Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Time is Nigh

For two years I've offered my opinions about this sport. I've been honest, consistent, and willing to admit when I've been wrong. I've never censored your comments. I've said uncomfortable things that have needed to be said and I've made enemies of many people who wish no one would challenge their actions or their opinions. I've written all of my posts with a smile on my face because, let's face it, this is just a blog.

Now, as promised, my time is up. Those of you who have your own opinions about women's lightweight rowing - the floor is yours.

But remember, it's just a game.


[Update: New Georgetown coach: "We're going to be just like Bucknell." Has Bucknell doomed women's lightweight rowing for the sake of a coach's resume?]

[1/09 Update: The new CRCA Lightweight Committee Chair is Princeton HEAVYWEIGHT coach Lori Dauphiny!! What a joke! Yup, they're interested in keeping lightweight rowing alive. One thing's for sure, Dauphiny can spell NIMBY.]

Monday, June 04, 2007

Bucknell's Methods and Lightweight Rowing

Observers of women's lightweight rowing have to be wondering today what Bucknell's method of having heavyweights drop to lightweight for IRAs will mean for other programs. As I mentioned before, I was told that last year's Bucknell light eight had problems with weight. Bucknell's solution, apparently, was to race them as heavyweights and only require them to drop weight three times during the season (presumably timed for lulls in the competitive schedule).

I find two serious problems with this. First, Bucknell, which could lead the lightweight community, has instead chosen to use the lightweight community. While other programs spend the time and money necessary to create separate programs and race schedules separate from their heavies, Bucknell does none of that and simply goes pot hunting at IRAs. It's obvious, but worth saying, that if every other lightweight crew did what Bucknell does, there would be no lightweight league and no IRA championship. There would be no Dad Vail, Windermere, Knecht Cup, Crew Classic, ECAC (oops, that's already gone with Bucknell racing only heavyweights there), or Sprints lightweight events. While other programs put their blood, sweat, and money where their mouths are, Bucknell apparently sees the lightweight category as simply another way to burnish resumes.

Bucknell's manipulation of the category is further highlighted by the fact that last year, when the student newspaper was writing about the "light eight," the coaches asked the paper not to refer to them as lightweights, but to call them the "2V." Is this a program that supports lightweight rowing?

The second problem with the Bucknell method, is that the strategy of dropping heavyweights for key lightweight races is exactly the kind of thing for which the category is criticized and which the NCAA finds unsavory. Clearly the leaders of the lightweight category also find this unsettling. Last year, when I repeated the false rumor that in 2004 Wisconsin dropped two heavyweights into the light eight for IRAs, it was met with instantaneous and emphatic denial from the Badgers. UCF, although actually racing a lightweight schedule, was faced with the same opportunity as Bucknell to pull down some of their heavies into the light eight, but chose not to. For better or worse, the coaches there made the decision to allow their rowers to race in only one category. With Bucknell, however, we have a national champion who may not even field a lightweight eight next year. Will they have enough lightweights and near-lightweights to field a full eight? Will they be fast? If not, will they enter anyway in support of the category or will they take their ball and go home?

Let me quote instructions that went out from the CRCA lightweight committee with last year's new weigh-in rules:

The goal of the weigh-in documentation is to ensure that crews racing at the collegiate lightweight women's National Championship have been racing as lightweights with consistency throughout the season.

Clearly this procedure failed this year, and one must wonder if it needs to
be revised for next year.

While we're at it, let's dispose of the silly notion, put forth both last year and this, that Bucknell somehow makes faster lightweights by racing them as heavyweights. Any athlete would know this is spurious - it doesn't matter what your opponent is, it matters how fast your opponent is. Perhaps those making the argument are suggesting that no lightweights exist fast enough to challenge Bucknell, yet that was obviously not true last year, and this year when Bucknell raced the Princeton lights, a crew that just pushed them to the limit, they raced heavyweights. Is that supporting the category?

Bucknell is at a crossroads; it can become a leader of lightweight women's rowing or it can continue to ride on the back of the programs that actually do support and maintain the sport.

What's it gonna be?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Bucknell Ends Wisconsin's Streak

Proving the old adage that the devil you know is better than the devil you don't, Bucknell won the national championship by 3.5 seconds over second place Princeton. Wisconsin was another 1 second back, followed by Radcliffe, Stanford, and Georgetown.

