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Archive for Omnibus

June 7, 2021 — Unwilling to admit a mistake

In this COVID year like no other, there was one region of the country which embarked on some radical rules changes for scholastic sports.

It’s not unusual for Massachusetts to make news when it comes to school sports rules changes, sometimes with unintended consequences. The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association mandated helmets in girls’ scholastic lacrosse in the mid-1990s, a move which resulted in less-skilled defensive play and the unwillingness of some college coaches to recruit within the Commonwealth.

The MIAA also had a rule for field hockey which was meant to prompt the goalkeeper to play any ball heading into the circle instead of letting a ball from outside the circle to go into the goal. But that had the unintended consequence of taking the striking circle out of the equation when it came to strategy and tactics.

Radical rules changes were instituted by the MIAA in many sports over the 2020-21 academic year, which put Massachusetts student-athletes in the position of playing a radically different sport from neighboring states, sometimes putting them at a competitive disadvantage. In field hockey, the sport went from its usual 11-on-11 format to a 7-on-7 format.

And one major rules change resulted in half of the state playing the fall under a different set of penalty corner rules from the spring-playing schools. In the fall, the awarding of a penalty corner resulted in a 23-meter free-in. In the spring, however, a penalty corner was the result. And it wasn’t just any corner, not even the penalty corner situation which you might find in reduced-side overtime in every other state.

Instead, the all-knowing MIAA decided to alter the penalty corner rules to only allow defenses two outfield players and a goalie to defend the goal instead of the usual three.

This spring, a sizable amount of debate has come up around the four-quarter system used to play girls’ lacrosse. The debate surrounds the final minutes of the first and third quarters. When it comes to timing, the final two minutes of the first and third quarters are not subject to the same stop-time rules of the second and fourth quarters. This means that, if a free position shot is awarded — even in the critical scoring area of the final third — the clock is allowed to run until the end of the period.

Enough coaches saw a problem that a resolution was voted on last week by the Tournament Management Committee of the MIAA. The resolution, which would have reinstituted 25-minute halves, was voted down 10-3.

It’s befuddling how the MIAA is so incredibly willing to interfere in the duly-arbitrated rules of the National Federation of State High School Associations.

And unwilling to know when to quit.

May 31, 2021 — The one thing missing from NCAA lacrosse that so many other sports have

In yesterday’s NCAA championship final, there was a situation in which a player seemingly scored a goal while sprawling in front of the goal cage.

The umpires called a crease violation, despite the visual evidence that the Boston College player never touched the white line.

This call was one of a number of questionable decisions on the part of the four-part umpiring crew over the course of the weekend that has led to one unmistakeable conclusion.

And that conclusion is that field lacrosse in the NCAA needs a replay official.

I’ve called for a Video Assistant Referee in lacrosse for some time, especially after a phantom goal in a tournament game between Penn State and Florida a few years ago.

The environment in women’s lacrosse, frankly, has gotten away from the ability of even the most experienced eyes of umpires to be able to get every single thing right. Lacrosse umpires have to call boundary lines like a tennis official, call goals like a goal judge at an ice hockey rink, police body contact like a basketball referee, and keep control the game with penalty cards like a soccer referee.

It is a difficult job, one which has been made much more difficult in the free-movement era with the speed of the players as well as the speed of the ball. The exit velocity of an 8-meter shot from a Charlotte North, an Izzy Scane, or a Melissa Sconone are likely to be so quick that the ball could either go through a small hole in the back mesh, or bounce downward from the little teeth that are on the inside of the goal frame to secure the netting, or bounce straight down, land behind the goal, and come back into play.

It’s happened before; just review film of the 1966 FIFA World Cup final.

Now, when you think about it, there are so many pro sports out there that have a replay review component. There’s tackle football, rugby, field hockey, cricket, ice hockey, basketball, golf, and even motor racing. Mind you, the last two aren’t sports where the participants can ask for a replay review; the rules officials and race stewards have the authority to make an inquiry into an event which has happened already. In most others, either a captain, coach, or even an umpire can call for an official review to get it right.

Let’s see if the people who run lacrosse will have the courage and forethought to do the same.

BULLETIN: May 25, 2021 — A transcendent ice hockey player becomes commissioner of a different sport

Back in the late 1980s, Mollie Marcoux was an ice hockey player whose college decision commanded, for its time and context, a similar impact to LeBron James’ original decision to take his considerable basketball talent to
Miami.

Only this was women’s ice hockey, a sport without a pro outlet, one which did not have a world championship or an Olympics to aspire to, and a sport which would not gain NCAA championship status for more than a decade. Back then, the sport was very much a closed hegemony, dominated by three schools.

Marcoux chose Princeton, a decision which showed junior hockey players that there were other options beyond Northeastern, New Hampshire, and Providence, three schools which had the lion’s share of postseason honors when the ECAC was the most prominent league.

She had a fantastic career at Princeton, as she still holds the school record for goals in a season (35) and is second in total goals and assists (120 goals, 98 assists) as well as goals.

Marcoux, after leaving Princeton, became a coach and assistant athletic director down the road at The Lawrenceville (N.J.) School, then worked for nearly two decades at Chelsea Piers in New York City before being named the athletic director at Princeton in 2014.

