestingly enough, if lightweights were simply another event, like a 2-, it wouldn't be so difficult to add them. The problems arise because lightweight rowing is more similar to another sport, not another event. A lightweight program requires different athletes, different coaches, different equipment, and different schedules. The NCAA tells lightweights they're simply another event, while the rowing world says it can't add that event because it would be like adding another sport. Perhaps this is another sign of how the NCAA misunderstands rowing, or perhaps a sign of how the NCAA would like to see lightweights go away.

While saying it wants to grow women's rowing at all levels, the NCAA has also said that it has no plans to add lightweights to its championship, a decision it leaves up to its membership. As best I can tell that membership has a voice through an advisory committee. It would be interesting to know if that committee has ever discussed lightweight rowing and what its attitude is toward the category. Perhaps we can find out.