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Archive for Omnibus

April 21, 2018 — A change in recruitment, but is it the right one?

This week, the NCAA Division I Council voted to change a very important date in the recruitment calendar of high-school athletes.

The day is Sept. 1 of a potential student-athlete’s junior year of high school. That’s the first day that a player may make an official visit to a university campus, and the first day of permissible contact between a coaching staff and a recruit.

The vote, made during meetings of the Council last Tuesday and Wednesday, was spun by the NCAA as some sort of major initiative:

[M]ost prospective student-athletes will follow a recruiting model that resembles the schedule other students follow when choosing where to go to college … The new recruiting model allows potential student-athletes more time to make thoughtful decisions about their next steps after high school.

The rules were written for every NCAA sport except for football and men’s and women’s basketball. A few sports, like softball, see the rules as necessary given the number of 8th-10th grade commitments that have become the norm, especially amongst mid-major softball programs.

It must, however, be pointed out that there have been more than enough sophomore, freshman, and even middle-school commitments which have hit the news in both field hockey and girls’ lacrosse the last three years.

Indeed, when Syracuse announced that it had landed Caitlyn Wurzburger, an attacker now playing for Florida powerhouse Delray American Heritage (Fla.), a vote one year ago this week amongst NCAA lacrosse coaches put a ban on certain kinds of contact before Sept. 1 of a recruit’s junior season.

Sound familiar?

That’s pretty much the same legislation that was passed by the NCAA Council this week to cover most of the rest of Division I scholarship programs, albeit the Division I softball coaches have put down more severe strictures in a separate vote.

Now, it’s dubious what the long-term impact is going to be. In field hockey, a number of players have already escaped before the barn door closed. Carly Hynd, a freshman from Tredyffrin Conestoga (Pa.), committed a few weeks ago to the University of Maryland. And rising senior Sammy Popper, who contributed to the United States senior women’s indoor national team a few months ago, had committed to Princeton during her freshman year at Fort Washington Germantown Academy (Pa.).

I do not know how many more freshmen or sophomores will be precluded from making verbal commitments or early decisions. I guess it’s the hope that the NCAA Council’s vote will give parents more time to make a good decision about their child’s future, or whether the Council will adopt softball’s stronger rules governing phone contact between coaches and recruits.

But given the national-team, professional, or Olympic dreams of some of these players and the single-mindedness of some to do whatever it takes to pick the right college, there will still be a handful of very elite players who will take an early plunge, sometimes just to get the decision over with.

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April 12, 2018 — A third NWSL attendance contender?

In the five years of the National Women’s Soccer League, there have been few crowds of more than 10,000 for any individual game, and most have involved exactly two teams: the Orlando Pride and the Portland Thorns.

The home support for these two women’s pro sides have been absolutely superb, but there’s a third contender coming in this year. The Utah Royals, a team which moved over from Kansas City over the offseason, is on the verge of selling out its home opener at Rio Tinto Stadium, which will be seating about 20,000 for Saturday’s game against the Chicago Red Stars.

It’s a pretty big development, I think, one which calls into question what teams in bigger markets like Chicago, New York, Boston, and Houston are doing with their NWSL franchises.

Of course, the real test is one of time. Will the novelty wear off? Will people come back? I saw this first hand when, back in 2001, more than 30,000 came to watch the opening match of the WUSA between the Bay Area CyberRays and the Washington Freedom. By the time the league folded in 2003, the average home attendance was barely 6,600. It is certainly a cautionary tale.

April 5, 2018 — Grudging incrementalism

In a world of satellites, driverless cars, and viral video, the Augusta National Golf Club is driving a horse and cart.

The club, which runs the Masters golf tournament, only admitted its first female members this decade, and this week announced that it would allow women to play a tournament on the course.

But, in the kind of incrementalism that frustrates many people in the sports world but for those who advocate for women’s equality, the tournament is going to be an amateur championship, with two rounds held at the nearby Champions Retreat course, with only the top 30 playing the final round at the hallowed greens of Augusta National.

The tournament is being held the same weekend as the ANA Inspiration, the tournament formerly known as the Dinah Shore, so LPGA schedulers in the future will have a Hobson’s choice to make. Will the LPGA take the opportunity to push for a full LPGA event that weekend? And if so, what happens to the Inspiration tournament?

Too, what is going to happen to the “major” status of the current five women’s golf majors? I can’t see the powers-that-be demoting the Women’s PGA Championship, the U.S. Women’s Open, or the Women’s British Open, which leaves the Inspiration and the Evian Invitational in France as the other two majors.

I can’t see women’s golf — or any sport — with six major championships on its calendar. That, frankly, devalues the concept.

