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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.


July 25, 2017 — The Oedipus effect at the World Games

Thursday, women’s lacrosse makes its debut at the World Games in Poland, with the United States, the current FIL World Cup champions, taking on the inexperienced host nation.

The result, frankly, shouldn’t be in doubt. In a field including runners-up Canada, fourth-place Australia, and a unified Great Britain team including members of the silver-winning England side, the organizers did the States a pretty big favor.

Why? Because the States have had not only a quick turnaround from the World Cup, but have to get readjusted to the rules package for this year’s World Games.

You see, a number of members of the U.S. team played last year in the United Women’s Lacrosse League, which had 10 players on the pitch at any one time. This year, a number of U.S. players who played in UWLX last year announced their intention to play in the new Women’s Professional Lacrosse League next summer.

As fate would have it, the rules of the World Games mandate 10 players on the pitch at any one time.

Kind of reminds you of Oedipus, who thought he was running away from his destiny only to find himself running headlong towards it.

Another thing we’ve noticed about the U.S. approach to the tournament is that they originally were only going to have one goalie on the roster, Gussie Johns. But, the U.S. staff added the veteran Devon Wills to the roster, in what will be her swansong to the sport before she becomes commissioner of the WPLL.

But don’t blink; the tournament is only four days long with the championship final at 8 a.m. Eastern time on Sunday.

July 24, 2017 — A second high-scoring attacker makes a move

Remember this?

Today, this happened.

If you look at what has happened to the class of players who have scored 125 goals or more in scholastic field hockey, it is surprising how many different paths their lives have taken. Not all have been capped for the United States on the senior level and enjoyed an international career including an Olympic or World Cup cycle.

Some of the players have transferred universities. A couple have only played a year before leaving hockey. There are players who have never finished college, and one never entered university at all.

It kind of reminds you of that disclaimer on banking and investment commercials: “Past performance is not an indicator of future growth.”

But the fall of 2017 is going to be notable, I think, for the talent which shifted between Division I schools in the preceding summer. That’s 450 goals that have moved locations with just two players.

July 23, 2017 — A few takeaways from South Africa

NOTE: Updated with new rankings.

The United States women’s field hockey team won its semifinal tournament of the FIH World League this morning with a 3-2 shootout win over Germany. The whole competition, held over the last couple of weeks, has given supporters of American hockey a look at a completely new U.S. team, one which defends with tenacity and vigor, one which is cold-blooded in attack and hot-blooded in the challenges.

Here are a few takeaways from this tournament that you should keep in mind for the next year:

1, The tournament didn’t mean anything for world rankings … or did it? There was an unexpected bonus for the United States in winning its World League semifinal: 25 rankings points. Those allowed the States a bump up in world rankings, but only a small distance. But it’s at the end of the World League final when the lion’s share of world rankings points on offer are doled out. In other words, despite how well the States played in this tournament, it’s still possible for them to come out with eighth-place points after the WL finals, but the 25 points for winning Johannesburg would actually allow the Stars and Stripes to gain rankings points at least equal to the team placing ahead of them at the World League final, unless the States win silver, which is a 50-point gap behind the winner.

2. No matter what today’s result was, the United States would not have avoided the Group of Death in Auckland. Because of the serpentine nature of the seeding for FIH events (top seed goes in Pool A, next two seeds in Pool B, etc.), the United States is going to have a tough go because the States now have a different group of competitors in its World League Finals pool from the World League Semifinals. Here is how the pools are likely to shake out, if we read the regulations correctly. If the U.S. had lost to Germany, the States would still have been in Pool A, but at the third rung; the Danas would still have been seventh in rankings had they won:

Pool A Ladder Pool B
HOL -1 1 ENG-2
USA-4 2 ARG-3
NZL-6 3 GER-7
KOR-9 4 CHN-8

In the World League final, the States will have to play against a Netherlands team which is not only the defending World Cup champion, but the team which won the other World League semifinal in Brussels a few weeks ago.

