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Archive for July, 2017

July 31, 2017 — Falling sky

A couple of years ago, The Washington Post printed a story about a former University of Virginia basketball star named Schuye LaRue, who dropped out of college to play professionally in Italy, only to have her career and her life waylaid because of mental illness.

This story, as retold by ESPN’s Shelley Smith, will break your heart.

July 30, 2017 — USA 11, Canada 8

The gold-medal match of the World Games women’s lacrosse event, as well as the rest of the competition, was about a number of players who did not play for their national teams at the FIL World Cup earlier in the month.

In the final, for example, Canada was without World Team goalie Katie Donohoe, as well a star forwards Alli Jimerson and Danita Stroup. The opposing American side went with USC’s Gussie Johns in the goal cage and brought in Alyssa Murray off the reserve bench for the World Games.

The Murray move came up trumps for the States, as the Syracuse product had four goals in the USA’s 11-8 win over Canada in the World Games final. Murray had 12 goals and seven assists for the Stars and Stripes during the tournament.

Despite Murray’s excellence, Canada learned its lessons from the FIL World Cup and did everything it could to thwart the Americans. The Leafs got off to a good start, slowed the game smartly, and got good goaltending from Allison Daley (12 saves).

Canada, however, gifted the United States 23 turnovers, including a pair leading directly to goals. The States turned Canada’s beneficense into a five-goal run shortly after Canada had tied the game 6-6 with a half-hour to go. Brooke Griffin had a pair of goals in the run, as well as Marie McCool and Murray. But the touchstone goal of the run was Katie Schwartzmann’s goal in the 48th minute off a Canadian turnover.

Canada got a pair of goals late, but it was not enough.

July 29, 2017 — The next outlet, with a twist

Over the last 20 years or so, major media outlets like Fox Sports World, College Sports Television, and One World Sports have tried to make rugby a major sport by featuring it with American-style commentary, punditry, and even building a full-sized pub inside of the studio. These efforts at publicizing the sport failed so badly that none of these three networks exist anymore under their current names.

The Olympics provided a lifeline of sorts for the sport by including it for Rio 2016. But the version which is in the Games is not the traditional Union game, or the professional League game. Instead, the version in the Olympics is the Sevens version, which is played 7-on-7 in short games on a regulation-sized pitch.

Both men and women were invited to the Olympics, which apparently gave promoters in the United States an idea. The concept is an extended Sevens format which, instead of featuring multiple teams playing short games in a pool/bracket format, features two clubs of 16 to 21 players playing a 48-minute game. This “Super Sevens” format would come to the U.S. next year through an exhibition tour, with six franchises across the U.S. in 2019.

The twist is that each franchise would have to field both a men’s and a women’s team. We don’t know whether this would mean that both games would be played on the same night as a doubleheader or whether the six women’s teams would have a certain autonomy similar to women’s soccer to schedule as they see fit.

The American Super Sevens effort comes at a propitous time for the game; the States will be hosting a English Premiership regular-season game in September, and will be hosting the Rugby Sevens World Cup next year in San Francisco.

It’s also rumored that Houston is going to be the new home of a Pro12 Rugby franchise. The Pro12 league is a professional multinational competition featuring teams from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Italy.

But somehow, that rings as oddly as having an NFL franchise stationed permanently in London. The expenses could bankrupt a backer, a sponsor, a TV partner, or even an entire league if care isn’t exercised.

BULLETIN: July 28, 2017 — Another American women’s team on top of the world

Today, an American women’s national team, playing a regional sport without a domestic professional league, relying in part on talent identified in high school, won a recognized world championship.

The U.S. women’s water polo team today won its fifth FINA World Championship with a 13-6 win over Spain. The United States team, with the win, now holds a unique quintet of trophies: Pan American Games, Olympic Games, World Cup, World League, and today’s World Championships.

A big call has to go to the U.S. water polo selectors and head coach Adam Krikorian. Instead of standing pat with his Olympic lineup, the current U.S. team was the youngest in the entire tournament.

A number of team members actually left their high schools in order to train full-time with the national team. This included Madeline Musselman, whose father Bill went to Harvard before a five-year career in Major League Baseball.

But this team was such a poised bunch under pressure. They used space and strength in equal measure, choosing smart shooting as well as some unconventional finishing in the 2-meter area. In the final, the States’ touchstone goal had to have been the alley-oop pass from Maggie Steffens to the opposite post where Kiley Neushul rose out of the water like a fresh salmon to dunk the ball into the cage.

What’s truly amazing about the States’ current run of form is that the sport’s development in the United States is based upon less than a thousand girls’ varsity programs at U.S. high schools, concentrated mostly in California.

