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Archive for November, 2018

Nov. 30, 2018 — The Findlay Prep of academic subjects?

Over the last 20 years or so, shoe companies, would-be sports agents, and AAU basketball coaches have stood accused of academic fraud by setting up sham schools in places from North Carolina to Nevada where the only students in the school happen to be the school’s basketball team.

We figured it was only a matter of time before this kind of conspiracy would occur in a non-academic setting, and this story dropped this morning in The New York Times (possible paywall).

While the focus by many will be on the physical abuse charges, or criticism over the use of stereotypes to gain favor in the acceptance process for minority and poor children in the deep South, I’d look a little closer at the bigger picture when it comes to the academic fraud.

You see, I’ve always asked one question when it comes to some of the draconian steps that schools and school districts have taken when it comes to determining eligibility for student-athletes. The question is, would the same kind of scrutiny (and thereby taxpayer dollars) be spent investigating star chemistry students, trombone players, or singers in the glee club?

The problem is, sadly, there are investigations going on into some of those, too. The District of Columbia quietly released a progress report on an investigation into the families of some 219 children at Duke Ellington School, a magnet school for the performing arts. However, the body running the investigation had to admit that more than 65 percent of them were actually eligible after spending spent untold amounts of money.

And so it goes.

Nov. 29, 2018 — The effects of foreign players in American collegiate field hockey

Today, Shippensburg’s field hockey team won its NCAA Division II national semifinal 4-0 over West Chester University on a magnificent four-goal effort by sophomore Jazmin Petrantonio, who is from Argentina.

In the second game, East Stroudsburg beat Pace 3-0 thanks in part to an assist from Celeste Veenstra, who is from Holland.

The last few years have been a collective high-water mark for foreign athletes in NCAA field hockey. And not only has it been their mere presence on rosters, but the importance of the players within their teams.

Connecticut, for example, had the finest player in the country last year, Charlotte Veitner from Germany. This year, UConn had a strong foreign presence with six of its top eight scorers coming from foreign lands.

Maryland, the national runners-up, had a three out of its top five scorers from outside the United States. North Carolina, the champions, may have had its top two scorers from the U.S. women’s national team (Erin Matson and Ashley Hoffman), but four out of their next six point-scorers were from outside the United States.

Indeed, when you look at the 18 rosters that made the Division I tournament after Selection Sunday, there were 120 foreign players.

The last couple of years, the all-American teams chosen by the National Field Hockey Coaches’ Association have leaned heavily on foreign athletes. When you look at the 160 players chosen for the all-regional Division I teams, 87 players are from outside the United States.

There has been a little bit of imitation on the part of other divisions, as more foreign athletes have infiltrated Division II and III rosters.

Question is, should the NCAA do something about it? Is it in the interest of the people who run collegiate sports in the United States to limit participation by foreign players?

The answer, I think, is no. But that includes a big “however” attached to it.

The “however” can be boiled down to the following: it’s possible to go to the well once too often in order to find the one talismanic player (such as a Charlotte Veitner, a Marina DiGiacomo, or a Paula Infante) who can affect a team’s fortunes.

In addition, foreign influences in college sports have risen and waned over the years. In basketball, there used to be a lot of players from Europe and Africa on Division I rosters, but with the rise of Eurobasket and the quintupling in size of the National Basketball Developmental League, a lot of those players have gone those routes to develop their skills.

In ice hockey, Canadian influence has risen and waned on both the men’s and women’s sides, and it is notable that one route to quickly build a women’s team, especially when it comes to sides like Niagara and Mercyhurst, is to stack a team with Canadians.

In soccer, foreign players used to be on top rosters, but the club system in Europe and in Latin America has taken a number of the best foreign talent and gotten them to play on professional teams as teenagers. Heck, look at Mallory Pugh, who should be a junior at UCLA right now, but is playing for the NWSL’s Washington Spirit.

And if you want a look at the waning of foreign influence in an NCAA sport, look at women’s lacrosse. Yes, you have a significant Canadian influence that is beginning to evince itself through the heroics of Selena Lasota and Danita Stroup. But have you seen members of the English and Australian junior national teams on Division I rosters recently? I haven’t. Maryland, which made it a habit of recruiting from foreign lands, did not have a single foreign player last spring.

And when you look at the rosters of the two teams — Boston College and James Madison — that competed in the last Division I final, there wasn’t a foreign player on those rosters, either.

Somewhere along the line, I think, there was a diminishment of returns when it came to foreign recruiting, that it is harder to get players to commit to the Division I lifestyle with strong club programs at home.

Or maybe coaches in some sports eventually realized that good coaching isn’t all about finding players who are already good, but instead is about molding what comes into the university setting into a good team.

Nov. 28, 2018 — The mistakes brought on by misunderstanding

One year ago, a parent of two Division I field hockey players started a treatment at a major American teaching hospital involving stem cells, the cells in our bodies from which all other cells with specialized functions are generated.

Today, the parent reports being in good health.

It was not so long ago that stem cells were the source of immense controversy in the medical and scientific communities, to the point where President George W. Bush banned federal funding for new lines of stem cell research in 2001, putting the U.S. behind many Asian countries, notably Japan, China, and Korea, in terms of research and development of stem cell treatment.

The ban was lifted by the Obama administration nine years ago.

This week, there has been a firestorm over a presentation made at a three-day conference on genome editing by Jiankui He, an associate professor at Southern University of Science and Technology. He claims to have edited the genetic code of two baby girls born to an HIV-positive father and an HIV-negative mother, so that the children would be immune to HIV.

