Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Rowing News Ignores Lightweights - Again

Yesterday's post put me in a belligerent mood, so before I get back to this weekend's races, I may as well air it all out. In it's latest issue, Rowing News (the establishment mouthpiece) published an article discussing the greatest eights of all time. A difficult proposition to be sure, and several eights are discussed. Several, that is, for each category - heavyweight men, heavyweight women, lightweight men, and, and, and.... Yes, that's right, it ignores lightweight women. Why cover three categories and not the fourth? Are there no great lightweight women's eights? Hard to believe given that we've seen three incredibly dominant programs - Radcliffe in the 90s (and earlier), Princeton in the early 2000s, and Wisconsin now (plus a surprising Villanova in 1998). No boat in there was great? Given that the great boats were only compared against others in their category, by definition there MUST be a great lightweight women's eight. Or, could it be that Rowing News considers the category to be so weak that there is no boat worthy? There is a promised second part, that will cover junior crews! Junior crews are worthy but collegiate lightweight women are not!? As always, Rowing News refuses to publish letters from me (sorry, I'm not going away), so if this bothers you as much as it does me, please write a letter to the editor. You can reach him at letters@rowingnews.com.

Rowing News also has a story about women's heavyweight rowing ten years after the first NCAA championship. Much time is spent on the growth in numbers and visibility of heavyweights brought on by NCAA recognition. Readers of FITD know that I appreciate this aspect of NCAA involvement and that my principle beef with the NCAA is the way it has marginalized lightweight women. Despite all of the problems and the NCAA's continuing lack of understanding of the sport, if lightweights were offered an NCAA championship I'd take it in a minute. In a world where most people are afraid to think for themselves (even athletic directors), the NCAA imprimatur would enable lightweight rowing to grow far faster than without it.

In a sidebar (of course) to the story, Chip Davis makes two points I've been making for almost two years now (could he be a secret reader?):

Highly competitive student-athletes continue to race to tight finishes each year in weight class events. But collegiate lightweight women still crown their national champions in the shadow of men's events at the IRA. Recent tragedies with wrestlers trying to cut too much weight combined with a heightened concern for eating disorders have kept lightweight events out of the NCAA. Some coaches have also bristled at the idea of splitting limited talent between two categories.
Hallelujah! Credit to Chip here for speaking the truth. I've talked to coaches, lightweight and heavyweight, as well as NCAA officials, and nearly every single one has denied that weight and eating disorder concerns play a part in the NCAA's antipathy toward lightweight women. As Chip points out, that's ridiculous, and that's why I spend time on FITD questioning the sensational eating disorder articles we see in the press and the "scientific studies" that, failing to prove a connection between today's lightweight athletes and eating disorders, go on to discuss how "common sense" tells us otherwise so we need to be careful. My point is not that uncontrolled weight loss isn't dangerous, but that today's lightweight women's programs control it and produce healthy athletes. I won't even get into the lack of studies looking at the obesity problem and heavyweights, but turnabout is fair play, isn't it? I've begged for scientific studies that produce a comparison of eating disorder prevalence among lightweight women and their college age peer group, but have yet to find any.

The negative feelings of heavyweight coaches (not all, of course) toward lightweights that Chip mentions has also been mentioned to me by lightweight coaches. This is why the CRCA does not and cannot represent the interests of lightweight women.

In the article, Jim Dietz (who was interviewed on FITD) hits upon the solution for lightweight women when he says:
Although the NCAA voted to make us a team sport, where a team consists of two eights and a four, I think the sport would be better served if we were an individual team sport, where each boat had to qualify on its own merits, its own speed.
He's talking about expanding the boat classes here, not specifically about lightweights, but allowing boats to qualify individually would open the door for lightweight boats.

Look, we all know that heavyweight women's rowing is the ethanol of college sports - unable to exist at current levels on its own, but thriving through the gift of government regulation. If you're a plug-in hybrid in an ethanol world, you've got problems. You need to get some of that regulation for yourself. You know it's not the right way to do it, but if it's there, you need it to compete. Given the inflated amount of money and attention lavished on heavyweight women, it's a testament to the strength of lightweight women's rowing that it can exist at all.

Yeah, I'm on a bitchy jag right now, but when I see the kind of interest a goofy little blog like FITD can generate; when I see how many women row lightweight or want to row lightweight; when I see incredible but normal sized athletes crank down race courses moving big boats really fast, I get a little upset when they're ignored by the rowing world. I've said many times here that we're all in it together, but sometimes it sure doesn't feel like it.


Anonymous said...

Maybe Rowing News ignores the lightweights, but you ignore the openweights!

Currently this is the only "media" coverage of rowing in existence that provides opinion and commentary on the sport that is informative and/or controversial on a daily basis. Surely there are more women involved in Openweight rowing than light so why not focus on all collegiate women's rowing rather than leave out the openweights?

Whats good for the sport is usually good for the lightweights too.

-a former lightweight rower

JW Burk said...

Well, I can't deny that! Others have also suggested expanding this, but despite appearances, I actually do lead a life beyond FITD. No, I'm pretty happy focusing on just lightweights. It's possible I've stirred up the waters slightly, but there's still a long way to go before lights get the same recognition as the other categories. Not to mention, how would I replace the fun I have trying to figure out ways to subtly (and not so subtly) slight those doggone heavyweights?

I do generally agree, however, that "what's good for the sport is usually good for the lightweights too."

And I hope I'm not controversial on a DAILY basis!

Anonymous said...

Our daughter is just beginning her lightweight career and we see this kind of "ignoring" on her team, or really not focusing enough on the LWs (not giving them enough practice time together, or taking great LW rowers and putting them on V1 or JV boats). What can we do about it? Anything? You seem to feel so passionately about this, FITD. A well written petition? To whom? What would it say? I would be happy to be part of any organizing effort but not sure to whom it should be directed.

JW Burk said...

I wish it were as easy as a petition! The heavyweight 1V will always have preference, and in most cases should, but beyond that we have the problems I wrote about in the last couple of posts. We're talking about an attitude change throughout a community, and there is no authority to govern that. A big problem is that there are no real advocates for the category. Some lightweight coaches do a great job at this, but in the end they either coach heavyweights too, work for a heavyweight coach, or aspire to be a heavyweight coach (because that's where the money and prestige are). For that reason, advocating too forcefully for lightweights can be detrimental to a career. The rowers themselves care strongly, but after four years they have more important things to worry about. I don't know the answer, but part of it is to simply do the little things that help the sport grow - push for fours at IRAs, add a 2V at Sprints, add lightweights to point trophies (ADs love those things), and continually work with the NCAA to see how that organization can help a women's sport grow, instead of hoping it goes away. Sorry, this isn't an answer, but I'm not sure what is, and there are probably people better qualified than me to provide one.

Mahalo said...

JW Burk Somthing we both agree on. I love your ethanol remark. I had to steal it. You have inspired me to start my own blog. This is my first blog so it is a work in progress.

JW Burk said...

Hey, I'm glad you liked that! That idea popped into my head earlier in the day and I just had to use it. (I'm not sure I would've thought you'd be the one to like it, though!)

As for a work in progress, aren't all blogs a work in progress? This one sure is. Give me a few days until I get a less hectic posting period and I'll note your blog in a post (I have another one I want to get out too). If I forget, email me at fight_in_dog@yahoo.com and remind me. There aren't many rowing specific blogs so I like to get the word out.