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Jan. 28, 2022 — What is the NCAA equalizing?

A few days ago, the NCAA wrapped up its annual convention in San Antonio.

One of the reports that was adopted was the final report of the NCAA Division I Transformation Committee. The committee has been working on responding to changes within college sports over the last five years, including NLI deals, large cashflows from major networks, and the needs of student-athletes.

But for the purpose of today, I want to concentrate on one segment of this. In the report, the committee says this:

To ensure that NCAA Division I championships provide national-level competition among the best eligible student-athletes and teams, the Transformation Committee recommends that the governing sport and oversight committees for Division I Championship team sports sponsored by more than 200 institutions should fully consider how to accommodate access for 25 percent of active member institutions in good standing with Division I membership requirements. Their considerations should account for impacts on the timing of the postseason, the total length of the postseason, necessary format changes, broadcast and other partners, budget resources, and host entity event management.

There’s a lot to unpack here.

First off, for those tournaments like basketball and soccer, which used to have perfect 64-team brackets feeding down into a Final Four, those days will be long gone. Look for 88-team brackets in men’s basketball, 83-team brackets for women’s soccer, and other ersatz numbers which will change at the whim of universities which may want to leave a particular NCAA division to save money (see: University of Hartford).

Second, there is going to be a lot of “what about-isms” for other NCAA member institutions. What about, for example, the large number of Division III colleges? Will this Division I transformation filter down to the other two NCAA divisions? Are their postseasons going to drag on for weeks because of a 110-team bracket for NCAA Division III women’s soccer? Sure, there is only one round more than for a 64-team bracket, but the administration for 46 play-in contests should make athletic directors around the country wince.

Third, what about field hockey? Right now, the NCAA Division I tournament stands at 18 teams, Division II is six, and Division III is at 26 teams. Under the NCAA proposal (should it eventually be applied to every sport and not just Division I schools with more than 200 teams), the Division I championship would have 19 teams, Division II would remain at six, and Division III would have 39 teams.

Finally, what of women’s lacrosse? If the Transformation proposal applied to the sport, the NCAA Division I championship would have 29 teams, the same as in last year’s bracket. Division II would be at 26, which is also the same as in last year’s bracket. And like in field hockey, Division III would receive a big bump to to 73, up from the current 46.

As this space has been saying for some time, there has always been an equity problem when it comes to Division III field hockey and lacrosse. Teams in Division III aren’t allowed the same exposure as their Division I and II counterparts. And if you’re in a non-traditional area of the country, you can be denied entry into the bracket even if you have an almost-perfect season.

Readers, what are your thoughts?

Jan. 27, 2022 — What are we normalizing?

This evening, the news was all about two body-camera videos. One was taken from a group of five Memphis police officers who have been fired for the brutal murder of Tyre Nichols, and the other was from a San Francisco officer confronting a domestic terrorist who was beating Paul Pelosi, the 82-year-old husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with a hammer.

There is a public interest reason for releasing this type of video footage. One, of course, is to keep public servants like the police accountable, and to corroborate their statements when they make them to the courts. It is also to ensure transparency of policing, city governance, attorneys general, and the courts.

But in an odd way, these two clips are part of a normalization of the very crimes that are being perpetrated on the screen.

Police brutality has been a problem in many American cities since Reconstruction. Powerful leaders in cities from Tulsa to Charleston have used not only the police but armed gangs of white men to engage in racial cleansing of bustling Black-owned businesses and the areas in which they operated and fostered neighborhoods. It didn’t start with Rodney King or George Floyd or Amadou Diallo. We didn’t need to see the Nichols video to know that the five police officers engaged in official misconduct.

And in the Pelosi video, the domestic terrorist, a person who believed the 2020 election was stolen, is now going to be forever shown assaulting the husband of the third-ranking public official in the United States. It is video which is going to be spread amongst the conspiracy theorists who were responsible for the Jan. 6th insurrection, and there will be conspiracy theories attached to that video as well. We didn’t need to see the fact that an assault occurred on an unarmed senior citizen.

This weekend, these videos are sure to appear on social media platforms, web presences, and news sites. So will hundreds of other videos showing everything from police arrests to citizens loudly berating waitstaff to speeding cars crashing into highway obstacles. There are entire TV networks now devoted to this type of content, one of which covers police shifts like an NFL game, complete with pre-shift and post-shift shows.

They’re called “content” by some people. But these reality-based videos aren’t, and shouldn’t, be for everyone. And from a policy standpoint, they’re troubling because it tends to normalize what is being shown rather than saying that it is an aberration. Or, just plain wrong.

Jan. 26, 2023 — Cautionary words from an all-time great

Rachel Dawson is one of the all-time greats from her time at Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), the University of North Carolina, and through her international career, with nearly 300 caps for the United States.

As a coach with the U.S. developmental team as well as a player, she has seen all sides of the American field hockey pyramid. And in a posting today on her Substack account, she has an interesting take on where she thinks American field hockey is:

[T]he USA doesn’t have a shared vision and purpose reverberating through every level of the sport. This prevents us from having an understanding and appreciation for how each coach, at every level, uniquely contributes to our game. Instead, we are all left to prove ourselves and promote our own domain.

