Archive for Omnibus
Today, there is going to be a follow-on competition at Bucknell University to last weekend’s Harrow Cup, which was a first step at professionalizing field hockey in the United States. And it’s true field hockey; only a couple of rules have been changed: no video referrals and 18 on a roster instead of 16.
Over the last few years, there have been attempts at professionalizing many sports in the U.S. outside of the so-called “big four” — football, baseball, basketball, ice hockey. Sometimes, there have been attempts at rules changes in order to make the sport more accessible to fans.
Soccer, by far, has grown the most in the United States since Major League Soccer’s debut in 1996. Even then, you had the countdown clock and an overtime or 35-yard shootout to break ties. The growth really shifted, however, when the rules changes were done away with around 1999. Nowadays, there are many professional teams in the United States in three leagues, plus a professional development league with 63 teams.
Volleyball has had many attempts at professionalization since the 1970s, to the point where even Wilt Chamberlain lent his name and skills to a domestic league. However, indoor volleyball has failed to get an audience here in the U.S., and many participants have decided to go to to the beach in order to seek their fortune as professionals.
The same goes for swimming; nobody has been able to figure out how to create the kind of competition that can be a professional showcase for a Michael Phelps or an Ian Thorpe or an Amy Van Dyken.
Softball has had a few different iterations since the Blaze and Storm barnstorming teams toured the United States before the 1995 Olympics and formed the basis for what is now National Professional Fastpitch. Given the barnstorming nature of the 1995 tour, rules had to be changed given the lack of infrastructure. At the minor-league stadia where the Blaze and Storm played, organizers would lay down a rubber landing patch in front of the apron of the pitching mound for the pitchers, put in temporary outfield fencing, and play on a grass infield rather than the usual hard-packed dirt.
Recently in Bethlehem, Pa., they held something called the Pro Gymnastics Challenge, a competition which resembled a game of HORSE. In a “game within a game” format, two teams of gymnasts dueled each other on various skills, including the reintroduction of the rope climb, which has not been an Olympic discipline in many decades. It was not a strictly judged competition, but a competitive exhibition which may form the basis of a professional circuit one day.
A number of promoters have resorted to similar changes in the very format of their rules to make their competition more exciting. Major League Lacrosse, in its 12th season, has used a 60-second shot clock and a two-point goal since its inception.
That being said, I’m glad that Alli Tanner and the folks at Harrow have not resorted to changing the fundamental nature of field hockey in professionalizing it. I hope it succeeds on its own merits.
I’ve always liked HBO’s Real Sports as well as the network’s sports documentaries. Much of that was done under the production of Ross Greenberg, who made documentaries on Jim McKay, Howard Cosell, the 1980 Olympic hockey team, and sex in sports.
I didn’t make the connection until today, but I should have known that Greenberg had left HBO when the first thing that aired on the NBC Sports Network after its January 2, 2013 switch from the Versus brand name was a documentary on the Canada-USSR Super Series in 1972.
Today, HBO hired Starfish Media Group for documantary work and its founder, former CNN and Discovery Channel broadcaster Soledad O’Brien, to join the Real Sports team.
I find this interesting on many levels, especially given the depth and quality of ESPN’s documentary filmmaking in recent years. And, frankly, the lack of female subjects in the “30 for 30″ series that shamed the network into a series called “IX for IX,” focusing on female athletes.
O’Brien (full disclosure: she was a classmate of mine in college) has become something of a spokesperson for multiculuturalism in America. She also is a good questioner and someone who, like Tim Russert, isn’t afraid to present contradictory evidence to her interviewer.
I’ll be interested to see what stories she does, beginning with a story in production of military veterans using martial arts to cope with post-traumatic stress.
In these hair-trigger days where a simple knock to the temple is assumed to be the trigger point to a lifetime of misery, brain-swelling, and death, I bring before you examples of people who actually turned out OK in their real lives after stepping off the athletic field for the last time.
These were two people who I had a chance to talk with last weekend. One is a male ice hockey player, one is a female lacrosse player. Both had wonderfully successful careers in their respective athletic lives, reaching the Division I national semifinals more than once.
Both have successful life paths, raising wonderful families and have accomplished many of their lifegoals.
And both have suffered concussions during their athletic careers.
I submit that these two people, represent the majority of people who have ever played sports on a recreational or an organized basis who may have gotten a bump to the head. The so-called “epidemic of concussions,” I believe, has not lead to a phalanx of adults who are light-sensitive or whose thinking is altered through multiple hits to the head.
Certainly, there are examples in many athletic endeavors such NFL football that are much more likely to lead to players having post-concussion syndrome in their everyday lives. But so much of that is because of poor instruction and poor care of the players, making participants play hurt.
