Sunday, March 18, 2007

Fight in the Dog's 2007 Pre-Season Ranking

It's time again for my most foolhardy post of the year - the pre-season rankings. I was tempted to just go with the Readers' Poll this year, but I thought that would be taking the easy way out. I'm not that much different than the poll, and many places are really a toss-up, but here goes:

  1. Princeton
  2. Wisconsin
  3. Radcliffe
  4. Georgetown
  5. MIT
  6. UCF
  7. Stanford
  8. Bucknell
  9. Dayton
  10. Ohio State
Princeton as number one seems an easy choice and on paper it is. The Tigers won the HOCR and dominated the Princeton Chase. They have every rower back [although losing the coxswain,] from last year's IRA boat. When the seniors were freshmen they dominated Sprints and the Knecht Cup. When the juniors were freshmen, they too dominated, winning Sprints by 9 seconds and winning the heavyweight freshmen eight at Knecht (there was no freshmen light eight). Know what the sophomores did as freshmen? Yup, dominated. Despite the possibility that winning the Head of the Charles is lightweight rowing's version of the Sports Illustrated cover jinx, Princeton has to be the heavy favorite heading into this season. Even more impressive to me was the fact that Princeton's 2V was second at the Chase, suggesting that there will be serious competition throughout the season for 1V seats, keeping the boat fast and on its toes.

Where can Princeton go wrong? The most obvious concern is injuries. Just as important as 1V injuries, however, are 2V injuries because Princeton's most powerful asset may be its depth. The other area where Princeton can run into trouble is technical execution. Both results and observation show that the Tigers only occasionally hit on all cylinders in 2006. Highly variable results suggest that the problem is more likely to be technique than power. If Princeton rows well, rows together, avoids gymnasts, and consistently competes for seats, they will be champions at the end of the year.

Wisconsin lost 5 athletes [rowers and the coxswain] from last year's IRA boat and one might be tempted to think they are in a rebuilding mode. They are getting used to a new coach and possibly a new style, both of which can cause a little short-term upset. One might not expect the Badgers to be as dominant as in past years. HOCR showed that would be a mistake. Wisconsin has dominated lightweight women's rowing for so long that it's hard to imagine the Badgers having a down year. Their HOCR finish and the respect engendered by their dominance of the last three years puts Wisconsin at 2.

Radcliffe is a program that seems to clearly be on the upswing and could easily finish in any of the top three positions (as was the case last year). With only two losses from an extremely fast boat last season, the Black and White will be in the hunt all year. With this ranking simply providing a place to start the season, I'd be shocked if Radcliffe never moved higher than third. Given Wisconsin's propensity for a slow start, I expect the April 28th Radcliffe-Princeton race to be a critical test for both crews and, just as it was last year, likely a 1 vs 2 matchup.

Georgetown, on the heels of a great season last year, gets slotted in at fourth. They obviously have the potential to do better than that, but they also have their work cut out for them to do it. As the second place team in the nation last season, they get the benefit of the doubt over MIT, with whom they traded finishing positions at HOCR and the Chase. MIT comes in at fifth, after winning the petites at IRAs last year and an excellent HOCR finish. With a strong tradition and good local competition, the league has been waiting for MIT to raise some Cain, and this year may be the start.

Placing sixth, a spot lower than last year's finish, is UCF. This placing doesn't so much reflect an expectation of less potential as it does concern that some of UCF's depth is being siphoned off to the heavyweights. Although they may all be back for IRAs, there will be some penalty for having to switch into a new team and likely a slightly different style. Stanford's placement at 7th reflects a belief that the Cardinal is also a program on the upswing. The days of believing that Stanford is such an athletic campus that a program of complete walk-ons can win national championships are over. More recruits means a more hard core rowing mind-set, and that means more speed. Stanford has the potential to be the biggest positive surprise of the season.

At 8th, Bucknell suffers from the same concern as UCF - that lightweights are being sucked into the heavyweight program. If all the lightweights are available to row lightweight, they'll be faster than this. If not, they could very well be slower. Dayton and Ohio State round out the top ten. Dayton has shown that they can consistently have a reasonably fast light eight. Now they need to get fast enough to break into the grand at IRAs. Ohio State has a new coach and gets a bump over Lehigh for what that can sometimes do (see Georgetown last year). Cal stays out of the rankings largely because they never race the bulk of the lightweight crews. It would be great to see them at IRAs, but it's a long trip for a club team. Certainly they'll be one of the biggest beneficiaries when the regatta moves West.