Today, Mollie Marcoux Saaman was named the ninth commissioner of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. She comes into the job with plenty of management experience, but the forces that are pushing against women’s golf are pervasive and troubling.

Today’s LPGA Tour features a movable feast of players, venues, and even major championships. Over the last quarter of a century, a flood of golfing talent from Asia, Europe, and Mexico have made their impact on women’s golf. In response, the LPGA plays a number of co-sponsored tournaments in places like China, Taipei, Japan, and South Korea.

More recently, however, the LPGA removed the DuMaurier championship as a major, and replaced it with the Women’s Open in Britain and the Evian Masters in France. That gives the Tour five major championships.

The attention given these tournaments is in great contrast to others on the tour, leading to speculation that non-majors are likely to have lower growth in prize purses and limited fields, even as early as this year.

I’m hoping for a great surge in golf popularity under the leadership of Mollie Marcoux Saaman. There is definite room for improvement and change for the better.

BULLETIN: May 18, 2021 — Stanford reverses course — not only on field hockey, but all 11 sports originally on the chopping block

Today, Stanford University, a school with several billion dollars’ worth of endowment, decided to keep the 11 sports programs originally scheduled for elimination in order to save $25 million dollars for the current fiscal year.

The sports were field hockey, wrestling, men’s and women’s fencing, men’s volleyball, synchronized swimming, men’s and lightweight crew, co-ed and women’s sailing, and squash.

The first two, both single-gender activities, would have likely unraveled the fabric of both sports on the West Coast, with ripples going nationwide. Stanford’s loss of field hockey would have left just two Division I schools — Cal-Berkeley and Cal-Davis — with field hockey programs, which would have done immense damage to the America East Conference.

As for wrestling, there are only six schools on the West Coast that have the sport, which has seen a huge decline in the number of universities with fully-funded varsity programs in the last 30 years or so.

The announcement last year of the cuts turned the students at the school into activists and advocates, and it seems as though they have been successful. Indeed, there have been many universities, such as the College of William & Mary, Brown, and Dartmouth, all of which reversed course on their athletics cuts when it was pointed out how many scholarship opportunities were being denied to women and minorities.

The thing is, there are a number of college and universities whose athletics programs — and indeed the universities themselves — are not long for this world. We’ve already spoken about Wesley College, whose campus is being bought by Delaware State University. We have also seen a similar buyout of Pine Manor College by Boston College and Concordia College of New York by Iona College. Some colleges have closed altogether.

Few of the universities which have made decisions on shuttering sports teams have the resources of a prestigious university like Stanford. I wonder what will happen in the future.

May 17, 2021 — When corporate sports become truly corporate

Yesterday, in the final minutes of an English Premier League game between Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion, a very odd situation occurred.

Liverpool, a team which is worth some $4.1 billion, sent its goalkeeper into the offensive end of the field to try to score a last-minute goal. Liverpool, the defending EPL champion, seemingly didn’t need another goal. The game was tied and the Reds were about to take a road point off a West Bromwich team which already knows that it is going to be relegated to a lower league next year.

Liverpool, however, wanted to get another goal, a game-winner in order to try to get three points instead of one. The reason is that the EPL sends four teams to next year’s UEFA Champions League, which is an in-season cup competition which feeds into the FIFA Club World Cup. Liverpool won that competition in 2019, and saw it as a great opportunity to position the club as a global brand.

Now, for a club which is already worth more than $4 billion, you might think that the Liverpool coaching staff would run the team in a somewhat risk-averse fashion. Yes, you might pay untold millions of dollars on transfer fees for players to serve the “win now” mentality. But to bring David Allisson into the box?

Well, in the first time in more than 125 years of club history, a goalkeeper scored a goal yesterday.

And with Liverpool now only a point out of Champions League placings with two games remaining in the season, it seemed to be a corporate decision — take the risk in order to reap the riches of midweek soccer in the 2021-2022 season.

It’s sad when you think about it, but money has been driving a lot of decisions in the world of pro sports worldwide — such as grouping a legion of star players in one NBA market, or NFL owners building bigger and bigger stadiums which will only get eight or nine uses out of it in a year, or a goalie taking a chance by trying to score a game-winning goal to take three points instead of one in the standings.

May 13, 2021 — Not ending well at all

Remember this?

This week, a lawsuit will be filed in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota this week, alleging that former ice hockey coach Thomas “Chico” Adrahtas had abused numerous players while as a youth coach. Furthering this, however, is the angle of the roles that USA Hockey, the University of Minnesota, and AHAI (the state governing body of ice hockey in Illinois) had in providing an environment which allowed him to do so.

Adrahtas received a lifetime ban in June of last year, and the legal flow-through is just beginning.

May 8, 2021 — Suggestions for a new platform?

For the last several years, we’ve been bringing to you game action through various means.

Our largest number of hits on this site was as a result of game coverage; this was during the weekend of the New York/Maryland lacrosse challenge in 2012. I think our second-largest number was during The Garden State Firm field hockey game in November 2019.