3. Team defense. The American backline of Alyssa Manley, Julia Young, Caitlin Van Sickle, and Ali Froede have done their best imitation of their soccer sisters Julie Johnston, Meghan Klingenberg, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Ali Krieger. They have been phenomenal, holding the re-badged England team, your Olympic champion, to one goal and holding Germany to one goal in the final.

4. Goaltending, especially in specialty situations. Three years ago, Jackie Briggs would have told you that penalty shootouts were not her specialty. They are now; she was tremendous in holding off the Germans and English in penalty shootouts.

5. The Kid. Erin Matson is the youngest player on the senior women’s national team since the days of Katie (O’Donnell) Bam. Your Founder had a chance to chat with her a year and a half ago after a game featuring her Kennett Square Unionville (Pa.) team. I saw a young woman that afternoon who was completely unfazed and unaffected by the attention that had surrounded her since she made the senior indoor national team at the age of 11. Her shootout goal in the championship game is a testament to the confidence that she has in her skills, as well as the coaching staff’s confidence in her.

6. The Comet. The leading scorer in the World League final was none other than Jill Witmer, who has shown her ability in the attacking third at Millersville Penn Manor (Pa.), the University of Maryland, and now with the senior national team.

7. The future. I wouldn’t blame U.S. coach Janneke Schopmann if she used next month’s Pan American Cup as a runout for reserve players such as Amanda DiNunzio, Alyssa Parker, and Jess Jecko. There is a points bonus for winning the Pan Am Cup, but it’s not as big a prize as winning the World League Finals or the World Cup.

July 22, 2017 — USA 10, Canada 5

Five days ago, the Canadian women’s lacrosse team was a beaten lot, having dropped a 19-5 decision to the United States in pool play of the 11th FIL Women’s World Cup.

In today’s final at Guildford Sports Park, Canada threw everything but the kitchen sink at the U.S. in the gold medal rematch. And then, followed up with the kitchen sink.

Canada tried everything from faceguarding to quick changes of pace during the game, to even making the rarest of moves: requesting the stick check of the opposing goaltender.

For all that, however, the United States kept their focus, their nerve, and, most importantly, the ball, taking their chances in a 10-5 win. Captain Sarah Bullard, in her third World Cup, had a hat trick for the States, while Laura Zimmerman and Marie McCool had two goals apiece.

Canada got an outstanding performance from goalie Katie Donohoe, who stopped nine out of 19 American shots. The Leafs were led by Erica Evans (two goals, two assists) and Alli Jimerson (2-2).

Canada managed to keep a lid on the American attack by faceguarding Michelle Tumolo and by varying its draw takers. Dana Dobbie was outstanding in the circle, winning five of six draws, but the rest of the team went 5-for-11.

The United States may not have 10-goalled their opponents as in previous games, but did hold an 8-1 lead that partially dissolved in the last quarter-hour.

The Americans got an heroic performance from Taylor Cummings (4-for-8 on draws),

BULLETIN: July 21, 2017 — Beyond “freeze-tag”

Today, the NCAA adopted a number of rules changes which, following on from experimentation at college all-star games and United Women’s Lacrosse, is promising a style of play which you can explain to a parent or bystander more readily than with some of the old rules.

It will cause substantial tremors in the sport at all levels, even though today’s changes only govern the college game. We do not know when or if U.S. Lacrosse or the National Federation of State High School Associations will follow suit.

