Feb. 13, 2016 — The last thing the Olympics needed

Last month, the U.S. Olympic Committee made a pronouncement that is going to make corporations, governing bodies of sport, television networks, and numerous other people extremely nervous.

In a conference call to governing bodies of the Olympic sports scheduled to compete in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this summer, Alan Ashley, the USOC’s chief of performance and other officials spread the message that athletes who are uncomfortable with going to the Olympics because of the sudden threat of the Zika mosquito-borne virus shouldn’t go at all.

“One of the things that they immediately said was, especially for women that may be pregnant or even thinking of getting pregnant, that whether you are scheduled to go to Rio or no, that you shouldn’t go,” said Donald Anthony of USA Fencing. “And no one should go if they feel at all as though that that threat could impact them.”

Zika is a virus that is relatively benign to adult humans, causing fever, rash, joint pain and pink-eye in only about 20 percent of people infected. Hospitalization is rare.

However, the virus is associated with a sizable spike in a birth defect called microcephaly, which is marked by an abnormally small head.

The response by some government agencies has been a bit over-the-top in some places, with leaders comparing the aggregation of resources to the preparation for a Category V hurricane.

I think the USOC conference call was also a bit unnecessary because you’re dealing with an Olympic team which is about 50 percent male, and of the women on the team, it’s unlikely any of them will compete while pregnant.

But for the government of Brazil and the organizers, the Zika virus might very well be the tipping point in terms of the Olympics coming off as anything less than a major disaster. Much of the infrastructure has yet to be built, there have been massive cost overruns, and the open sewers that have flowed into the lakes and lagoons designated for the ocean swimming and boating events is dirtier than the Flint River.

And that’s saying something.

Feb. 12, 2016 — Driving the top line

I read an interview that was conducted yesterday with newly appointed WNBA president Lisa Borders.

As is usual when it comes to a league controlling the message, there was not a lot Borders shared with readers about expansion, collective bargaining, or making the WNBA more of a priority than the high-dollar leagues in Europe, Asia, and Oceania that have made the league little more than a summer hobby.

But what I heard in this one paragraph is a more aggressive marketing stance on the part of the former Coca-Cola Foundation executive:

…[I]f you step back and look at the business strategically, we have opportunities to grow the business, the top-line revenue, which comes from television ratings, attendance, sponsorships, merchandise sales. We need to drive the top line.

In other words, I hear a little bit of David Stern. Though there have been numerous monetization efforts in both the NBA and WNBA in the last few years (ads on the jerseys, corporate logos on the floor and on the basket stanchions, and sponsors for leaguewide awards), I think there could be an acceleration in the near future, especially if the United States wins Olympic gold in women’s basketball.

You see, the 2016 senior national team could wind up to be the best team ever assembled. The 25 players in the current pool include veterans like Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, veteran pros like Candace Parker, and exciting young players like Elena Delle Donne and Brittney Griner. Oh, and there’s every possibility that Breanna Stewart — currently posting once-in-a-generation stats at UConn — could make the final roster.

With a golden boost, the WNBA has a chance to once again find its footing as a prime summer marketing vehicle, especially given the crowded U.S. summer sports schedule. And I like what Borders said.

Feb. 11, 2016 — A matter of equal time … again

Earlier this week, Lax Sports Network, a digital lacrosse stream that promises mini-documentaries, tips, drills, and live lacrosse matches, sent out its schedule of high-school coverage for 2016.

Not a single girls’ lacrosse game was on the 10-game docket.

They’ve since amended the schedule to say that they will be broadcasting the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship doubleheader on May 9.

But the thing is, it’s not that hard to locate or even travel to some of the best girls’ lacrosse games, featuring great coaches, rivals, and players who can rise to the occasion of a televised match.

Here are 10 that I’d have no hesitation putting on a TOTC Network:

3-10: Milton (Ga.) at Walton (Ga.)
3-14: Houston St. John’s (Tex.) at Novato (Calif.)
3-17: Hill Academy (Canada) at Alexandria Bishop Ireton (Va.)
3-31: Northborough Algonquin (Mass.) at Harvard Bromfield (Mass.)
4-7: West Islip (N.Y.) at Mount Sinai (N.Y.)
4-16: Great Valley (Pa.) at Rosemont Agnes Irwin (Pa.)
4-20: Baltimore Bryn Mawr (Md.) at Baltimore Roland Park (Md.)
4-30: Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.) at Summit (N.J.)
5-11: Medford Lakes Shawnee (N.J.) at Moorestown (N.J.)
5-17: Darien (Conn.) at Wilton (Conn.)

So, how about it?

Feb. 10. 2016 — When the past meets the present

This week in Chula Vista, Calif., the U.S. women’s national field hockey team is playing a four-Test series against Canada in preparation for a busy summer. The Applebees will set sail for London for the 2016 Champions Trophy in the early summer, then make the turn south for the Rio Olympics in August.

Thus far, the U.S. team has swept its first two Tests by scores of 8-1 and 5-0. The tourists have not offered the stiffest of challenges to the two-time defending Pan American Games gold-medalists, but the Americans have simply been a better outfit — or simply more hungry from having undergone grueling full-time training for several months.

