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BULLETIN: July 9, 2020 — The Big Ten makes a further set of cancellations, plus another conference opts out

Late today, the Big Ten added to its previously announced decision to cancel intercollegiate activities scheduled before Sept. 1.

The Big Ten is cancelling each and every non-conference game for fall sports, including football. This would rule out, for example, the entire Terrapin Invitational field hockey tournament, usually held in early September featuring teams of national and local interest.

“By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the Conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic,” says a Big Ten press release.

While all this has been going on, the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, a circuit of 12 historically-Black colleges, has decided to cancel the entire fall sports season in the sports in which it participates, including football, volleyball, and cross-country.

This cancellation is a reflection of concerns within the African-American community about the infection and death rates from COVID-19 amongst racial and ethnic minorities.

And with positive cases ranging at somewhere around 50,000 per day this week, this spike has gotten the attention of college administrators nationwide.

Sept. 9, 2020 — The first Power 5 to “Covid-cancel,” albeit in a limited sense

The Big Ten Conference, a grouping of colleges ranging from Omaha to north-central New Jersey, decided this morning to cancel all non-football intercollegiate athletics until Sept. 1.

For me, it’s a move which was inevitable, given the reports coming out of Ohio State that it would be shutting down voluntary preseason workouts because of a Coronavirus outbreak.

But what this does is draw an uncomfortable line in the sand. Sept. 1 had been the traditional start of the fall college athletic season until Aug. 29, 1983, when the inaugural College Fooball Kickoff Classic was played in Giants Stadium. It was the first time a regular-season college football game was played in August.

Since then, a number of other college sports backed out their start dates into August as well, with some important early-season games being played at neutral sites or with four-team weekend tournaments.

Given the spike in coronavirus nationwide (more than 110,000 cases in the last two days alone in the United States), it is going to be interesting to see whether these figures will force the hand of other Power Five conferences to protect not only student-athletes, but the rest of the students on campus.

BULLETIN: July 8, 2020 — As expected, the Ivy League pauses sports, but extends through January 1

This afternoon, the Ivy League voted to postpone intercollegiate sports until at least January 1, 2021.

The implications, as many news outlets are now reporting, are staggering for the industry of intercollegiate sports. The Ivy League was the first conference to stop playing when it cancelled its league basketball tournaments on March 10. Only two days later, the NCAA cancelled the Division I men’s basketball tournament as well as all activities for the spring semester.

“Conferences will now have to explain how they can do a better job of protecting their athletes than the Ivy League,” Davidson College professor Christopher Marsicano tells Bloomberg News. “This decision by the Ivy League gives cover to every institution that is wary of having football in the fall. Every single one.”

There is likely to be great resistance amongst the so-called Power Five conferences and those participating in the Football Bowl Subdivision to postponing intercollegiate sports.

However, the Coronavirus remains a clear and present danger. Preseason voluntary workouts have already been stopped at Ohio State, North Carolina, Houston, Kansas, and Kansas State because of positive tests amongst student-athletes.

And these are the ones that we know about.

It’s the pervasiveness of this pandemic, and the seeming unwillingness of certain people in charge, that have put athletics in this situation.

Think of it: it took just one night out by players and staff of the Orlando Pride of the National Women’s Soccer League to infect 10 people and to knock the team out of the NWSL Challenge Cup.

I can’t see the restart of intercollegiate athletics in these current circumstances, where 60,000 cases were added just yesterday, with more than 1,100 dead.

July 8, 2020 — Stanford’s field hockey is folding its tent

In an open letter from Stanford’s president, provost, and athletic director, the university announced the culling of 11 of its 36 varsity sports teams at the conclusion of the 2021 academic year. This includes fencing, rowing, sailing, wrestling, and field hockey.

Now, there have been a number of closings of NCAA field hockey programs over the last few years, some of which were appealed and went through court proceedings (such as Slippery Rock), but others who went more or less quietly into the good night, such as Rhode Island and Philadelphia University.

The field hockey program at Stanford University has been an underground cause celebre amongst the people who run field hockey in the United States for the better part of 30 years.

