Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Lightweights Rowing as Heavyweights Until IRAs

In response to the UCF schedule post, a reader commented that "these races mean little since their best rowers will compete in their
1v and 2v htwt. boats until that racing season is complete." Other readers pointed out that the races mean quite a bit to those lightweights racing in them, not least because 2V athletes have a chance to show what they can do in 1V races. Nonetheless, the first reader makes a good point when (s)he asks if "this practice is good for lightweight womens rowing as a whole?"

Anyone who's read much of FITD knows that I would far and away prefer that the UCF lightweights race as lightweights all year, bringing a higher level of competition to the non-championship, in-season races. Unfortunately, though, if I were the UCF coach, I'm sure I would also race the better lightweights in the heavyweight 1V. I'd like to think I wouldn't use them in the 2V, however. In programs such as UCF, without separate lightweight teams, the heavyweights will always take precedence. The reasons are many, but they begin with the importance of the women's heavyweights in the eyes of athletic directors. Because of Title IX and NCAA support, for athletic directors, heavyweight women will always be a top priority, taking precedence over the men as well. This priority is further strengthened by the perception that there is no competition among lightweight women and therefore a championship means less. Just this summer, a heavyweight Georgetown male rower (now graduated) told me how the Georgetown lightweights were talking about their national ranking last season, which he said was four at the time. His response was, "Yeah, out of six!" Erroneous perceptions like this die hard.

This attitude of heavyweight priority is also the prime reason why heavyweight coaches in general, and the CRCA specifically, do not support lightweight women. They say they do, of course, but it's not true, because they believe separate lightweight programs would only draw resources away from the heavies. (If you have doubts, re-read my exchange with the CRCA president, Andy Teitelbaum.) The troublesome aspect of this is not that heavyweight coaches don't support lightweights, it's that they're not honest about it. If they laid out their concerns, perhaps they could be addressed and the sport would be better off. Phony support helps no one. (I've been criticized for this position before, and I'm sure I will again, but no one has yet shown me how heavyweight women's coaches, with the possible exception of Jim Dietz, work for the betterment of lightweight women.)

In a perfect world, the field would be deep enough to make IRAs an invitation only event for lightweight women and the preceding season would mean something. That's wishful thinking, however, because even for the heavyweights, only two regattas are important. A lightweight crew could lose every race during the season, but win IRAs and still be national champions. For heavyweights, they only have to win their regional race and then NCAAs and they too, are national champions. There should be some penalty for poor results during the season (or not racing at all).

I don't mean to imply that UCF will do poorly without their top two or three rowers, because I don't think that's the case at all. That squad is deep enough to still do very well. Others, however, are not. In some ways, though, this is like complaining about the weather - there isn't a whole lot that can be done right now. The priority must be to grow the sport. Until more boats are racing lightweight, we can't expect to be selective. In the past couple of years the category has grown tremendously, mostly in competitiveness, but also in size. The sport would be helped if UCF raced its top lightweight rowers all season as lightweights, but I understand the pressures to do otherwise. It hurts the IRA boat because it would be faster if it was together all season, but it often takes most of the season to find the right combination anyway. At least they do race lightweights during the season.

This all points to one thing - I can't think of anything in women's lightweight rowing right now more important than growth.

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Anonymous said...

why would being together all season make a boat faster? if you're fast, you're fast. if you're slow, you're slow. maybe time together would help fix a few problems...but set lineups all season doesn't do much... except take away competition within the team. and apparently the NCAA does support lightweights to an extent because they are giving scholarships to heavies that switch between programs.

also, there shouldn't be penalty for poor results during the season. you contradict yourself when you say this because you say it takes all season to find the right lineup anyway. it's probably really for the team that can figure it out and be competitive/get faster all season and then win at the end.

this post is frustrating, jw burk. and by the way, how do you know so much about ucf?

Anonymous said...

it's probably really good** for the team that can figure it out and be competitive/get faster all season and then win at the end.

JW Burk said...

I see what you're saying, but... There is no question that if a coach could magically find the best combination early in the season and it stayed together all season that it would be faster at the end. Rowers learn to row together, how to apply pressure at the same time, how to move as one. Those are the things that make fast boats. Yes, there are athletes who are good enough to jump in a boat and make it go fast, but not as fast as if they rowed (well) together longer. A coach's goal should be to find that combination as soon as possible so it can race together as long as possible. That doesn't mean, by the way, announcing that you have the boat and will no longer seat race. You seat race all season but hope that you find the fastest combination as early as possible.

As for season results, think of a basketball team that struggles to find the right combination or the soccer team looking for the right goalie, or a football team looking for the right quarterback. They are all common situations and in all cases those teams hurt their postseason chances if they lose too many games. I'm not talking about being knocked out of IRAs for a couple of losses, I'm talking about a requirement of a certain number of races during the season and good performances against good competition. There should be plenty of room for teams to improve and recover from poor starts, but teams that are consistently slow, or don't race enough to prove that they are not, shouldn't get invited to the championship. As always, later races would be weighted more heavily.

Anonymous said...

I am pretty happy that people care enough to talk about my program so much (UCF). I think that eveyone will be a little shocked at what we do this spring and I'm not just talking about our results.

Anonymous said...

high school programs need to row together for months. as you progress, not so much. the national team is named in july and races in august. i think this is a very short time relative to the the race they are preparing for.

Anonymous said...

its all about adaptability baby

Anonymous said...

That's only the US national team that chooses its boats in July and then races them in August. The traditional rowing powers, the European teams, train together for years.

Anonymous said...

You can talk until you're blue in the face about lwt rowers rowing in the heavyweight boat, but it still won't change anything. If the head coach wants you in the 1V or the 2V, you're going to be there. It's also a little bittersweet for the rowers. You miss rowing with the lightweights dearly, but think about how amazing it would be to bring the heavyweight team to NCAAs.