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BULLETIN May 17, 2019 — It’s gotten worse at Ohio State

Remember this?

Today, this happened.

The independent report has uncovered a pattern of abuse which is infinitely worse than was expected. Some 177 student-athletes at Ohio State spanning the gamut of men’s sports at the school — even a pair of cheerleaders — were abused by Dr. Richard Strauss over the course of some 20 years.

Now, given what we already know about some of the school-based sexual abuse scandals coming to light over the last few years, it’s anyone’s guess how much further this is going to go.

May 4, 2019 — Two American teams, loads of interesting choices

The U.S. women’s soccer preliminary roster for the 2019 Women’s World Cup was released earlier this week, as was the U.S. women’s indoor field hockey team’s squad for competition later this year in preparation for the 2020 Pan American Indoor Cup.

For the U.S. indoor field hockey national side, the roster includes three recent members of the U.S. senior national team — Melissa Gonzalez, Carissa Vittese, and Michelle Vittese. Gonzalez was the U.S. captain for several years, and Michelle Vittese was a player who had a penchant for coming up with big-time plays in big-time situations.

Interestingly enough, the current U.S. women’s senior outdoor side now has Mary Beth Barham, who figured greatly in the indoor national team’s last go-round at Pan American competition. And I think she may not be the last, given the youth of the indoor national team pool, which includes the superb senior Paityn Wirth, late of Millerstown Greenwood (Pa.).

As for the U.S. women’s soccer team, the major changes seem to have been made on the defensive end. Head coach Jill Ellis has a new backfield, with the retirements of Meghan Klingenberg and goalie Hope Solo, and the shift of Julie Ertz to midfield. We may get an idea of what the U.S. coaching staff has in mind with the upcoming three-game sendoff series, but I think both of those two slots will be occupied by players who aren’t exactly defensive defenders. Those two players are veteran midfielder Kelley O’Hara and Crystal Dunn, who at one time was the highest-scoring player in the National Women’s Soccer League, but is being seen as the top choice at left back.

Putting Dunn on the back line creates a bit less of a logjam of talent for the States on the front end, where eight players are going to have to compete for one soccer ball. This includes veterans Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd, the mercurial Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath, and Mallory Pugh, who was a sensation heading into the Rio Olympics, and had found herself in a bit of a numbers game heading into France 2019.

But I think this World Cup team is going to pivot on the performance of a couple of the less-experienced players. Jessica McDonald played her way into the U.S. squad through her time with the Western New York Flash of the NWSL. Midfielder Allie Long returns to the U.S. side after a couple of years away. Both are 31 years of age with under 50 caps each.

I think another key player for the U.S. is going to be Lindsey Horan, who was the first of this generation of U.S. players to not go to college and to instead ply their trade with a European club (Paris-St. Germain).

We’ll see how the construction of this team helps or hurts the team’s effort in winning a fourth FIFA Women’s World Cup.

 

 

 

April 18, 2019 — An enormous symptom

Recently, Breanna Stewart of the Seattle Storm and the U.S. women’s national basketball team, was chosen by The Syracuse Post-Standard as the single best high-school athlete ever to come out of central New York.

Last weekend, playing in a EuroLeague semifinal with Dynamo Kursk of the Russian first division of pro women’s basketball, she went up for a rebound and landed on the foot of teammate Brittney Griner.

The result is the most devastating and debilitating injury a basketball player can have, a ruptured Achilles tendon.

It is an injury that will keep Stewart out of the 2019 WNBA season, and likely will prevent her from returning to Europe to play, and just might affect her preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Mechelle Voepel of espnW neatly captures what I think is an enormous problem when it comes to the WNBA and the players who have to go to Europe in order to make a sustainable salary.

April 14, 2019 — A miracle; or not

For the first time since the International Ice Hockey Federation first started holding a world championship tournament in 1990, someone other than the United States or Canada is the finest women’s hockey team in the world.

Finland’s Petra Niemenen broke a 1-1 tie in the 12th minute of overtime on a snappy putback of a rebound, sending the crowd in Espoo, Finland into hysterics ….

At least, this should have been the lead paragraph of today’s story about the 2019 championship final. Instead, the replay official took 12 minutes to make a goalie-interference call, continuing the game until the end of overtime, whereupon the U.S. won the post-overtime shootout 2-1.

It was a highly unsatisfying result, to be sure. The U.S. team, featuring a number of players who won the PyeongChang gold medal just a year ago, may have had the edge in speed and in work along the boards, but appeared to run out of ideas in trying to beat Finland goalie Noora Raty, taking the first available shot rather than setting up screens or deflections in front.

And you would also have not blamed Finland’s players for thinking they had been robbed of the win because of the decision that came out of the replay booth. The American goalie, Alex Rigsby, was at the edge of the blue paint on the play and remained in the crease as Finland’s Jenni Hiirikoski swept in and knocked her out of the way, allowing Niemenen an open goal.