The presence of a field hockey program at Stanford was seen as being incredibly important for the future of the sport in the United States. This is because the economic uncertainty of the late 70s and early 80s resulted in many cuts of field hockey programs in the West, including Long Beach State, San Jose State, and a 1980 Cal State-Chico team that took third place in the 1980 AIAW tournament.

Administrators within Division I conferences went above and beyond the call to ensure that Stanford and other California schools had membership in a conference large enough to warrant an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, such as the time the NorPac conference melded into the America East.

Without Stanford, the America East field hockey conference — nay, collegiate field hockey in California — is in an existential crisis. And, I think, it doesn’t have to happen.

Here’s why. One, Stanford is the third richest university in the United States, with an annual endowment of more than $27 billion. That’s billion. Stanford cannot go around making cuts like these in its intercollegiate sports programs and cite a mere budget deficit of $25 million. That’s the kind of thing that can be made up with sponsorships as well as the Nike money pipeline.

Two, this puts the onus on the other two universities with Division I field hockey in California — UC Davis and UC Berkeley — into a difficult situation. Both are public universities, paid for with taxpayer funds. At times, sports at these two schools have been threatened, either through the direct removal of the sport or through passive-aggressive moves such as not offering the UC Berkeley field hockey team a proper home pitch for more than a year while turning the former space for the team into a practice football field.

But I think the greatest concern surrounds the perception this move gives to the world. The Olympics are coming to Los Angeles in eight years, and if California collegiate field hockey collapses, what kind of message does this send to the International Olympic Committee and Le Federation International de Hockee?

Somehow, I think this decision is going to be revisited. It’s the dumbest thing that Stanford can do.

BULLETIN: July 7, 2020 — The Centennial Conference has upset the apple cart

Five days ago, Swarthmore College made the announcement that it would not be participating in intercollegiate athletics this fall owing to the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic.

This afternoon, the rest of the Centennial Conference followed suit.

The Division III conference has 11 members, including a pair of schools which have a history in Division I athletics. Ursinus maintained a Division I presence in field hockey until the early 2000s, and Johns Hopkins has had Division I women’s lacrosse since the turn of the millenium.

There are other ramifications of the postponement of intercollegiate athletics amongst the schools in the conference. Hopkins, Franklin & Marshall, and Gettysburg are contenders next spring in women’s lacrosse, and it would appear that none of the teams will be able to develop through fall ball.

In addition, there’s a rumored clause in the founding documents of Haverford College that the school has to maintain a cricket team in order to retain the land on which the institution is built, a proviso put in by the landscape architect who built the campus, William Carvill. Carvill introduced the game to the Haverford student body in 1834.

I don’t expect the lack of a fall season to affect Haverford’s status as a college, given the fact that the lack of a cricket club could be covered by the ancient legal principles that define an Act of God. But stranger things have happened in the world of college athletics over the last century.

July 7, 2020 — Will the Ivy League upset the NCAA apple cart?

Various governing bodies of sport have been floating ideas about how and when sports are to start within their member institutions. A number of governing bodies of scholastic sport, including those of Ohio, Michigan, and New York, have been floating the idea of moving the upcoming fall sports out of their traditional time periods and either exchanging them with spring sports or playing an overloaded schedule in the spring of 2021.

Well, according to multiple reports received by The Athletic, a prominent body in the collegiate ranks is looking to move all of its fall sports to the spring. That body is the Ivy League.

Yes, it’s only eight schools, their football teams do not play in the postseason, and it’s rare when an Ivy school wins an NCAA Division I title. However, what the Ivy League may lack in competitiveness is more than made up for in leadership and in rational decisionmaking, as well as the number of presidents, judges, lawmakers, and public health officials who are alumni/ae.

Mind you, I’m not sure that tomorrow’s anticipated move by the Ivy League will prompt every one of the 1250 or so NCAA member institutions to do the same? However, if you’re a university of any size, you’ve been watching what has been going on elsewhere.

Of course, a number of individual universities (such as Bowdoin, Williams, Mount Holyoke, Rensselaer, and Swarthmore) have already cancelled intercollegiate sports. I have a feeling that a number of other league members — or even their conferences — will be closing up shop this fall.

