Monday, September 18, 2006

Coaches' Thoughts on Lightweight Rowing

A few months ago I sent four sets of questions to the coaches of crews competing in the IRA Regatta. I hoped to use these questions as a way to get a feel for how the coaches, the drivers of the category, think about the sport. To avoid receiving "public relations" type of responses, I promised anonymity to those willing to share their thoughts. Just under half responded.

The first set of questions I asked dealt with the NCAA:

1) Do you think an NCAA championship has been good for women’s heavyweight rowing? Do you think the lightweight eight will ever become an event at the NCAA national championship regatta or will there ever be a lightweight NCAA championship? If there were either, would it be good for lightweight rowing? What would a men’s heavyweight NCAA national championship mean to women’s lightweight rowing?

Every respondant believes that the NCAA championship has been good for women's heavyweight rowing. The coaches pointed out the growth of heavyweights both in participants as well as funding. About half, however, also noted that while the benefits for heavies is a net postitive, that isn't necessarily so for the rest of rowing, with those programs without an NCAA championship becoming somewhat marginalized in the eyes of athletic directors. One coach pointed to the recent termination of the Rutgers mens' crew as an example.

The coaches were far more pessimistic on the possibility of a women's lightweight NCAA championship. Reasons ranged from inertia (the heavies have settled into a format and it would be difficult to change that format) to NCAA discomfort with weight requirements for women. Most thought that such a championship would be good for lightweights, although one coach thought that for now women's lightweights are best "kept out of the NCAA and in the hands of a small few who know what it is like to coach lightweight women."

The most interesting answers in this set of questions were those dealing with a men's heavyweight NCAA championship. The responses ranged from "wouldn't harm," to "marginalize...further," to "we would make it work," to "could help get LW women into the NCAA." With the exception of one coach, the responses all suggested that the coaches recognized a danger to lightweight women in a heavyweight men's NCAA championship as the responses tended to center around a belief that lightweight coaches wouldn't let the category die. One coach thought it unlikely that men's rowing would be brought into the NCAA.

My summary of responses to this first set of questions is that the coaches feel that the NCAA championship has been good for women's heavyweights, but a mixed bag for the rest of rowing; a NCAA championship for women's lightweights would be good for the category but is unlikely to happen; the effect on lightweight women of a NCAA championship for heavy men is probably negative, but wouldn't mean the end of the sport. This generally tracks with my own thoughts on the subject, although I was disheartened to learn that the coaches also thought it unlikely that lightweights would have a NCAA championship, and I think a heavy men's championship would be very, very bad for lightweights. The coaches responded to my question asking if they thought there would be a lightweight championship, not if they are working for one. Perhaps although they think it unlikely, they are still working to bring lightweights into the NCAA championship system. As much as I criticize the NCAA, once the devil was let into the dance, I'm coming to believe you have to dance with him. I also tend to believe the coach who said the NCAA has a problem with women and weight restricted sports. As I've said before I think this is a red herring, but another set of questions deals with weight issues, so more on that later.

One thing I noticed was that coaches who coach both heavyweights and lightweights were much more sanguine about the prospects for lightweight rowing.

In the coming days I'll post the rest of the responses.

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