The U.S. side has gotten goals from 11 different players during this series; two each from Lauren Crandall and Katie (O’Donnell) Bam lead the way. One could say it’s an encouraging sign because opponents can’t try to shut off a single dangerous player.

Bam and Crandall are two London veterans who are going to be asked to do a lot for the side in the next few months. They are two of five U.S. players (Rachel Dawson, Katelyn Falgowski, and Michelle Kasold are the others) to have more than 200 caps. There is experience up and down the field, including the goal cage. But I find it interesting that the current roster has not changed very much even after an invitational camp held last month in Lancaster, Pa. to find players who could join up with the senior pool.

As it turns out, the six players cited on a USA Field Hockey press release last month were slated to join the squad after the Olympics. This includes current roster player Casey Di Nardo out of UNC, as well as James Madison’s Taylor West, Maryland seniors Anna Dessoye and Alyssa Parker, Penn State’s Amanda Dinunzio, and Syracuse goalkeeper Jess Jecko, who has had some tremendous games the last several years in the NCAA Tournament, including a win in last fall’s national championship match.

Parnham, as is his wont, is standing pat with the group of his group of 23 players, although there will likely be an opportunity for attacker Paige Selenski (recovering from a lower-body injury) to get back in the side.

Which will make the pre-Olympic push to get down to a roster of 16 even more pressure-packed than usual, given the Americans’ depth — a word that wouldn’t have been said a decade and a half ago.

Feb. 9, 2016 — The crucible

Indoor field hockey is a game like a hot fire, which burns off flux and chaff to reveal pure metal in the well of a crucible.

In the Junior Premier Indoor League finals last weekend, the classification rounds certainly brought out the best in the clubs that accepted their invitations.

In an absolute firecracker of a U-19 championship, Hudson Valley — a team with players from several schools stretching from the Tappan Zee Bridge to the foothills of the Adirondacks — beat the No. 1-seeded Xcalibur side 2-1 in a shootout after a 7-7 regulation draw.

There were many heroines for the gold-medalists, including Briana Muniz, who had both shootout goals for Hudson Valley, including the one in the fourth round (the first sudden-victory round) to provide the margin of victory. Muniz also had a pair of first-half goals.

But truth be told, Hudson Valley wouldn’t have gotten to the shootout without Dana Bozek, who scored the second of her two goals at the death to level the score at 7-7. Bozek had started a furious comeback on the part of Hudson Valley, scoring with five minutes to go to bring the score to within 7-5. Three minutes later, Elizabeth Ryan found the back of the goal to bring her side to within one.

XCalibur’s U-19 side was paced by Lexi Davidson’s hat trick.

But the club didn’t leave without other hardware, sweeping the U-14 and U-16 divisions. In the U-16s, it was eighth-grade phenom Sophia Gladieux having a hat trick for XCalibur’s 6-1 final win over Freedom, a team founded by former U.S. international Sarah Dawson.

And in the U-14s, XCalibur’s Jenna Kirby had four goals and Morgan Kaufmann had two in a 6-2 win over Jersey Intensity.

Feb. 8, 2015 — And so, it begins

This afternoon, with 11 games in Florida, the American scholastic girls’ lacrosse season begins.

Though Vero Beach (Fla.) has ruled the roost the last several years in the Sunshine State, there are more contenders than ever before for the state public-school championship.

A good chunk of the country begins play in the next four weeks, including Georgia, Alabama, and California, but — as in field hockey — the better teams don’t begin for a month or so in Maryland and New York.

And the narrative will continue tomorrow in Florida, as 42 games get played including Vero Beach against top rival Altamonte Springs Lake Brantley (Fla.).

Strap in, folks. This should be a good ride.

Feb. 7, 2016 — The perils and pitfalls of an early start

This morning, at Koskinen Stadium on the campus of Duke University, a women’s lacrosse game with Final Four implications will take place.

Only thing is, very few people will get to witness it.

Northwestern, the No. 5 team in preseason polling, will take on the host Blue Devils, who have been rated No. 4. It’s the kind of game which could shape the season for one team or the other. But unless you have subscribed to the electronic network Blue Devil Plus, or if you venture into Durham’s 38-degree morning, you’re out of luck.

This is the first weekend of NCAA women’s lacrosse games that count in the standings. But today’s game is the only one that is available with so much as a live-stream broadcast.

Why? The media that covers big-time college sports are all focused on that large orange ball that goes through a hoop. For two months, lacrosse — both genders — has to compete for attention with college basketball. It’s gotten to the point where not even the promise of livestreaming and a new lacrosse digital presence has allowed many games to be available nationwide.

It’s not much better in over-the-air coverage. The first nationwide broadcast on a cable network is Feb. 24th on ESPNU at the very inconvenient hour of 5 o’clock.

One thing to note: it’s early yet, but the American Sports Network — a digital and syndicated entity out of the Baltimore suburbs — has, as of this morning, scheduled more women’s lacrosse games than men’s.

I know, right?

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