The context of this paragraph is that this is one of a number of observations she has made in terms of how coaches are in this constant cycle of needing to prove themselves in their jobs, and the demands differ depending on the level the coach is on.

These observations came from listening to a postcast from Wharton professor and former scholastic All-America springboard diver Adam Grant. The episode, “Why You Should Stop Proving Yourself,” can be found on his site in either video or audio format. It’s an interesting listen.

Jan. 25, 2022 — From no field to a palace

The 2005 NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse championship was a unique experience for the teams playing for the title. That’s because none of the teams in the tournament would have played the host institution.

The site of the national tournament was Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md. The U.S. Naval Academy would not have a varsity women’s lacrosse team until 2008.

Yesterday, the athletic department at the Naval Academy released plans for a two-story, $22 million lacrosse facility that looks a bit like the bridge of a ship. The building will be located adjacent to the Glenn Warner Soccer Facility, the site of another major women’s lacrosse championship that the Academy hosted in 2005.

That tournament was the FIL Women’s World Cup, and the Glenn Warner facility was the host of pool play.

In looking at the fit of where the new lacrosse facility will sit, it begs the question of whether the Naval Academy’s lacrosse teams may wind up playing at a new lacrosse-specific stadium built next to the team facility. As of right now, the proposed lacrosse facility would overlook one of three soccer pitches located nearby.

Could the Naval Academy redevelop one of these three pitches specifically for lacrosse? Thing is, I have a feeling that the teams wouldn’t want to give up use of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, especially when Navy hosts Army West Point, games which draw thousands of supporters.

Given what we’re seeing on many campuses when it comes to developing lacrosse support facilities, I have a feeling this one isn’t going to be the apex of the spending spree on the sport.

Jan. 24, 2023 — The (very) young guns

We knew that, when the U.S. women’s field hockey team’s roster pool was being assembled over the last year, that it was going to be a very young team.

But David Passmore has really gone with the American youth movement with his 24-player selection for the first two rounds of the FIH Pro League, which will take place over a three-week period beginning Feb. 16th.

In the player pool are not one, but two high-school players — Olivia Bent-Cole of Cherry Hill Camden Catholic (N.J.), and Josie Hollamon of Delmar (Del.).Also joining in are a number of exciting young players such as Ashley Sessa, Brooke and Emma DeBerdine, Kelee Lepage, Megan Rodgers, Meredith Sholder, Beth Yeager, Charlotte de Vries, and Hope Rose.

Balancing out that youthful exuberance will be veterans like Danielle Grega, Kelsey Bing, Amanda Magadan Golini, Ashley Hoffman, Sanne Caarls and Maddie Zimmer.

For Passmore, these choices are not just for trying to build this team towards the avoidance of relegation within the Pro League, but to figure out who he will be bringing to Chile for the Pan American Games. And for not the first time, the 2023 Pan American Games run into conflict with the U.S. domestic season.

Indeed, the Pan Am Games fall between Oct. 25th and Nov. 4th, which is right smack in the middle of the conference tournament season with U.S. college field hockey. What I find interesting is that a number of players who have already used up collegiate eligibility, such as Erin Matson, Sky Caron, Sofia Southam, Rachel Robinson, and Maddie Bacskai are not in the current roster. It’s players of this quality who are an advertisement for the establishment of a U.S. post-collegiate professional field hockey league.

Will the kids be alright? We’ll see.

Jan. 23, 2023 — An interesting (49th) parallel

This past week saw a changing of the guard in Canada that was just as significant as the retirement of North Carolina field hockey legend Karen Shelton.

The University of Victoria, located in British Columbia right on the water across the Haro Strait from the State of Washington, has been fortunate to have had a highly successful field hockey team that has won 15 Canada Interuniversity Sport national championships, including a win in a three-game series over York in November 2022.

The coach for the last 39 seasons at UVic has been Lynne Beecroft. Her coaching record with the Vikings was 340 wins, 98 defeats, and 89 draws. Some 40 players that have come through her team have gone on to represent Canada at the international level.

Beecroft’s final season was not only an undefeated one within Canada, but it was a season that began outside of it. The Vikings started the season with friendlies against Columbia, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania. The tourists had a win and two draws against their Ivy League opposition.

“I didn’t get into coaching thinking about what my legacy would be. My hope is that the athletes I’ve coached have come away with, not only field hockey skills, but life skills, so that when they enter the ‘real’ world some of the lessons I’ve taught will resonate,” Beecroft said in a prepared statement. “Our athletes go on to be quite successful, and if they can take these lessons and apply them to their careers and even their relationships, that means more to me than anything else.”

Beecroft’s transition from international player to college coach occurred in an amazingly similar fashion. Beecroft amassed around 60 caps for the Red and White, including four World Cups and the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. It was around the time she was playing for Team Canada in Los Angeles that she got the inkling to coach at the University of Victoria.