So, as a public service, we are going to take the rules changes one by one, since each of them will make a discernible change in the pace or the flow of the game;

Old rule: All players stop on the whistle
New rule: Unlimited movement on dead-ball situations
The skinny: The most distinctive and unique rule in sports is no more. But the loss of the rule means so much more than just appearance and flow. The game is going to open itself up for multiple changes in substitution strategy, since there will be truly unencumbered free substitutions. Having players being able to move on a dead ball will also make DIRO (draw in, run off) more of a strategy. The only weakness, I think, is that umpires aren’t going to be able to issue a four-meter penalty for someone making a bad check in the midfield. But there are other penalties which are available

Old rule: Unlimited number of fouls allowed
New rule: On any given possession, a defense is allowed only two fouls until the attack is able to clear the ball into its attacking 35-yard zone. A third team foul is a one-minute penalty.
The skinny: This is a rule borrowed from water polo, a game which saw defenses use multiple minor fouls to try to disrupt their opposition. But the persistence part of the rule in lacrosse is only in the midfield

Old rule: Three players on each team may be on or in the draw circle, but once the draw is up, any player from either team could contest the ball in the midfield zone
New rule: Only the two centers and four wing players are eligible to contest the ball until possession is established
The skinny: This is one of the few times that the National Federation was ahead of the NCAA in terms of rulesmaking. This rule will make DIRO players (as well as all-rounders who are good on draws) even more important

Old rule: If an umpire spots a shooting-space violation, the whistle is blown and the ball is dead, no matter whether or not a player takes a shot on goal
New rule: If a shot is taken and the ball goes in, the goal counts. If the goalie saves the shot, the save counts
The skinny: A number of games in the history of lacrosse have turned on a sequence in which a goal is taken off the board because of a shooting space violation, only to have the goalie make the save on the follow-up chance. Here, it’s “play on.”

Old rule: The ball has to be over the line when the clock (game clock or possession clock) hits zero
New rule: A shot taken before the expiration of the clock counts as a goal even if the clock expires with the ball in the air
The skinny: A number of sports, including water polo and basketball, has the standard of whether a shot is released before the clock expires, rather than having to judge whether the whole ball is over the whole line before the clock hits zero. I believe this is an easier standard for the umpires.

Old rule: Any team can accrue an unlimited number of yellow cards in a match
New rule: A team is allowed three yellows, but on the fourth and subsequent fouls, the resulting two-minute penalty is non-releaseable
The skinny: This is a happy medium between the NCAA’s old rule and the NFHS rule which says that a team must play short the rest of the game on a team’s fourth yellow card


July 21, 2017 — The “other” semifinal

The United States women’s national lacrosse team did the expected yesterday, outclassing and overmatching England by a 19-8 score.

But in the other half of the championship draw sat a semifinal between Canada and Australia. The game was one for the ages, and was settled only after extra time.

For most of the last 20 years, Australia has been the team chasing the Americans for world championship honors. Indeed, it was a superteam featuring Sarah Forbes, Jen Adams, and Courtney Hobbs which beat the United States at the 2005 World Cup in Annapolis.

But since then, it has been the Canadians on the ascendancy. taking bronze in 2009 and silver in 2013. Young women from Canada are being encouraged to play box lacrosse at earlier ages, learning stick skills and passing angles in tight spaces that are being brought to bear in the outdoor game.

Indeed, Canada made an enormous breakthrough two years ago when its junior national team beat the U.S. in the U-19 World Cup. Players from that team started having influence on U.S. collegiate programs, and Canada became the home to the first “superprep” girls’ lacrosse team on the continent.

Yesterday, Canada and Australia battled to a 6-6 draw in regulation. Canada center Dana Dobbie had the game-tying goal with under three minutes to go. Teammates Megan Kinna and Allie Jimerson would follow on in extra time for the 8-6 win.

Today’s rest break for the Final Four not only gives the other participants in this year’s FIL championships a last hurrah in their classification matches, but it also allows an extra bit of speculation regarding how Saturday’s games will go.

Given the fact that the United States beat Canada 17-3 in pool play, I have a feeling that the Maple Leafs are going to have to try something different, such as strategic doubling on the ball or running a slow-down offense (no shot clock in this tournament, mind you).

Canada head coach Scott Teeter, associate head coach Gary Gait, and assistant coach Katrina Dowd will have it all to do in order to get the Maple Leafs to buy into their strategy, but given the fact that there are four years in between World Cups, I’d expect nothing less but Canada’s best effort against the thus-far bulletproof American side.