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March 30, 2020 — The first of many?

The game of rugby has always struggled to gain a foothold in the crowded American sporting landscape.

It was at one time a semi-regular feature on the sports anthology series Wide World of Sports, and in the late 1990s, Fox Sports built a pub on the set of one of its studios to host rugby coverage on the Fox Sports World channel, mostly taped National Rugby League matches from Australia and not-very-well produced highlights of American club rugby matches.

In the last 20 years, there has been a grass-roots swell in the sport, with a number of states, including California, introducing it into their high schools.

There’s been a plethora of televised rugby in the last few years — rugby league, rugby union, rugby sevens, and even wheelchair rugby — a sport which has gotten pretty good ratings when the Paralympics were on.

There has also been a professional circuit in North America, called Major League Rugby. In addition, there has also been the rise of a North American team, the Toronto Wolfpack, in England’s top division.

But all of these advances in the sport are being threatened with today’s announcement that USA Rugby is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

“The current suspension of sanctioned rugby activities caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the existing financial challenges facing the union, and a reorganization process will now be progressed with input from World Rugby,” USA Rugby said in a statement after the decision, which was made Sunday.

According to wire service reports, USA Rugby is coming off a difficult 2018 year when the national governing body lost some $4 million from hosting a world-level rugby sevens tournament and hosting a lightly-attended game in the District of Columbia between Wales and South Africa.

This development should make every other national governing body with an Olympic imprimature shudder. If this can happen to the rapidly-growing sport of rugby, is any governing body immune?

March 29, 2020 — A piece of the Rock, departed

Julie Swiney arrived at Slippery Rock University’s field hockey program at a vulnerable time in the program’s history, which dates back to 1976.

By  the time of Swiney’s maiden season in 2010, Slippery Rock was just coming off a Title IX lawsuit. The original 2006 suit not only reversed the university’s decision to disband the team, but a follow-up three years later resulted in incremental program improvements for women’s sports at the school.

Swiney’s program had also managed a mere seven wins in the four years leading into her maiden season in 2010. But in the decade of the 2010s, the Rockets improved to the point when it made the postseason four times — more times than in the sum total of the previous 35 seasons of SRU field hockey.

This is what makes her resignation from the program notable. Though the program is a mid-level team in the nation’s strongest NCAA Division II conference, it was a well-coached team, and program you had to prepare to play the Rockets every time out.

She will be missed.

March 28, 2020 — Three extraordinary voices

We’ve heard volumes about sex discrimination in sports even though it’s been nearly 50 years since the passage of Title IX.

Rare is the time that we’ve heard from the students first-hand. But a softball player, a lacrosse player, and a power-lifter from Palo Alto (Calif.) have penned a pretty extraordinary triptych of stories about their high-school experiences, and it’s a good read.

March 27, 2019 — Even greater losses

If the entirety of the 2020 domestic girls’ and women’s lacrosse seasons are cancelled because of the Coronavirus contagion, this means that thousands of girls and young women are going to be sidelined, along with their coaches.

But let us not forget the umpires, who give up their spring afternoons officiating games and who have been spending unusual amounts of time the last several offseasons trying to re-learn large parts of the rulebook.

For a deeper perspective, read this story from Lacrosse Magazine.

 

March 26, 2020 — Lost in the midst of a pandemic

The world spread of COVID-19 is undeniable, given the fact that nearly a half-million people have tested positive for the virus, and some 22,000 have died worldwide.

But equally tragic, for the world of lacrosse, has been the aftermath of a car crash a couple of weekends ago in North Carolina.

The crash, involving a Jeep and a tractor-trailor, killed three members of the Mount Olive women’s lacrosse team — Madison Mergi, Ann Wray, and Chaney Partrich. The crash also killed baseball player Jett Swetland, and injured three more members of the women’s lacrosse team.

Mount Olive was on the cusp of possibly an historic season for its women’s lacrosse program. The team was 7-0 on the season until the team played its final game of the season March 9th, a 19-4 win over Edinboro. Three days after that game came the tragedy.

By the end of the season, the Trojans were ranked 19th in NCAA Division II. The ranking, in and of itself, would not have gotten the Mount into the NCAA Tournament, but it is a more-than-creditable showing for a program in only its eighth season of play.

But the team’s excellence of form does make you wonder what might have been if there wasn’t a cancellation of the entire season.

 

March 25, 2020 — The rest of the balloon

This morning, word came down from the government of Japan and the International Olympic Committee that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics would be postponed to the summer of 2021 because of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

Much as the IOC might have liked to have said that it was a joint decision between itself and the Japanese government (which serves as the de facto host of the Games), the fact is that the move was announced only after Canada and Australia pulled out of the competition, and a number of governing bodies of sport in the United States recommended the same.

In other words, as Eurocentric as world sport has become over the last 25 years, I find it interesting that North America and Oceania brought the pressure to bear on one of the most imperious and tone-deaf governing bodies of sport. Yep, more than FIFA, more than the NCAA.

But then again, I think the IOC had to have seen what has been going on in the geopolitical sense. Today, for example, India put its entire population of 1.3 billion on lockdown. Think about what kind of logistical and governmental nightmare that is in terms of being able to get your populace on the same page.

It’s a scenario that is likely happening in 200 world capitals all over the globe. And it could get very ugly.

 

March 24, 2020 — A closing domino

Yesterday afternoon, Virginia governor Ralph Northam ordered extended the closure of all of the state’s public schools from now until the end of the scheduled school year.

It’s a move which I believe spells the end of scholastic sports in the United States until at least late summer. The Virginia High School League is a very large and influential part of the U.S. scholastic landscape, and I think a number of other state governing bodies will follow suit, especially given the fact that the Commonewealth’s governor is a medical doctor.

This has to be a tough decision, especially given the fact that the nation’s winningest girls’ lacrosse coach is within your borders. But for Kathy Jenkins’ quarter-century in the sport, she’s never had to coach through a situation like this.