In a race that, while still close, sorted itself out surprisingly quickly, Princeton and Bucknell fought a seesaw battle through 1000 meters. Through the third 500 Bucknell began to assert itself and once Princeton hit its personal dead zone - the sprint - the Bison pulled away to take the crown. It would surely be a compliment to say that Bucknell rowed a Wisconsin-like race - entering the lead pack early, allowing one or two other crews to believe they have a chance, and finally closing the door on the field through the last 500. Wisconsin occasionally threatened to make it a three boat race, but was never quite able to pull back until the very end.

As Bucknell and Princeton entered the last 500 meters, the Bison, with half a length or so lead, must've felt confident of the win, knowing the Tigers' problems with the sprint. Anyone who watched Princeton in a close race over the last two years knew what would come next - rushed slides and short strokes - as they lost ground to Bucknell ahead, and saw Wisconsin charge up their stern. If Princeton could fix this flaw, they'd be truly dangerous. Bucknell, meanwhile, showed no such flaws as they rowed a clean race from start to finish, looking as strong in the last 20 strokes as they did in the first.

MIT once again took the petite final, a nice turnaround from where the Engineers' season seemed to be headed just a few weeks ago. Ohio State finished after MIT, followed by LMU, UCF, Long Beach State, and Lehigh. It was great to see three California crews make the trip east and when the IRA moves west, hopefully all of the eastern crews will reciprocate.

So the lightweight field grows even stronger and crowns a brand new national champion. After all of the lightweight haters had their say about the lack of competition a few weeks ago, it's instructive to compare heavyweight and lightweight championship finals. The times are remarkably similar. Eleven seconds separated the field at IRAs while seven seconds separated it at NCAAs. (In fact, Bucknell's raw time was faster than Yale's raw time. I point this out not to suggest that Bucknell is faster, only to further make the point that spreads were very comparable.) This is really quite remarkable given how the proliferation of heavyweight programs and the abundance of scholarship money has spread the talent around the heavyweight world. Any such dispersion of talent naturally results in more crews of similar speed, but lightweights have had none of that.

The 2007 season ends without controversy and with a clear cut, if surprising, champion in Bucknell. Princeton, whose season began so promisingly, comes away with a gold in the four (which surprisingly turns out to be the only gold won by any Princeton crew at a national championship race). Wisconsin and Radcliffe move out of the dreaded "rebuilding year" and become major threats on the horizon, as does Stanford. Georgetown remembers how difficult it is to follow up on success. Another season down, an even stronger one on the way.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Princeton Rules the Four... Again

After rarely racing the boat all season, and almost missing out on an invitation to the race, Princeton boated a four at IRAs yesterday that staked its claim to fastest four in the nation. Winning the gold (yes, there were medals even if the correct ones will be coming in the mail) by 6 seconds over second place Wisconsin, and almost 13 seconds over third place Lawrence, the Tigers were emphatic in their statement of speed.

Princeton was somewhat less emphatic off the start, however, as they found themselves in third or fourth place after 20 strokes. As the 500 approached, the nature of the race began to become clear with Wisconsin up on Princeton by 3 or 4 seats, and Lawrence maintaining contact in third. Princeton put on what turned out to be the decisive move just after the 500 as they pulled even with the Badgers, who had no response. With every stroke moving them a few inches farther away from Wisco, Princeton just cranked it up to the finish line.

It was a nice row for the Tigers who were handed nothing by Wisconsin and Lawrence. Wisconsin also had a nice race, but just couldn't stay with Princeton. These boats were no doubt rowing together for only a few weeks so a fast race like this shows some skill and determination. Lawrence, on the other hand, showed that a small club program can hang with the big dogs. More than hang, they beat two Sprints schools and capped off a fantastic season. Judging by their margin over fourth place Duquesne (8 seconds here vs. 5 at Dad Vail), Lawrence stepped up it's speed over the last few weeks. They'll have a happy drive back to Appleton. Duquesne should also be proud of their season, also beating two Sprints schools (Georgetown and Radcliffe) in finishing fourth.

While there was a large spread within the field, some of that was certainly due to a bit of a late notice for the race (so not all invitees could make it) and the six boat only final. With more entries and heats, this race could certainly become an exciting addition to the regatta. As it was, this year's race was one of the more interesting on the schedule, although that was mostly because of the "unknown" factor.

The biggest loser of the race was absent Pitt. Certainly all of the competitors would like to have seen Pitt in the field, and with Princeton beating Pitt's Dad Vail margin over Lawrence by 5 seconds, the Tigers have every right to claim to be the fastest four in the land. In an ironic twist of fate, Princeton only got an entry slot because Pitt declined their invitation. To be sure, I doubt Pitt's absence was a case of the Panthers running from a fight, but with late notice of their invitation the crew just couldn't rearrange schedules to get to the regatta. That's too bad because it would've been a heck of a race.