I also think schools and governing bodies have been looking at what has been going on in Canada, which cancelled fall sports altogether. This was a decision that was made weeks ago, even though Canada has a much lower infection rate than the United States.

Ultimately, I hope that American colleges and universities take a rational look at the impact that a fall season will have on the health of their student-athletes rather than genuflect to the multibillion-dollar industry of collegiate sports.

BULLETIN: July 6, 2020 — A raft of positive COVID-19 tests, and a second soccer team goes by the wayside

This afternoon, it was announced that FC Dallas of Major League Soccer would not be participating in its mini-tournament in Florida which was supposed to start this Wednesday. That’s because 10 players and one coach came down with the novel Coronavirus.

This comes on the heels of numerous reports of NHL, NBA, WNBA, and MLB players testing positive for the deadly virus and more reports of prominent athletes opting not to play when their leagues reboot in the coming weeks. People opting out include MLS MVP Carlos Vela, prominent pitcher David Price, and WNBA All-Star Chiney Ogwumike.

This can’t be a good sign, even as the NWSL, NASCAR, and the PGA Tour have started back up. And even then, seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson had to miss out on last weekend’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he tested positive for the virus.

Now, I can understand the urge to want to play your professional sport of choice. But in the absence of an effective vaccine? I can’t see this ending well.

July 6, 2020 — More than one scholastic field hockey program may be getting a rebrand

In May of last year, the Skowhegan (Maine) Area school district decided to retire its sports nickname, the Indians. Later this month, a pool of replacement candidates numbering more than 300 are scheduled to be cut down to a short list to be put to a vote by the student body.

This would mean changing the identity of a field hockey team which has had dominant form the last 19 years, making the Maine Principals’ Association Class “A” championship game every year, winning 16 times.

But in the last month or so, as part of tremendous social changes across the country, there are other schools whose identities may undergo rapid change.

The best team on the West Coast the last few years, San Diego Serra (Calif.), is almost set to become named for Tierrasanta, the area of San Diego County in which the school is located. In addition, the nickname “Conquistadores” is apparently in play.

This is because Junipero Serra, the figure for whom the school is named, is alleged to been the tip of the spear when it came to Spanish colonialization and subjugation of native Americans within the territory which would eventually become the state of California. The clergyman founded Mission San Diego de Alcala in 1769, and 20 other missions up and down the coast, from the Bay Area to Baja California.

Now, there’s a third major field hockey program, Walpole (Mass.), which is not likely to receive a name change even as its school board voted unanimously two weeks ago to remove the name “Rebels” as well as any Confederate imagery.

That’s because the Walpole field hockey team has chosen its own direction since the school changed its nickname from Hilltoppers in the 1960s. For it was about that time when the field hockey program was started at the school, and a nickname bestowed by British army officers teaching the game stuck.

That name, and the identity, were the Porkers. Walpole’s field hockey team has been incredibly successful with the identity, winning 12 state titles. The identity is so strong, the team has kept a separate color scheme to go along with the name: navy and light blue instead of navy and orange.

Now, there are other teams across the country that still have retained questionable imagery — including the small town in Mississippi in which I was raised.

I’ve always thought that schools with sports teams with hurtful imagery should consider change, but I’ve always thought that the decision should be left to local control, and not to have it be dictated by someone else. The great thing is that Walpole, Serra, and Skowhegan have made their changes internally.

Let’s hope others do the same.

BULLETIN: July 4, 2020 — Field hockey independence

Yesterday, it was announced by the National Federation of State High School Association that the mandatory wearing of eyewear in scholastic field hockey is being done away with beginning this fall. There may be times when you’re going to see eyewear in scholastic field hockey, since the goggles aren’t actually banned. The new language instead says that eyewear “may be worn” rather than “shall.”

The exceptions they are likely to be few and far between, depending on a particular state governing body, as well as whether a particular player may be using eyewear to protect against a previous injury.

So, why the about-face on the rule, which had been announced on April 15, 2011?

