TopOfTheCircle.com

Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

Archive for January, 2018

Jan. 31, 2018 — In a tough spot

As we prepare to transition from field hockey to lacrosse tomorrow, we need to say a word or two about the U.S. women’s national field hockey team. They just finished a winless run in a four-game series at Chula Vista, Calif. with a 2-1 loss to Holland.

Now, losing to the Netherlands is no shame; the Dutch have a much better field hockey infrastructure, a well-supported national league, and the know-how to come through in competitive situations.

It’s just that, four years after a Final Four finish at the World Cup, the States are sputtering a bit heading into the spring.

Then again, that’s what most of us were thinking when the U.S. women lost to Scotland 1-0 in the opening round of the 2012 Champions Challenge.

It’s going to take that same kind of effort in order to get back to that level of play. It’s possible.

Advertisements

Jan. 30, 2018 — Bye-bye, Boston

The announcement over the weekend that the Boston Breakers of the NWSL have ceased operations is something that was, frankly, completely preventable.

When the Breakers rebooted operations as a USSF Division I club after the dissolution of Women’s Professional Soccer, the NWSL club was a series of missteps, mishaps, and misfortune. The first misstep was to start its NWSL iteration at Dilboy Field, located in a public park in Somerville, Mass.

The pitch, by all accounts, was terrible. U.S. international Sydney Leroux took the time to post pictures of scars on her legs, blaming it on the artificial grass and rocks embedded in the rubber blades of the Dilboy Stadium competition surface.

Throughout the NWSL years, the Breakers’ franchise also turned out not to be very good. The team never finished with a record above .500, and never made the playoffs.  Too, the team had built its brand early on using players who were past their prime, and could not draft their way into contention.

I think the team also missed out on the influence of former U.S. women’s head coach Tony DiCicco, who coached the team in its WUSA and WPS eras, but who had retired in 2011. In the same article that announced his retirement, it was expressing hope for a majority owner for its entry into the NWSL.

Six years later, the Breakers were the sad-sack franchise that couldn’t pay its players, were playing in a 5,000-seat ground on the athletic campus of Harvard, and, eventually, were folded.

As I posited a couple of days ago, there should have been an easy solution to the problem found in Robert Kraft, the owner of the men’s MLS team, the New England Revolution.

But it was, apparently, too much to ask.

Jan. 29, 2018 — No higher truth

This past week, an article in The Nation published a devastating quote attributed to Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a lawyer, former Olympic swimmer, and former President of the Women’s Sports Foundation.

Here is what she said about the environment which has led to the situation involving not only Larry Nassar, but hundreds of coaches across the country who have been convicted of child sexual abuse over the last 30 years:

The Olympic sports movement is a pedophile’s dream set-up. Families are expected to give complete control over to the coach, often times banning parents from watching practices. Emotional abuse is considered “motivation,” and there is almost no coaching oversight from sport governing bodies like U.S. Soccer. To make matters worse, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s official legal position is that the organization doesn’t protect athletes from sexual abuse, that removing pedophiles from the Olympic movement isn’t their job. Really. If that doesn’t raise the hair on your neck, consider that club owners are for-profit businesses and have zero economic incentive to report sexual abuse to police or child services. The bad PR could cost them dearly if word of the abuse got out. Club owners frequently fire the abusing coach quietly, and he is hired at another club, becoming someone else’s problem.

Consider how many examples these words clarify when you look at the backstory of people like former U.S. field hockey player Todd Broxmeyer, who held a different coaching or teaching position seemingly every year from 1993 to the year of his arrest, 2007. Or when you look at Norman Watson, who preyed on neighboring Little League teams pretty much unabated for years.

Today, Congress is likely to rush through a bill which makes child sexual abuse and assault a mandatory reporting crime. It’s a step, but only a symbolic one without the prosecutorial and judicial teeth behind it. Congress might do better by filling out the judiciary, which has numerous unfilled seats but whose nominees are tied up in procedural knots.

Jan. 28, 2018 — The search for cohesion

It’s been four years since the U.S. women’s field hockey team won its first world-level trophy in its 98-year existence while making a memorable run in the FIH Women’s World Cup.

