Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Jim Dietz on Women's Lightweight Rowing (cont)

(Interview with Jim Dietz continued)

I next challenged Jim's idea of creating a NCAA championship that looks like the Olympics. While I recognize the value in that, I suggested that with only the 2x available for lightweights, it would effectively kill lightweight rowing. Jim responds:

Your premise is that you as the coach make that decision. If your athletic director is supporting rowing because of numbers then there is no way you will drop the big boats. Case in Point: Last year the coaches of the Atlantic 10 voted to drop the points for the lightweight eight “IF” there were fewer then two or three crews in that race. In the Atlantic 10 the V8 only gets two points more then the lightweight eight in team points. The coaches felt that it was unfair to award full points in an event that only two crews were entered. The Athletic Directors voted the coaches down. They were afraid that schools would not try to fill the lightweight events and numbers would drop.

Not everyone gets to the Olympics. Not everyone should get to the NCAA Championships. It should be just for the best! Even now there are lightweights going to the NCAA championships. The two times that I went to the championships with teams I had lightweights in my crews. They were the best they could compete.

Under the present system are the best women going to the championship or just the best women from the biggest programs. Are there better women at other programs but not enough to have the large team? If rowing were an individual team sport would there be more opportunity for more women, possibly smaller women?
Some good points made here, but I'm not sure they contradict the notion that lightweights would be in trouble with an Olympic format. One thing that I hear time and again from coaches is how such-and-such a boat had a lightweight in it and was fast. Probably not Jim's point here, but this is like noting a boxer who can beat people two weight classes above him and suggesting that there shouldn't be weight classes. These rowers are remembered precisely because there are so few (I'm talking about DI and elites here). Also, I've had a national team coach tell me how he had a lightweight in bow of one of his medal winning eights. This "lightweight" weighed 168 at peak condition. I think it's common for heavyweight coaches to see a rower smaller than their average heavyweight and refer to them as "lightweights."

The A10 athletic directors reaction to the lightweight proposal is very interesting. I wish that were the attitude of more conferences. Also note the coaches' role. Heavyweight coaches get paid to win heavyweight races. If a lightweight event is in the way of that goal, they will try to remove it. This isn't a criticism of heavyweight coaches for doing their job, but it is a criticism of those who would put the fate of lightweights in the hands of heavyweight coaches at theCRCA.

Further addressing lightweights at the A10 championship:
They are a valid part of the Championship. I am all about rowing for everyone. They all count in our gender numbers and they should have an equal part and enjoy a great experience. The points are important and the lightweights know their contribution to the team win. This gives everyone value and a true sense of team. To have lightweight programs traveling to different events then their open weight programs is divisive.
Finally, I asked about the idea of more events at the NCAA championship (Olympic events), and wondered if that would dilute the field too much, leaving winners unsure if they beat their opponents best or if the best rowers were in another boat.
If we only think that the eight is important then we should get rid of all the other boat classes. Did the US Men’s eight at the last Olympics feel less of their victory because the English 4- was not in their race? Did the English feel cheated because the best Americans went in the eight and not the 4-?

If we are going to have different events then each of those events should be able to stand on their own merit. Does the 4+ at the NCAA feel cheated because there might have been a faster 4+ in the country whodidn ’t have two other eights to give them a free ride. Maybe it should be about the top 8+, or maybe just the top 4+, or if we really want to know who is the best then each school should only send their top 1X!

I have been involved in rowing for quite a while now. I have seen lightweights win the Olympics in open events. I have seen lightweights compete in theUSRowing Nationals, Trials and NSR ’s often humbling heavyweights. I don’t know where the answer lies. I think an open mind will be necessary to break down the years of “This is the way we always did it in America”. We need more people questioning. That’s how things change.
The issue of an eights only format (Mike Teti scheme) vs an Olympic format is best left for another time. Again, the notion of lightweights beating heavyweights is a two-edged sword - it's great when you do it, but the fact that it happens is usually used as an argument against having a lightweight category (I don't think that's Jim's intent here).

So, some of Jim's more interesting points:
  • The NCAA championships should follow the Olympic format (that would mean a WL2x)
  • All boats should receive equal points in the team championship calculation
  • The A10 seems to be a "lightweight friendly" conference
  • No lightweight issues have come before the NCAA rowing committee in the past two years
As always, no easy answers, but certainly some food for thought. Perhaps the most important thing Jim Dietz had to say were his closing thoughts: "We need more people questioning. That’s how things change."


Anonymous said...

I've always felt that there would be alot of benefits to lightweight women racing quads instead of 8s. It would become much easier to develop women for post collegiate and international competition. Coaches would have to learn how to teach sculling, which would, in the long term, improve US sculling across the board. Most lightweight teams would be able to field at least a V and a JV. Teams which can only field a 4 would have a true Varsity boat.

There are a few downsides - first, there would be (alightly) greater equipment costs per athlete. Second we could no longer play pick out the coxswain at regattas.

Anonymous said...

You might want to pay more attention to the elite level. This past year the top 4 heavyweight men weren't in the 8+, they raced the 4-.

Also, the "Mike Teti" scheme as you call it, is to perform in such a way as to maximize his funding from the USOC (a no brainer eh?). They've recently mandated that they want more total medals (after he delivered them the first olympic gold medal in the 8+ in 40 years). His actions are more controled by what the USOC askes for in return for its funding than his own personal whim.

JW Burk said...

Yes, I am well aware that the top 4 US men were in the four, although I'm not quite sure what bearing that has on this discussion, other than to support the idea that you don't necessarily know where a team's (country's) best rowers will be.

As I posted earlier, the Mike Teti scheme is not related to international competition. I laid out Mike's plan to have the collegiate championships consist of a tournament style with only first varsity eights racing. It has nothing to do with international racing.

JW Burk said...

I also have some sympathy for the quad idea. One negative that you didn't mention, though, is that there would be fewer seats for athletes. However, as I think you are alluding to, there are more programs with only four or eight good lightweights than there are with 16 or 24 good lightweights.

Anonymous said...

If you take a poll of the elite he lightweight women on boathouse row you will quickly recognize why we lack an abundance of superb lightweights in women's collegiate rowing. The majority rowed in college in the Hvy V 8! If Dietz concept would be adopted by the NCAA I believe you would see these women in the lwt 2x at least. Rowing quads is coming on in lwt rowing. Our program has a lwt quad this year, but I have to prioritize my V 8 since that is what the NCAA uses _mistakenly in my opinion) as the yardstick to compare programs. Love your blog!