Very soon, the powers-that-be in the game of women’s lacrosse may ruin the sport forever by mandating the use of soft headgear. What the voters should be looking at is this: film of a 1975 international match between the United States and England.
Note here that there are no goggles, the goalies are not wearing helmets, and the sticks are made of wood.
Of course, when it comes to certain aspects of the lacrosse kit, the Rubicon has already been crossed; today’s sticks are lighter and more accurate than their cranberry-wood sisters.
But the way I see it, especially in the girls’/women’s game nationwide, the doubling of the national footprint of the sport has led to poor youth instruction, poor coaching, and some poor application of the rules by interpreters and umpires.
That needs to be righted before a horrendous mistake is made.
Today’s Game of the Day
Ellicott City Mariotts Ridge (Md.) at Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.)
Mariotts Ridge is a school carved out of the Mount Hebron school district, so when McDonogh meets up with them, head coach Chris Robinson is seeing part of what he helped create in the late 1990s. Both teams are undefeated, but the pressure is on McDonogh. The Eagles, in extending their winning streak to 87 games, had to mount a second-half comeback against Sykesville Century (Md.).
The last couple of weekends, I’ve gone to see some matches in the National Women’s Soccer League, the fourth (and perhaps final) attempt at launching a recognized USSF Division I professional women’s league in the United States.
What has struck me thus far are a few things. One is the physical plant. While the Portland Thorns are playing in a major soccer stadium (Jeld-Wen Field, where the Timbers play in MLS), others teams are playing in high-school stadiums or municipal grounds. Much has been made, for example, of the poor conditions at Dilboy Stadium in Somerville, Mass., where the Boston Breakers play.
Too, there is a paucity thus far of national partners for the league. Aside from Nike, who is making the uniforms, and Fox Sports, who will be putting the games somewhere on one of two repurposed all-sports channels (Speed and Fuel TV), there do not appear to be a lot of advertising partners willing to step up to sponsor the league or its teams. You don’t have the full advertising signage like you had in WUSA and WPS. The kit sponsors run the gamut: a major beverage supplier, a suicide hotline for teens, a hot-dog manufacturer, and even a boxing club.
Another feature of the league thus far: the number of absent World Cup stars due to injuries. As Sarah Hallett has pointed out in Women Talk Sports, six out of the 18 members of the gold-medal U.S. women’s national team from last summer have lost time due to physical ailments this spring. While some have required surgery, the one that should worry women’s soccer rooters the most involves something much different: Abby Wambach’s head injury a couple of weekends ago against the Washington Spirit.
Close to the end of regulation, she was drilled in the temple by an outlet pass and was prostrate on the turf for a few seconds, and was reported to be visibly shaken up after the game.
Given Wambach’s physicality and toughness over the course of her football careers for both club and country, it would not be surprising if her 11 seasons have given her more than her share of undiagnosed concussions.
And a league without the current FIFA World Player of the Year would certainly be starved of star players, which would further starve potential revenue.
I’m really hoping this isn’t the case; the players on the teams are working hard, making names for themselves, and showing that perhaps they can step into a role as a member of a future U.S. side.
Today’s Game of the Day
Harriton (Pa.) at Tredyffrin Conestoga (Pa.)
Conestoga and Harriton both have something in common: they have a win over a Florida team thus far this season, and they have each faced Springfield (Pa.). But while Conestoga came away with a 13-8 win a couple of days ago, Harriton lost to their Delaware County rivals. This should be a fascinating match which could serve as a preview of the District 1 semifinals or even the championship game.
The U.S. women’s ice hockey program has always been seen as the once and future rival to Canada, which has been the dominant force in the sport since the first IIHF world-level competition in 1990.
While the Americans had the honor of winning the first women’s ice hockey gold medal at Nagano 1998, Canada has swept the top step at every Olympics since.
The last two years, Canada and the United States have taken turns winning IIHF World Championships on each other’s soil. Last year, Canada defeated the United States 5-4 in Burlington, Vt., while earlier this week, the U.S. got by Canada 3-2 in Ottawa, Ont.
Of course, there has been a rivalry for the last quarter century along the 49th Parallel. The U.S. collegiate scene has more than doubled in the number of NCAA Division I women’s ice hockey teams over the last few years, and the number of contenders has expanded far, far beyond the 1980s’ holy triumvirate of Providence, New Hampshire, and Northeastern.
Meanwhile, Canada is the go-to place for the post-collegiate player, with an alphabet soup of leagues (NWHL, WWHL, CWHL) having cropped up since Nagano.
Now, while the two main rivals are eyeing each other before a showdown in Sochi next winter, there is a brewing controversy about what to do with everyone else. Jacques Rogge, the head of the International Olympic Committee, intimated that women’s hockey could be eliminated from the Olympic program if the level of competition across the board was not enhanced.