The road back to the World Cup has not been an easy one; the States’ new-look lineup has struggled in the first three games of a four-match Test series against world No. 1 Holland, held at the Varsity Turf at Stanford University.

The scores: 4-0, 7-2, and 7-1.

Holland has been a constant thorn in the Americans’ paw since the 1950s, so these results, seen as a continuum, are not a surprise. But one can hope that, through finding the right players to work together in the right areas on the field, the United States can once again find the front foot.

As we’re only 173 days from the first hit-back from London, it’s now a race against time.

Jan. 27, 2018 — Where will the trail lead?

The fallout from the sentencing of former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State team doctor Larry Nassar on sexual assault and child pornography charges has started to gain momentum.

Over the last day or so:

  • Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon resigned;
  • Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis announced his near-instant retirement;
  • The balance of the USA Gymnastics Board of Directors entered their resignation, following what the executive committee did two days ago
  • The U.S. Congress, the U.S Department of Justice, the U.S. Olympic Committee, the NCAA, and the Michigan Attorney General all announced the start of investigations into the matter
  • A bombshell report from ESPN accuses members of the Michigan State football and men’s basketball teams of sex assaults, and accuses the athletic department of protecting the student-athletes from prosecution.

It’s the last story that should shake every NCAA Division I institution to its very core.

Since the 1960s, many universities have used female “hostesses” as chaperones for student visits and as guides during the first weeks of school. It’s not known how many interactions between students and these hostesses crossed the line into sex assaults, but a spate of incidents in the early 2000s shone a harsh light on the practice.

The student-athletes in the revenue sports have also received a different level of treatment from campus law enforcement from the rest of the student body.

And it’s these kinds of practices which have led to lax oversight of athletic departments and teams, leading to the likes of Larry Nassar being hired at Michigan State.

I’m likely to see the names of people I have gotten to know over the last 20 years being splashed in the headlines for the wrong reasons.

Get ready. This is going to get ugly.

Jan. 26, 2018 — In praise of the disruptors

The American economy — and, by extension, the world economy — has evolved into several iterations over the last 150 years. We’ve gone from an agrarian economy into an industrial, then into a service economy.

But right now, I’d argue that we’re into what you might call “the disruption economy.” Over the last several years, there have been companies which have upset what had been comfortable monopolies or oligopolies in everything from entertainment to goods to services.

Your Founder is now looking through a pair of lenses which were made by a mail-order company; all I had to do was send in the prescription numbers, pick the frames, and input a credit card number.

And, here’s the thing. The mail order company produced not one, but two pairs of glasses four days faster than the optometrist’s office.

It may be useful to understand that the owners of the two teams currently scheduled to play in next weekend’s Super Bowl are products of older-generation companies. Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie made his money off General Cinemas, which is being disrupted by streaming services such as Amazon and Netflix. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft made his money off of Gillette, a company now being disrupted by the Dollar Shave Club.

Distruptors, I think, are here to stay.

 

Jan. 25, 2018 — Fiddling while a league burns

The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) is stumbling towards the start of its sixth season, with financial instability racking a number of clubs.

The offseason has seen F.C. Kansas City made a middle-of-the-night move to Salt Lake City to become the Utah Royals, and as early as tomorrow the Boston Breakers might fold.

The thing is, this turmoil is needless. There are groups of well-heeled soccer-committed people in both cities who should have already turned up to help out, but who have thus far not done so.

In Kansas City, the owners of Sporting Kansas City took a hand-off from Lamar Hunt himself, then invested about $200 million in building and maintaining a soccer-specific stadium for the men’s pro side. But when FCKC, having won two NWSL championships, was looking for an investor to keep them in the city, the ownership group of four (since the death last year of chairman Neal Patterson) sat idly by.

And one can say the same about Bob Kraft, the owner of the New England Revolution who just happens to also own the New England Patriots, one of the most successful professional sports franchises on the planet. How successful? The team’s top player, Tom Brady, commands a hefty $20.5 million per season. That amount of money can keep one NWSL team afloat, on the current salary cap of $278,000, for 73 years.

Kraft has kept silent about taking over the ownership of the Breakers, even as rumors of a stadium deal in Dorchester, Mass. have been flying across the Boston airwaves and newspaper pages like a Brady touchdown pass.

Question is, will there be an NWSL team to play in that new stadium?