Let’s go through some history as well as some conjecture

The rule had originally been instituted as a player safety issue, but a number of other measures instituted in field hockey contributed to a reduction in head and eye injuries.

The biggest, I think, was the self-start. This was a rule by which a restart after a foul was not necessarily a drive or flick. Instead, a team could simply run with the ball from the spot of the foul, greatly reducing the instance of a raised ball.

Another rule from the last decade that led to a reduction in injury was the restart rule for the area inside the 23-meter line. In this scenario, any driven ball could not be sent inside the striking circle, and any self-start has to go five yards in any direction before the ball could be dealt into the circle.

I also believe that the exclusion rule for free hits, extended from five yards to seven yards, led to major changes. No longer do you hear coaches yell “ring it!” when a free hit is awarded; instead, players look for channels and/or their marks in the midfield.

Let’s dig into this rule a bit more. I think a reason why the defensive responsibilities changed so much is the fact that the area around the ball for a free hit doubled, from 78 1/2 square yards to 154 square yards.

I think that changes in the infrastructure for field hockey over the last 10 years has made for a safer game. Many of the finest field hockey programs in the country have an artificial grass surface available to them, which increased their speed and skill advantage.

Too, there are a small handful of schools (four, that we know of) with on-campus water-based short-grain AstroTurf pitches.

But I think there were some changes in terms of NFHS leadership that led to the change. First of all, the current president of the Federation is a former field hockey player who played for Pam Hixon at the University of Massachusetts.

I also think that the recent partnership between USA Field Hockey and the National Federation has resulted in this rules change as well as a number of others such as this year’s rule on timing, which will see timing go to four quarters and to remove team timeouts.

These help the rules for the NFHS, NCAA, and FIH to converge to a closer degree than I have ever seen. But I also wonder if this means that someone in the NFHS-USA Field Hockey partnership has realized that the scholastic experience has evolved into a less-than-optimal development experience for young players, even though you have seen the likes of Katie O’Donnell, Mackenzie Allessie, and Katelyn Falgowski make the national team pool in the last 20 years.

I also think a major reason for the rules change is the tilting of the balance of power in field hockey from defense to offense. Just look at the number of goals scored by teams as well as by individuals. Before 2010, the NFHS record for goals scored in a field hockey career was 174. By the end of the 2019 season, nine players had exceeded that mark. The team record had been 188 goals in 2002. However, that mark has been exceeded 19 times.

Why? I think there was an increase in speed of the game thanks to turf, and I think there was an exacerbation of the gulf between the haves and the have-nots of the sport. But I also think that forwards were more fearless about going into double-teams in crowded areas of the striking circle because a tipped ball wouldn’t hurt you if it struck you in the upper half of the face.

As a TV personality once opined, “Without risk, the (participants) are just ordinary.” In other words, I think the eyewear gave field hockey bplayers an outsized sense of confidence that some have called “The Superman Effect.”

But I think the most interesting (and damning) reason for the rescinding of the 2011 goggles mandate is a sentence found right in the midst of the press release. It should make you smack your forehead with an open hand.

… [I]n addition to lack of available product to meet the rule, no significant research data has indicated that goggles have reduced the number of eye injuries, particularly those of a catastrophic nature.

Frankly, this space has been trying to say this for years. As we said many years ago, a goggle mandate is a solution looking for a problem. The science has never proven that eyewear is right for the sport.

As friends of this site has pointed out, the wearing of goggles has precluded scholastic players from donning the plastic and foam face masks that are used by the four penalty corner defenders, then discarded when the corner criteria is concluded. These masks are now in play, and I think they’ll prevent more injuries than the wire eyewear may have ever prevented.

I’m hoping that, in a time where the people who run lacrosse are now considering mandatory helmets, the sane people will realize that the game is better without them if the conditions are right and that the game is taught, played, and umpired correctly.

July 4, 2020 — An annual recital

Yesterday, National Public Radio aired its nine-minute spoken word classic, reading the Declaration of Independence.

It’s a particularly poignant reading for me, because it’s the first that doesn’t include the voice of the late Cokie Roberts. Her sister was a friend of our family’s, and I knew her nephew from our time at the newspaper.