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?