The firestorm in the news media has been one-sided, and somewhat predictable. Science journalism is a lost art in the United States, with almost no newspapers in the United States maintaining a science desk or a science bureau. The number of registered science writers has dropped by about 10 percent from 2007 to 2018, many of whom have hung out their own shingle in order to promote the free flow of science information.

Indeed, the firestorm is being promulgated by the same talking heads who breathlessly talk about plane crashes and email servers without expertise, context, and perspective.

The negative publicity about He’s research, I posit, needs to be viewed from the perspective of the nationalism of scientific research. Two-thirds of Chinese, according to one on-line poll, support the need for gene-editing in order to treat or prevent diseases. And the Chinese government has been listening: state-sponsored genomic research totaled more than a quarter of a trillion dollars last year.

China has been trying to catch up to the United States in the field of genetic editing, and it’s anyone’s guess as to whether this same kind of outrage would have been sparked in American media if this kind of research on actual embryos was being done at Stanford or Harvard.

It would appear, despite the head-shaking over in-vitro fertilization 40 years ago, or stem cells 15 years ago, or gene-editing today, that the technology is here, and it’s time to get used to it.

It might save lives.


Nov. 27, 2018 — Nature 1, field hockey 0

This evening, the United States got by Belgium in the second of a three-Test series in Lancaster, Pa., thanks to a late Kat Sharkey goal.

But the 900 or so spectators saw something that few probably have ever seen: an FIH-sanctioned match which was played both in the open air and in a climate-controlled dome.

The game started on the Spooky Nook outdoor pitch under cold and slightly blustery conditions. Condensation from either the air or from previous waterings of the turf led to slick patches on the turf, necessitating the move of the proceedings indoors.

Spooky Nook’s domed field had already made some history just this past weekend, as it was the site of the NCAA Division III Final Four.

Also making some history was the unheralded Danielle Gerga, who had an enormous impact on the contest. The forward from Kingston Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) and Old Dominion University had a goal in the first 30 seconds, rivaling the goal that Melissa Gonzalez scored at Rio 2016 against Japan in just 16 seconds.

Kelsey Bing, late of Stanford University, had a number of key saves in the final quarter to keep the Red Panthers off the board.

The series is tied at one game apiece, with the third match scheduled for Thursday evening at 6:30 p.m. The game-time temperature, according to a cursory look at the hourly predictions from The Weather Channel, will be 36 degrees with a feels-like temperature of about 30.

Nov. 26, 2018 — The latest in a dark history

NOTE: If you’re reading this and you’re a minor, you may want to have an adult with you whilst reading the below:

This morning, Matthew Duckworth, the head field hockey coach at New Kent (Va.), was arrested after a grand jury indictment on five counts of use of communications systems to facilitate certain offenses involving children.

Duckworth is the latest in a series of field hockey figures over the last 11 years to face morals charges involving students. He apparently is charged with various offenses involving the same student, who is now, according to reports, 16 years of age. These offenses go back to, according to one media report, 2008, when he attempted to hug the student during a fire drill.

Duckworth had reportedly been removed from his coaching and teaching positions within the school district Sept. 25th. The team went 7-10 on the season with an interim head coach.

Nov. 25, 2018 — Burning off the chaff

Today, the first round of the NCAA Division II field hockey tournament took place at campus sites in Shippensburg, Pa. and Pleasantville, N.Y.

The results today put the host teams, Pace and Shippensburg, into the Final Four alongside the two teams which were selected last weekend to be there, East Stroudsburg and West Chester.

What I’ll remember about these two games, however, is how much better the winners were than the unlucky visitors. Shippensburg scored the first four goals in the first 50 minutes of their 4-1 win over Merrimack, and Pace ran out the first four goals in the first 40 minutes of a 6-1 win over St. Anselm.

Usually, if you’re running a championship tournament, you’re running that balance between rewarding the higher seeds and ensuring competitive games throughout. But, as we noted a couple of years ago when analyzing the trends in the PIAA field hockey tournament over the years, it is an inexact science. And this especially goes in a bracket which has only six qualifiers.

This week, we’ll see whether the tournament committee has done its best by its seedings when the games begin at Duquesne University.

Nov. 24, 2018 — A concerning trend, or is it?

This past week, the United States U-17 women’s national soccer team crashed out of the U-17 World Cup in South America.

For a nation which has won the senior women’s World Cup on three occasions, and which are the current cupholders, this should be a concerning development.

But at the U-17 level, this kind of performance is expected. Look at what the U-17 women’s national team has done the last several cycles:

2008: Silver medal
2010: Failed to qualify
2012: Group stage
2014: Failed to qualify
2016: Group stage
2018: Group stage

Yep, so it’s been a decade since the U-17 women’s national soccer team has played a knockout game at a Women’s World Cup. And on that 2008 side were only a few players who are recognizable names today, such as Morgan Brian, Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis, and Kristie Mewis.

U.S. Soccer has reacted to this, but only in recent years. This is the second year of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, which has scooped up much of the best talent and placed them on teams which are together 11 months out of the year. But this year, the competing Elite Clubs National League has benefitted from a number of clubs defecting from the Development Academy.

Whether the benefits of having so many players in year-round competition will lead to success at the national level is anyone’s guess. The thing is, it’s hard to manifacture the kind of passion and desire that the likes of Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, Carli Lloyd, and Michelle Akers have shown over the years. Most of these players were relatively late bloomers, even though Hamm and Lloyd had celebrated scholastic careers.

In other words, I think it’s a fool’s errand to think you can manufacture the next Hamm or Lloyd in a domestic youth league of any sort — DA, ENCL, or the NCAA. It takes players who are used to being in a professional environment, having to earn their place on the team on a daily basis.

In other words, I think there are going to be a lot more Mallory Pughs who skip college altogether to play for an NWSL team.