Somehow, I see a licensed Women’s Masters coming along, with perhaps the Inspiration, the Lorena Ochoa Match Play tournament, and the Evian being part of a World Golf Championship-like circuit.

How about it, LPGA?

March 27, 2018 — The guard of the hen-house

One of the major questions coming out of the sexual misconduct scandal involving former U.S. Gymnastics and Michigan State team doctor Larry Nasser is how he was able to get away with his machinations for such a long time.

We may have gotten an indication yesterday with the arrest of William Strampel, the dean of MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. Strampel is charged with his own counts of misconduct. Two of the counts are for the lack of supervision of Nasser, but the other two are for obtaining nude photos of medical school students and storing them on his computer, and for repeated criminal sexual contact with people all the way down to the age of 11.

A lot of the details in the charging documents are lurid, but what you need to know is that Strampel provided a lot of cover for Nasser, including holding off a Title IX investigation.

Given the number of people in Nasser’s protective network, I have a feeling there will be a lot more charges filed in the next few months.

March 23, 2018 — Will “creative free agency” doom the NWSL?

The short history of women’s team sports in the United States has been full of player moves engineered by players to benefit personal relationships.

There have been plenty of player-initiated moves in the National Women’s Soccer League. One was the Orlando Pride trading for Alex Morgan, whose husband, Servando Carrasco, played for Orlando City in MLS before his trade to the L.A. Galaxy. Another was FC Kansas City trading for Sydney Leroux, whose husband Dom Dwyer played for Sporting KC.

But during the current offseason for the NWSL, a situation has arisen regarding attacking midfielder Christen Press. Press was part of a three-team megatrade that saw Carli Lloyd arrive at Sky Blue FC. and Australian scoring star Sam Kerr migrate from Sky Blue to Chicago. Press, who was supposed to report to the Houston Dash, has not yet done so.

In the last three weeks, there has been plenty of speculation, drama, and enmity, according to numerous reports. Some reports had her going to Europe.

Press’ situation has also, apparently, affected her status with U.S. Soccer, who partially pays her NWSL salary. Press was dropped from the preliminary call-up list for a pair of April friendlies against Mexico.

“We’ve had several conversations and she understands our expectations are that a consistent training and match environment for a professional is an important factor for selection into women’s national team rosters,” Ellis said in a written statement.

It’s a not-so-subtle ultimatum: get your contract situation settled, or no national team.

We’ve gotten to this point because the FIFA rules on female players are not enforced with nearly as much vigor as on the men’s side.

Now, I recognize that the vast majority of NWSL supporters will look askance at anyone suggesting that FIFA has a solution for this situation.

But, for me, the lack of FIFA oversight has created this whole mess.

March 19, 2018 — The silence of many voices

The reality of the 500-channel universe is that sometimes, the people who help bring more and better voices to that universe are left behind when large broadcasters with corporate backers can outlast them.

Such is the case with the MHz Networks, which is a consortium of two UHF channels that pooled their digital signals and became a 12-lane superhighway for world news.

The catch-all station was MHz 1, which would broadcast a rotating selection of news from several sources. The other channels ranged from Japanese to Korean to Chinese to France 24 to Russia Today. Russia Today, France 24, and Al-Jazeera also broadcast some wonderful documentary programs showing the lives of ordinary people.

These stations were my go-to source whenever there was news of world importance, such as the Charlie Hebdo shootings and the Syrian war. You often got more in-depth coverage on the foreign networks than on the American ones.

I’m hoping that someone recognizes the appetite that people have for alternative news sources and will try to figure out a way to keep broadcasting these networks here in the U.S.

March 18, 2018 — A shameful denouement

Four years ago, NBC did something highly unusual. It not only broadcast an event from the Paralympics (the quadrennial adaptive games festival), it broadcast the event live.

The event was the sled hockey gold-medal match between the United States and Russia, and it delivered not only a number of feel-good stories amongst the players, but it was also a feel-good result, with the United States winning in overtime.

But there would be no such exposure for the sled hockey team this time around, as the gold-medal final was scheduled for 11 p.m. Saturday night in the Eastern time zone of the United States. And coverage of that game was relegated to the NBC Sports Network.

Not many people got to watch the final, which was a thrilling 2-1 overtime win by the American side over Canada. And I’m not sure whether this was because of the reality that streaming video is taking over the world of broadcasting, or whether the suits at NBC were caught unawares that a good American side could very well bring ratings if the game was held at a decent hour (in PyeongChang, the game started at noon local time).

Adaptive sports are pretty amazing to watch; I got to watch some of the skiing on the Olympic Channel. I’m hoping that the people who run adaptive events can figure out new and creative ways to make these sports more accessible instead of receiving exposure just once every four years.