In this most recent world championship, it was done in a very strange and almost corrupt fashion. In pool play, the bottom two countries in the preliminary round never meet the top country in its pool (i.e., the United States or Canada).
This penalized Sweden, which was the surprise Olympic silver medalist at Torino 2006. The beneficiary? Russia, which finished third.
Look for all sorts of complaints if an unbalanced schedule at the next Olympics helps Russia win another medal.
Today’s Game of the Day
Kansas City Notre Dame de Sion (Mo.) at Lee’s Summit (Kansas) West
Notre Dame de Sion defeated Lee’s Summit West in a 13-11 thriller to open the season. The reverse match is at West.
Last night, the Connecticut women’s basketball team won an NCAA Division I women’s basketball championship.
That, in and of itself, isn’t news. Connecticut has won the championship seven times previously, and head coach Geno Auriemma had never lost an NCAA final, so an eighth win wouldn’t have been an issue.
As good as Auriemma has been in the unique brand of basketball called “survive and advance,” where you make adjustments in increments of four minutes between TV timeouts, there’s one thing he’s found out over the last few years: it’s sometimes harder to win your own conference tournament than a national championship.
Think of it: the Final Four had three members of the Big East Conference in it: UConn, Louisville, and Notre Dame.
But Auriemma and the Huskies got through both on the way to an eighth national title, beating Notre Dame in the semifinals for the first time this season in four tries.
That result alone had to have Louisville shaking, even before Connecticut pulled of 19 straight points at one juncture of the first half on the way to the biggest blowout win in women’s championship game history.
What is infinitely unique and fascinating about the 2013 champions is that this team may have been the one team that won without superstars carrying the load.
Yes, a number of Connecticut players were high-school All-Americans, but surely there wasn’t a player the likes of Sue Bird or Diana Taurasi or Maya Moore or Rebecca Lobo or Tina Charles or Shea Ralph to bail them out of key situations.
Or was there?
Last night, freshman Breanna Stewart scored 23 points and sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 18. They’re going to be around as a pair for another couple of years.
And although there are three graduating seniors on this team, a lot of people wondering how good this team would have been with Elena Delle Donne on it rather than having her transfer to Delaware.
What I think has happened to women’s college basketball is a similar situation to what is happening in the men’s game. A coach with a track record of success on the court attracts a certain kind of successful and committed player, helping to create a long-term culture of winning.
But if there’s anything that could throw the UConn program next year, it could be the preparation through league play. For the 2013-14 season, UConn will be moving to an entity called the American Athletic Conference and won’t be playing the likes of Louisville and Notre Dame three times a year.
This could be the greatest obstacle facing the program in coming years: how good are the new teams going to prepare UConn for the big dance?
Today’s Game of the Day
Cleveland Heights (Ohio) at Concord Carondelet (Calif.)
Last year, Cleveland Heights’ season was ended by a good Upper Arlington (Ohio) squad in the state tournament. They travel to Carondelet to match wits with the Condors.
Today, it was announced that Rutgers University was firing its head basketball coach, Mike Rice, for physical and verbal abuse of his players during practice sessions.
The firing came a few months after the university decided on a three-game suspension, a reported $75,000, and anger-management classes.
But once video of the abuse surfaced, political pressure was put on the school and its administration to force Rice’s resignation.
Not social pressure, but political pressure from the governor of the state of New Jersey, Chris Christie.
“Gov. Christie saw the video today for the first time, and he is obviously deeply disturbed by the conduct displayed and strongly condemns this behavior,” Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said in a statement yesterday. Less than a day later, Rice’s resignation was announced.
To understand this situation, here is some background: Chris Christie is the de facto commissioner of higher education in the state after pushing through a six-page fiat in 2011 abolishing the Commission of Higher Education.
One of the stated purposes of the abolishment was to “protect and promote public health, safety, and welfare, and shall be liberally construed to attain the objectives and effect the purposes thereof.”
That didn’t happen when the Rutgers athletic department came down with its punishment of Rice, apparently with the assent of university president Robert Barchi.
“It’s not the type of leadership we should be showing our young people,” Drewniak said yesterday, “and clearly there are questions about this behavior that need to be answered by the leaders at Rutgers University.”
People such as Christie.
Today’s Game of the Day
Wallingford Strath Haven (Pa.) at Glen Mills Garnet Valley (Pa.)
A rematch of last year’s PIAA championship game, Strath Haven is looking to avenge last year’s 10-9 overtime loss.