Anonymous said...

17 March, 2007
SPU Home course
Lake Washington Ship Canal


Race Place
time Event 1st 2nd 3rd

Time Time Time

750 WV4+ SPU 7:41.6 PLU 8:19.66

800 MV4+ SPU 6:58.37 PLU 7:23.24 SPU-JV 7:35.8

815 WJV4+ PLU 7:42.72 PLU-L 7:59.82 SPU 8:09.21

855 WN4+ SPU 7:59.79 PLU 8:05.56

915 MN4+ SPU 7:26.12 PLU 8:13.05

940 WV8 SPU 6:58.2 PLU 6:59.6

Calander of events Pacific NorthWest
(NCRC conference includes lwt 8 and lwt 4 racing please added

17 SPU Seattle, WA
24 Daffodil Regatta Lakewood, WA
31 NCRC Invitational Regatta Vancouver, WA
7 **Lewis and Clark College**Cancelled
14th Meyer/Lamberth Cup Lakewood, WA
21 Cascade Sprints/NCRC Championships Lake Stevens, WA
27-29 WIRA Championship Sacramento, CA

Anonymous said...

Note WV8 times for spu/plu duel was a lwt 8.

Anonymous said...

4's rankings?

Anonymous said...

wait, you're not counting coxswains as athletes?

JW Burk said...

Aaagh! Of course I count coxswains. I try to be precise in my wording to avoid just this gotcha, but you caught me! Princeton also lost a coxswain which is why I specified "rowers" in that section. Sloppy writing and I've changed it.

I know I talked about a fours ranking, but I may take the easy way out and just begin with the fall ranking and adjust it as the season progresses. It's just too hard to get enough information to make any kind of educated guess for fours, so the best information is probably the HOCR result.

Anonymous said...

It sucks that the eight gets so much focus in American rowing. In college it destroys any sort of parity to the sport because it keeps the large programs on top year after year and makes it almost impossible for a small program to compete. It could never be like in basketball where a George Mason can suprise everyone and take out the top teams. There are plenty of good athletes in the fours that don't have teammates that can pull their own weight and for that they become second class citizens in the rowing world.

JW Burk said...

Many people lament the focus on eights in college rowing, while others wonder why we bother with anything but. Clearly, the smaller the boat the more possibility for new programs to win big races. Thinking about boat emphasis and championship formats can really give you a headache. The interview I posted with Jim Dietz gives us an example of someone who's thought a lot about it and seems to agree with you. If we're trying to develop athletes for international competition (probably not a reason why schools have crew), we'd focus more on other boats. One thing is for sure, though, you're correct when you say that there are many good athletes found in programs without enough rowers to put out a light eight. A look at how few national team lightweights come from lightweight programs shows that. (Of course it also shows that with fewer safeguards against unhealthy weight practices, more women naturally way above 125 or 130 pounds drop to lightweight.)

Anonymous said...

This is America. We have the best college sports programs in the world.

For women's rowing there is a give and take. We have a fully-funded varsity program in a sport where equipment costs outweight that of every other sport on campus and yet we bring in no revenue. Football and basketball essentially pay the school for women's rowing to exist. In return, we boat eights and eights of rowers so that men's football can have their 80 scholarship athletes (Title Nine, baby).

It seems like if someone wants to be part of a bigger (or better) team, they should transfer to a school with a bigger (or better) rowing program, lightweight or heavyweight.

If you want to race small boats as part of a funded, competitive women's college team, I'd love to know the country where it is happening.

Anonymous said...

Football and basketball actually lose money at almost every school in the nation, especially when you factor in facility and staffing costs. It is extraordinarily rare for any sport at any school to actually make money when all aspects of the program are put on the balance sheet.

In comparing expenses, rowing has to pay for boats and oars on a regular basis (around $100,000/year largely from donations at established programs), and usually operates out of a relatively cheaply built and maintained boathouse (rarely costing over $1,000,000 to build, with some exceptions). Football and basketball need stadia and arenas, upkeeping of floors/fields, and seats, and also need often separate off-season training facilities and weight rooms. They also place much greater stress on the sports medicine staff than rowers (who have one of the lowest documented injury rates of all college sports). And they have more coaches with often higher salaries, not to mention the other support staff. To top it all off, football and basketball spend a LOT more on traveling to competitions.