Tuesday, January 09, 2007

IRA Participation

It's been an awfully slow winter and rather than see how long I can sit on an erg before I hurt my back, I decided to take a look at who's been racing at IRAs.

I looked at 1997 through 2006 with the exception of 1998 (there seem to be no records from that year although I thought I saw them once), so it's a period of nine years, with the one break. It will surprise no one to hear that Radcliffe has raced at IRAs in every one of those years, since the Black and White are really the pioneers of collegiate lightweight women's rowing in the US. Perhaps a bit surprising however, is the fact that Wisconsin has also raced in each of those years. Surprising because I think we tend to think of the East coast schools as rowing forever while the western (west of Washington DC, that is) schools seem like relative newcomers. Wisconsin's tenure at the IRAs shows that dynasties aren't made overnight.

Princeton has raced eight times and Georgetown six. It's hard to remember that Wisconsin's program is older than Princeton's and Georgetown's is only two years younger. At five races come Villanova, UCF, and Stanford, a mix of the old and new. Villanova was quite a power in its day, which was really 1997 through 2000. Although the full results are missing, I do recall that Villanova won the national championship in 1998. Villanova lost its focus on lightweights and sunk into the morass of middling Dad Vail schools (attention class, that lesson will be on the final exam!).

In all, 30 schools have raced lightweight women at IRAs in those nine years. One can only wonder what happened to Mercyhurst who raced four times from 1999 to 2002. Will they ever be back? MIT, with a long lightweight tradition, has only raced twice. Some odd names show up as well, such as Brown and Virginia, two schools now known more for meat boats than for lightweights.

Over the nine year span, 90 boats raced (Wisconsin entered a B boat one year) for an average of ten entries per year. The number of entries per year has been quite variable, however, from a low of seven in 1999 to a high of fourteen in 2001. An average of 3 and a third boats drop each year while four new ones come on. For some reason 2001 and 2004 both saw a surge of a net four new boats racing. Since the field is now capped at 12 we won't see another fourteen entry year.

Of the thirty schools that entered boats over this period, nine only entered once and only nine (not the same nine) failed to make the grand final at least once. Of course making the grand has become harder in recent years. I've pointed out before that over the past ten years (including 1998) there have been four different national champions, a record the same as the heavy men and similar to the heavy women (they have five, I think). One other little surprise in the record is that in 2000, Radcliffe didn't make the final and finished 9th out of ten boats. Unusual for that program but a not unexpected sign of how difficult it is to maintain top finishes year in and year out.

Judging by these entries, the foundational programs of women's lightweight rowing stand out - Radcliffe, Wisconsin, Princeton, Georgetown, UCF, and Stanford. These are the key schools that make lightweight women's rowing work in the US (normally I'd put MIT in there too but their IRA attendance is pretty low). The names would be only slightly different ten years ago but I hope there will be many more on the list ten years hence. The fact that the average net change in boats each year is positive and the anecdotal evidence we see of varsity programs adding lightweights (e.g. Tulsa) are good signs for continued growth. The field is extremely competitive at the upper end and the days of near row overs are long gone. This year should be even better as crews normally relegated to the petites claw their way into the grand.

Speaking of this year, it's almost half way through January which means only about two months until racing begins. It's been so warm I wonder if they haven't already been rowing on Lake Mendota.

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