Tonight, the last two tickets for the national semifinals of the NCAA Division I women’s basketball championship will be punched. The four teams playing tonight — Duke, Notre Dame, Tennessee, and Louisville — are amongst the usual suspects, having either won titles over the last decade or sending their finest players to the WNBA.
And when you look at the other half of the bracket, you see Cal.
Yep, the University of California, representing an athletic department that was so cash-strapped it was considering dropping as many as three sports a few years ago, has become only the third West Coast team to make the Final Four in the last quarter-century.
It’s a team which may not have been on many peoples’ radar screens at the start of the year, but it is one that President Obama picked when he made his bracket predictions a couple of weeks ago.
Of course, he also had Baylor winning it all, but we all know that’s not going to happen.
Today’s Game of the Day
South Huntington St. Anthony’s (N.Y.) vs. Boca Raton Pope John Paul II (Fla.) at Vero Beach (Fla.)
One year ago, St. Anthony’s was one of the eight teams invited to the Maryland-New York Lacrosse Challenge, cementing the small school in the conversation about the best girls’ lacrosse programs in the country. But because of a cancellation of a game last week, this is the Friars’ season opener against a John Paul II team which is in midseason form.
After a worldwide outcry over its decision to cut several sports, the International Olympic Committee is looking to combine several sporting disciplines in order to get more sports in the Olympics.
Currently, the number of sports in the Olympics is 28. It is thought that combining several current Olympic events will allow more sports to participate..
Under the new formula, all combat sports — boxing, wrestling, taekwondo, and judo — will be combined under the “mixed martial arts” banner. All human-powered boating sports — rowing, canoeing, and kayaking — will be combined in a single formula where the boats will be adjusted in weight and construction to make them equal. Basketball, netball, and korfball will be combined into a single federation with a unified set of rules.
And in a move to get a new sport in the Olympics, TopOfTheCircle.com has learned that the International Lacrosse Federation wlll be combining its rapidly-expanding resources with the International Hockey Federation to create a new field-invasion game.
“It makes sense,” said one source within the IHF. “After all, the rugby that we’re seeing in the Olympics (7-on-7) is a bastardized version of the professional game you see in Australia and elsewhere.”
The look and feel of the new hybrid competition is yet to be determined, but the potential combination of the best of field hockey and the best of lacrosse is getting people talking all around the world.
“In a sense,” said one FIL source, “this solves one problem when it comes to the way that the game has developed between the sexes. We’re expecting the hybrid game to look more like women’s lacrosse.”
The FIL source also said that there were preliminary talks with the International Ice Hockey Federation and the International Bandy Federation to create a hybrid sport on a large natural rink about 120 yards long and 80 yards wide.
“Look,” the source said, “the IOC has it in for sports that won’t change with the times. We were on the short list for exclusion, and lacrosse is going to have a very successful World Cup this summer. Why not combine our efforts?”
Preliminary talks are already scheduled later this year with the Gaelic Athletic Association in Ireland to develop a hybrid brand of hurling that could be played by both field hockey and lacrosse players.
An official report is due on April 1, 2014.
Today’s Game of the Day
Radnor (Pa.) at Concord Carondelet (Calif.)
If you haven’t heard of Carondelet before, you should. They might be the best team in the state of California right now. The Cougars are 8-0 this season and take a 19-game winning streak into a game with Radnor, who made the PIAA semifinals a year ago.
If you turned on ESPN over the last few days, there is one very wide-ranging sports event that you might not know is going on, despite the fact that there are five over-the-air channels which could handle it.
Indeed, while it was going on, the network chose to show the Winter X Games, NASCAR, the National Invitational Tournament, a year-old college hockey game, and an NBA game.
The event is the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
While the men’s tournament is covered live by four networks — TNT, CBS, TBS, and Tru TV (formerly Court TV), the women’s tournament does not have the same level of coverage on the ESPN networks at all. Indeed, the games have been hard to find anywhere but on the network’s broadband services, ESPN3.com and Watch ESPN.
What this has done is set up a situation this evening where Louisville, one of the better teams in the land, will not have its second-round game against Purdue shown in the state of Kentucky.
That’s right — Louisville’s basketball team is being blacked out in its home state.
Instead, Kentuckians are going to be shown the game between Dayton and Kentucky. Meanwhile, Louisville-Purdue will be shown in Chicago and Indiana. All of this coverage will be split between ESPN2, ESPNews, and ESPNU.
ESPN, for its part, will be showing an NIT game followed by a World Cup qualifier from Mexico, including an hour-long pregame show.
It’s hard to get a straight dollar figure for the outlay for the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, since it is one of 20 championships (including hockey, lacrosse, and women’s hoops) for which the network paid some $55 million. But I do wonder if ESPN is going to make these same kinds of coverage cutbacks in other sports.