Aug. 1, 2014 — An ending, a beginning

The domestic field hockey season begins this month with the start of scholastic field hockey in Kentucky and on college campuses across the country.

It’s also the start of play in the largest conference in NCAA Division I history, as the Big Ten’s nine members are going to be vying with the ACC for top honors in 2014.

At the same time, we’ll look back on 15 years on this site, revisiting people and issues we’ve covered over the years.

It should be a fulfilling month.

July 30, 2014 — “One brain” vs. “no sport”

Watching some collegiate sports events from four decades ago, it is instructive to watch how things have changed when it comes to head injuries and how they are dealt with. Today, you have doctors on many sidelines ready to revoke a player from a game after too hard a blow to the head. It’s happened in football, in motor racing, in soccer, and in many other fields of sporting endeavor.

It wasn’t like that all the time. I saw a basketball game from the 1980s when a player received a knee to the head chasing a loose ball from midcourt, then the player fell to his knees on defense a few seconds later. The referee allowed the trainer on the court to check the player — the rules at the time allowing him to stop play for any reason — and the apparently concussed player was allowed to remain in the contest.

I saw players rammed head-first into artificial turf without much padding under the carpet separating it from a concrete floor. I’ve seen players hit by elbows and knees come back into football games without much in the way of neurological testing.

During the 2014 World Cup, there were at least three instances when players were allowed to go back into contests after getting hit in the head. As ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman said after the World Cup ended, “You only get one brain.”

Twellman is right.

The problem is, there are other sports on the national ledger who are being targeted as possible risks when it comes to head injuries, and many of them do have protective equipment for the head. But the problem is that the equipment is being misrepresented as the panacea to the problem.

Helmets, especially the hard-shelled ones used in football and more recently in men’s lacrosse, are not meant to prevent concussions. They are meant, instead, to prevent skull fractures.

Take, for example, the situation in motor racing. As speeds have gone up, especially in NASCAR, there have been more and more injuries when it comes to how the head is allowed to move around inside the car at the point of a serious impact. Kenny Irwin, Ernie Irvan, Dale Earnhardt, Neil Bonnett, Adam Petty, Davey Allison, and Ricky Craven are amongst those who have suffered serious head and neck injuries in NASCAR the last two decades. Not one of them was helmetless at the time of their injuries.

What is going on, in places like New Jersey and Florida, is a serious misrepresentation of the science behind protective headwear. And no amount of headwear is going to make up for the lack of safety protocols on the sidelines regarding head injuries.

July 29, 2014 — An even more unsatisfying settlement

This afternoon, the NCAA announced a settlement in a lawsuit regarding head injuries amongst a breadth of student athletes in many sports, including football, hockey, lacrosse, and basketball.

It’s a deal which puts into place a $70 million plan to monitor student athletes, provide baseline neurological testing of college athletes in contact sports, and to uniformly put in place the neurological protocols for head injuries that are in place in many collegiate sports.

Yep, just $70 million.

Compare this figure to the $700 million that the National Football League is going to have to pay its retired players (likely more, given a recent court action in in this matter), and consider the fact that there are several thousand NCAA-member institutions contesting a number of contact sports. The New York Times estimates that there could be upwards of 1.4 million former collegiate athletes who have played a contact sports.

The settlement amount is a pittance compared to the NFL’s settlement, and I think this could wind up being an enormous liability for the NCAA. This is because former student-athletes have retained their right to sue for personal injury damages.

I think this also is likely to put the NCAA in the position of being risk managers when it comes to its athletes, especially in the push to mandate headgear in soccer, lacrosse, and field hockey. I’ll have more on that tomorrow.

June 28, 2014 — Dan Borislow, 1961-2014

Last week, Dan Borislow died of a heart attack in a place where he found passion away from his business ventures: a soccer field.

It was in the world of soccer, however, where Borislow found himself to become both a savior and an antihero. As the proverbial thumb in the levee preventing Women’s Professional Soccer from falling into bankruptcy in 2011, Borislow knew he had considerable leverage over not only his players, but the rest of the six teams in the league.

After purchasing the Washington Freedom from John Hendricks, he rebadged the team magicJack FC, moved the team to Florida, and, it seemed, couldn’t stop meddling with the team.

He replaced coach Mike Lyons just three games into the season, installing himself as head coach along with former Sky Blue FC player/coach Christie Rampone. During that time, it has been alleged, Borislow engaged in some highly intense and verbally abusive coaching with his players.