Yet, through good coaching, the Americans are now a dynasty. And this young team can carry through the next Olympic cycle as it matures, something which should scare other water-polo nations to death.

July 28, 2017 — A superprep gets its foundation

With enormous facilities, plenty of backing from a major athletic wear company, and a stellar reputation for developing young athletes in endeavors from tennis to football, Bradenton IMG Academy (Fla.) could have hand-picked a U.S. national team member or a collegiate coach to start its first girls’ varsity program.

Instead, the management has settled on a proven builder. Over the last two decades, Kim Russell has launched high-school teams, club programs, and even the Division III program at Baldwin-Wallace.

“For the last two decades, I have been able to live my passion by helping student-athletes develop, and reach their full potential on and off the field,” Russell said in a news release. “It’s an incredibly rewarding challenge to launch a new program and with amazing resources, facilities and foundation for lacrosse at IMG, we will hit the ground running.”

The task for Russell, however, is not limited to the 20 to 25 players who will play varsity under the Florida High School Athletic Association umbrella. That’s because IMG is a “super prep,” one which receives visiting teams as well as students from all over the country.

The girls’ lacrosse program will be no different; the incoming players will go right into non-scholastic tournaments and college recruiting showcases before beginning varsity play in February.

It’s a daunting task, but Russell will have the responsibility for bringing this potential giant to life.

July 27, 2017 — … And the costs thereof

In 2001, a Minnesota Vikings running back named Robert Smith abruptly ended his career as an NFL running back to pursue a career in medicine. A trail of criticism followed. Why would someone so prominent in football, making hundreds of thousands of dollars a season, choose to ditch the sport?

The same could be said for Calvin Johnson, whose freaky body control in making catches earned him the nickname Megatron. But only a couple of years after breaking some long-held NFL records, he gave up on the rest of his $123 million contract and left pro football.

And this week, after just three seasons, Baltimore Ravens lineman John Urschel retired to turn his attention to getting his PhD in mathematics from MIT.

It didn’t necessarily take this week’s Boston University neurological study on brains to tell you that the three players mentioned above are not the only people in sports history to have made a calculated decision based upon a healthy future.

But the thing is, there are plenty of people, such as race driver Ricky Craven, hockey players Eric and Brett Lindros, soccer players Kim Pickup and Taylor Twellman, and lacrosse players Kevin Crowley and Trevor Tierney, who have also retired from professional sports after concussions.

Though this week’s publication of the concussion study could very well mean the marginalization of the sport of football within the foreseeable future, there are other games with their own hazards.

I’ll be interested to see what happens.

July 26, 2017 — An indictment

It’s said that any unfortunate event, if it happens once, is a tragedy. It it happens twice, it’s a coincidence, and if it happens three times, it’s a trend.

So, what it if happens 110 out of 111 times?

Those are the findings of a Boston University study of the brains of former NFL players whose bodies were made available for the study of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a condition linked to multiple concussions.

The results were published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and is believed to be the largest study of its kind, covering more than 200 separate subjects.

Mind you, the subjects are the variable group; all of them were selected into the group as having tackle football as the primary exposure to head trauma. Now, the 110 people in question are all NFL players, from journeymen to Hall-of-Famer Ken Stabler. The larger group of 200 features players from college and high school as well as their NFL bretheren. Of the larger group, 90 percent showed CTE in their brains.

This is a devastating finding, one which could affect a significant portion of the U.S. economy. Imagine, for example, an $11 billion professional league — one of the largest on the planet — having to close up shop. That would mean a loss of business for many industries including the poultry business, which benefits from high demand for chicken wings the weekend of the Super Bowl.

Imagine a national sanctioning body having one of its two golden geese flying away. This would mean the NCAA would have to perhaps turn its attention to other activities such as baseball, women’s basketball, and perhaps even lacrosse to stay in business.

Imagine the knock-on effect for equipment manufacturers of everything from helmets to jerseys to yard markers. There would also be a drop in demand for even small items such as mouth guards and water bottles.

And finally, imagine how much taxpayer money is tied up in football stadia nationwide, whether at U.S. college or for the benefit of exactly eight NFL games every fall. I think an NFL collapse will make municipalities take a pause before building another palatial building for a billionaire owner.

Of course, it has not escaped the notice of the people who run football that something needs to be done. The NFL has pushed flag football for kids rather than the Pop Warner variety. A number of 7-on-7 passing leagues have sprung up across the country, limiting padding and enforcing “wrap-up” tackling rules borrowed from rugby.

I do wonder, however, how much this news is going to further affact participation in the intercollegiate game.