A couple of years ago, we debuted a concept called The Final Third, which was meant to be a combination of those “reaction” videos you see all over YouTube these days, and NFL Red Zone. It’s a simple construct: one camera, focused on me, then I just talk and report on what I see on several screens in front of me.

Thing is, I am not getting many hits on Facebook Live. I am guessing this is because you have to be a registered Facebook user in order to get to our broadcasts, which is fair. But I’m seeing all manner of Facebook Live broadcasts of various things, including video games of a trucker trying to navigate a dangerous mountain road, all while seemingly causing grave harm to passengers in other cars and buses by shoving them over the embankment.

Question is, is there a better platform out there? I have seen numerous user-driven streaming platforms on social media, such as Instagram and TikTok. But will broadcasting The Final Third there be worth the effort? How about other video platforms such as Twitch or Caffeine?

I’d like to hear your suggetions, but until I figure something out, I’ll be doing more watching than talking.

After all, with Florida’s state championship final (a delicious matchup between American Heritage and Lake Highland Prep), and the NWSL Challenge Cup, there’s a lot going on later today.

May 1, 2021 — Declaring too early a victory?

I invite you to watch the video accompanying this story of last Thursday’s CHSAA field hockey final between Aurora Regis Jesuit (Colo.) and Greenwood Village Cherry Creek (Colo.).

If you’re a health-care professional, the scenes in this video would have scared you to death a few weeks ago. You don’t see a lot of worn masks in this footage, and you have enormous groups of students choosing not to social distance.

Thing is, we’re in a different place as a country than we were six months ago. More than 100 million people have been vaccinated nationwide, and it’s estimated that number could double by July 4th.

For its part, the state of Colorado had ended a lot of its previous restrictions on April 6th, going off the “dial” system of alerts and allowing individual counties to make final decisions. Denver County, in which the state championship field hockey game was played, is in the Blue Level, which is the second-loosest level of restrictions.

This strategy is not without risk. Coming into this week, levels of COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths, and positive tests in Colorado have generally been trending upward, albeit not at the levels where they were around Thanksgiving.

Now, it may be better to decentralize how COVID-19 and future worldwide pandemics are handled. But left to one’s own devices, people want to gather in groups every once in a while, such as at sporting events. Today, for example, some 65,000 people will be gathering in Louisville, Ky. for the Kentucky Derby.

Problem is, what happens if gatherings like these turn into super-spreader events like that motorcycle rally in South Dakota, a choir practice in Washington, spring break this past February in Florida, and a certain White House Rose Garden ceremony last September that sickened 35 people?

Hopefully, enough of the spectators will have gotten their vaccines.

April 26, 2021 — A sudden lurch in the women’s basketball coaching ranks

Only a few weeks after the Baylor women’s basketball team was one basket away from playing for the NCAA Division I championship, its longtime head coach Kim Mulkey opted to leave the school to coach Louisiana State.

From a “roots” standpoint, the move makes sense, as Mulkey is moving back home, close to where she was raised in the village of Tickfaw, about an hour east of the LSU campus.

Mulkey, over 21 seasons, pushed her Baylor teams to three NCAA titles. She was able to have transformational players such as Britney Griner, Brooklyn Pope, and Odyssey Sims at hand. Indeed, once her Baylor teams won their region, they would win the national championship. Indeed, Baylor’s 69-67 loss to UConn in 2021 represented only the second time the Bears failed to win the national title once getting to the Final Four.

Now, LSU is going to be an interesting challenge for Mulkey and the staff she puts together. The Tigers were able to make five straight Final Fours between 2004 and 2008 with three different head coaches — Sue Gunther, Pokey Chatman, and Van Chancellor.

Yet, LSU has never won. And that’s the challenge set before Mulkey. And it’s not unattainable; just look at her record.

April 15, 2021 — A former field hockey player now leads a prominent state’s governing body of sport

When Colleen McCrea was in high school, she played for a small school, West Amwell South Hunterdon (N.J.), which always punched above its size when it came to scholastic athletics.

South won eight straight Group I Central field hockey titles from 1984 to 1991, and won the 1992 Group I state title in girls’ basketball, McCrea’s senior season.

McCrea then matriculated to George Washington University, where she played with distinction on the varsity women’s basketball team, making the Elite Eight in 1997. One achievement for the Colonials was defeating a good North Carolina women’s basketball team in the Sweet 16. That UNC team included future Olympian Marion Jones, who McCrea marked during the game.

Today, Colleen Maguire is a mother to three daughters and has had a meteoric rise in the world of athletics administration. Today, she was appointed to a five-year term as executive director of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association. She is the first woman to hold the office in the 103-year history of the organization.

She has held other posts in the organization, including chief operating officer and director of finance and administration.

The NJSIAA hosts numerous competitions over the course of an academic year, including field hockey, lacrosse, and basketball. As such, she’s overseeing some of the finest scholastic teams in the country.

In addition, she takes the helm just as the Garden State and the country are pulling out of a global pandemic, and she’ll be helping to make decisions about what sports will look like not only for 2021-2022, but for the foreseeable future.

Given her business and athletics background, I have great faith in her.