The successes and attention to detail between the Victoria and North Carolina programs are much the same. These are teams that value the ball and take their chances. The only difference is that Victoria only has a seven-game regular season because of the number of Canadian universities that have dropped the sport in the last quarter-century.

That’s kind of a shame, given the fact that Canada has found a formula for success at the international level, being the current silver medalists from the Pan American Games.

Beecroft’s long-time assistant coach, Krista Thompson will take over this fall, and she will have a lot to live up to.

Jan. 22, 2023 — Sweet feet?

Over the last few months, we’ve been seeing stories and press releases leading towards the installation of what was expected to have been the first waterless artificial turf surface for field hockey.

The folks who manufacture Poligras have been making incremental progress using various combinations of fibers, and have seemingly settled on one being called Poligras Paris GT, which was announced last November. It is made out of a polyetheline fiber derived from sugar cane. What this does is make the turf recyclable, and reduces the carbon footprint required to make it.

But there is one thing about Paris GT that is a little disappointing. Here’s a sentence from the Poligras web presence:

Polytan Paris GT zero continues this progress with the introduction of Turf Glide, a new and proprietary technology which reduces the surface friction. With this technology, less water is required to lubricate the turf for fast and fluid play.

Translation: the turf will still require a watering system of some kind. We don’t know whether the folks in FIH are envisioning the same kinds of water cannons that are being used in many places, or whether the turf can be sufficiently watered using a temporary system using something as small as a fire hose.

I think the adoption of this type of artificial turf is going to be an interesting exercise. Because of the organic nature of the polyetheline, will the fibers last as long as those found on current artificial pitches, especially in climates with a lot of sun and heat?

I ask this because of some of the sustainable plastics which have been used in the motor vehicle industry. Some of you may remember that your Founder drove a Volvo for a period of time. In the early 1980s, the wiring harness for the entire electrical system was sheathed with biodegradable plastic. The problem is that, with heating and cooling and temperature changes over the course of a decade or more, the plastic does what it is supposed to do: degrade, leading to electrical problems.

And there’s another interesting thing that could come into play: overwatering. What happens if coaches or teams, used to a certain level of friction on a current competition surface, opt to use the same amount of water on this new pitch? Could the sugar-cane plastic decay if too much water is applied to it, like the roots of a cactus or an orchid?

These are some things to take into account when you’re looking into the future of artificial turf — which has become inexorably linked with the future of field hockey.

Jan. 21, 2023 — Finding a season

One of the news items I was hoping to hear coming out of the U.S. Lacrosse Convention this weekend in Baltimore is the plan for Season 2 of the Next Collegiate Lacrosse League.

Last year, the NCLL brought together six historically black colleges — Bowie, Howard, Coppin, Morgan, Delaware State, and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore — for several weeks of competition in the Sixes format. Games were played at a pair of the centers of the sport: Ludwig Field at the University of Maryland and at Tierney Field at U.S. Lacrosse headquarters, and were televised on NXT Level Sports.

But aside from a couple of social media posts, there hasn’t been much talk about a second season of the league, and it’s barely 10 weeks from the first anniversary of the start of last year’s league — when, presumably, the second year would start.

I know that Morgan State has a bigger fish to fry; it wants to join Hampton University and the University of the District of Columbia as fully-funded men’s lacrosse programs. But there’s no reason for all six of last year’s participants and perhaps a couple more to join in for the second season of Next Collegiate. I’ll be interested to see the 2023 league.

Jan. 20, 2023 — Finding a postseason

In the last day or so, Tennessee became the latest state to announce that it would be sanctioning a public-school state championship tournament run by the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association.

They’ve been playing the sport in the Volunteer State for a number of years, including an unforgettable era when Vanderbilt earned a berth to the women’s Final Four in 2002.

But getting the schools a state tournament? Well, that’s been a challenge. Indeed, yesterday’s vote came after two years of hemming and hawing over umpiring and how to pay for them, especially in a state where you could travel as much as 500 miles within the state’s borders for a game.

There are roughly 50 teams per gender in lacrosse, and I think there’s going to be a far sight more with the announcement of a true state championship tournament.

I do wonder, however, what will happen when the tournament starts, because I’m sure the TSSAA will insist on public-school teams participating at the expense of the public schools that were the pioneers of the sport.

Jan. 19, 2023 — A birth-month to remember

For several years, one of the things I loved to do was to help facilitate a birthday celebration celebrating three generations of women in our family. Each of them had birthdays within two weeks of each other in January, and having a cake and candles was a bright spot in a cold and wintry part of the year.

But the last few years have been sad ones when it comes to these three figures. My mother died in 2011. My sister, like me, is now a cancer fighter. Her daughter, the third generation, is an adult who is fighting for her mental health.

We got together a month ago for a few days during the Christmas break, and it was good just for us family members to be together, surrounded by nature, sports events, and the occasional game show.

Our family is, in a word, complicated. It has been a difficult few years without our parents, the rocks on which we relied for so much in our lives. But sometimes I can hear the voice of my mother or my father in my ear when I’m making a difficult decision. They were always so good for guidance, and their counsel remains with me to this day.