This got him suspended from the sidelines, eventually to be replaced by Abby Wambach as player/coach. By the end of the 2011 season, the relationship between Borislow and the rest of the league was naught, and the league folded by New Year’s Day.

It’s been said in recent days that Borislow’s scorched-earth tactics might have been the best thing that could have happened to the world of women’s professional soccer. The current iteration of a USSF-sanctioned Division I women’s pro league, the NWSL, is conservatively funded, with the national governing bodies of the United States, Canada, and Mexico having skin in the game.

The NWSL has also picked its markets carefully, making sure that there is backing for each of the teams. Indeed, the addition of the Houston Dash last year was a large leap of faith for the Houston Dynamo of MLS to be able to have a women’s team in south Texas.

The growth of the NWSL isn’t perfect; there are wonderful markets in the Carolinas, in Atlanta, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Denver, and the San Francisco Bay Area which can support the game as played by women.

But Borislow was an investor who was interested in trying to grow women’s soccer.

Which is more than can be said about women such as Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, and Linda McMahon, whose millions spent on political campaigns could have funded the NWSL for 80 seasons.

Which makes it too bad that Borislow’s bluster is being remembered more than him saving the league — even for one year.

July 27, 2014 — An unexpected team win

Quick: who are Carlotta Ciganda, Beatriz Ricari, Azahara Munoz, and Belen Mozo?

Yep, I’d never heard of these four people before this weekend, either.

But these women form the Spanish team that have won the International Crown, a four-day team golf event which consisted of three day better-ball matches and a final day of ten singles matches, kind of like a multi-national Ryder or Solheim Cup.

If the fact that the Spanish have won the inaugural International Crown is a shocker, consider which nations didn’t win. Japan, a team which includes former world No. 1 Ai Miyazato, finished in third place. Korea, which features four-time major winner Inbee Park, finished fourth.

The United States, which included the likes of Paula Creamer and current No. 1 Stacy Lewis, didn’t even qualify for the final day of competition. It was an absolute collapse on the part of a U.S. side who was seemingly given every opportunity to play for the final, since the team played in seemingly a much weaker division.

But as it turns out, the Americans dropped their opening two matches against eight-seeded Chinese Taipei and couldn’t dig themselves out over the next two days of better-ball play, then losing on the first day of a sudden-death playoff against Korea.

I guess, when it comes to the results of this tournament, that it shows the spread of women’s golf worldwide. I was expecting Korea and Japan to do a little bit better, given the number of young players inspired by some of the most recent generations of Far Eastern stars.

It does show, however, that the upcoming Olympic golf tournament in Rio is likely to be wide open.

 

July 23, 2014 — When the science doesn’t fit

Yesterday, the American Journal of Sports Medicine is out with a report detailing a rise in concussions amongst both male and female lacrosse players. The report shows a gender differentiation between male and female players; this was the hypothesis and conclusion, borne out by four years’ worth of injury data. Of course, given the full-contact rules endemic in the men’s game, this is no surprise.

But members of the news media have done a disservice to this story, especially in the wake of Florida’s questionable decision to mandate headwear for girls’ lacrosse players. They’ve called the sport “dangerous,” calling the concussion data “an epidemic,” or saying that “injuries are on the rise.”

Nothing in the abstract of the report (which may be found here) mentioned anything about the efficacy of girls’ lacrosse helmets in terms of concussion.

The abstract does not mention the stated purpose of helmets, which is to prevent skull fractures. Nor does it say that headwear is not designed to prevent concussions.

I haven’t gotten a chance to read the entire report, but that’s coming soon.

July 22, 2014 — Not quite uniform

Today, a package of rules modifications came down from the NCAA for the 2014 season.

For the last few years, these modifications have, by and large, been prompted by changes to The Rules of Hockey. And with the stated goal of trying to bring NCAA rules closer to international rules, items like the penalty shootout were brought into the college game last year.

But this year, you’re not going to see two of the most radical changes to the Rules of Hockey. You’re not going to have the 45-second clock stoppage after goals, and you’re not going to have four 15-minute quarters.

Given the fact that field hockey is likely going to have a very small footprint in over-the-air television this fall, these made-for-TV changes don’t make sense for the NCAA.

Hopefully, they won’t ever be adopted.

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