Oddly enough, the on-ice officials had called a trip on Rigsby, a penalty which would have been wiped out by the goal. But the video official, in calling back the goal, did not call a penalty on Finland for goalie interference.

After the protracted review, the teams had to return to the ice, and, as it turned out, Finland sent half of the rest of overtime on the power play.

It was truly a bizarre contest, but one which certainly should signal a change in the balance of power in women’s ice hockey — even if the final result doesn’t show it.

April 13, 2019 — Finland with a flouish

It was about 13 years ago when your Founder attended a women’s ice hockey game between the United States and Finland.

But I noticed, in the tunnels and hallways of the arena where the USA-Finland friendly was being held, that the Finnish players were doing everything necessary in order to make themselves successful, even though they may not have had the physical gifts of the American team at the time. Even a half-hour after the game, team members were warming down on stationary bikes and doing plyometrics with rubber tubes.

This morning, the hard work and a little home cooking may have helped in the semifinal round of the IIHF Women’s World Ice Hockey Championships, as Finland beat Canada 4-2 in Espoo, Finland.

Then, as now, the world of international women’s ice hockey has two competitive levels. One comprises the United States and Canada; the other level is “everyone else.”

Here’s how dominant that top level has been: in every one of the 18 previous IIHF World Championship tournaments dating back to 1990, the U.S. and Canada both were in every single final.

And don’t discount Finland’s chances tomorrow in the championship. The team has a group of experienced players in front of goalie Noora Raty, who is widely seen as one of the best goalies in the world, coming from the University of Minnesota and having played for the Chinese team competing in the recently dispanded Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

Should be an interesting matchup tomorrow.

April 8, 2019 — How far the mighty NCAA has fallen

This evening, a man in a black-and-white striped shirt will walk into the middle of a custom-built sprung maple floor and toss up a leather sphere in between two oversized men.

Time was, the oversized men and the people wearing matching uniforms were 18-to-22-year-olds playing the game of basketball for the love of it in the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament.

But now, college basketball is a multibillion-dollar business, one from which many of its athletes have been opting out for three decades.

With the original “hardship” draft, a raft of “can’t miss” high-school phenoms, and the current run of “one and done” prospects, coaches and teams are trying to build an igloo in a tropical desert.

The departure of first-year and second-year players to the NBA has produced some awesome talents, but has created a number of busts. As good as Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz played in college, they seemingly can’t hit free throws in an NBA game. Kwame Brown, Greg Oden, and Anthony Bennett were first overall picks (albeit only Brown came straight out of high school). And don’t get me started on Sebastian Telfair.

The talent drain from the NCAA to the NBA means that the so-called “blue blood” teams such as Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, and North Carolina keep having to reinvent themselves every year. An entire conference full of blue-bloods such as the PAC-12 played so poorly this year that many bracketeers predicted that only one team would make it into the Division I tournament.

Heck, last year’s top overall team, Virginia, got knocked out by this little engineering and commuter school called the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. To its credit, the Cavaliers made it to the final this evening against Texas Tech.

For me, the quality of Division I men’s college basketball has gone way, way down in the last 15 years or so, to the point where it’s become unwatchable.

Indeed, I seem to get a better overall entertainment value watching the NBA Developmental League (now known as the G-League). The league started with humble roots in the Carolinas and only about six teams.

But when the Los Angeles Lakers became the first NBA team to own a Developmental League franchise outright, and base it near its home city (the Los Angeles D-fenders), other NBA teams saw a way to develop players and offer affordable tickets to see a professional basketball product.

If you watch a G-League game, you see a lot of the speed, adept passing, and quick shooting you will find in an NBA game. Frankly, it’s better entertainment value than the 18-year-olds missing open jumpers.

 

March 30, 2019 — The price of two leagues

For the last four years, there have been not one, but two professional women’s ice hockey leagues for post-collegiate and Olympic hopefuls to pursue their passion. One league played exclusively in the United States, and one in Canada.

This morning, one side blinked.

It was announced this morning that the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, a circuit which has roots going back to 1999, would be ceasing operations by the end of April.

These two leagues filled a genuine need, borne from the cross-border competition between the United States and Canada, which began with the inaugural IIHF World Championship for women in 1990, and peaked with the United States’ victory over Canada in the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

After the Nagano games, it was expected that a league might form somewhere to allow the Tara Mounseys and Sandra Whytes of the world to keep playing. That league was called the National Women’s Hockey League. Originall concentrated in Ontario, the league developed its own colorful history, borne of its threadbare existence.

The teams had some colorful names: Beatrice Aeros, Calgary Oval X-treme, and Montreal Wingstar. The league merged with the Western Women’s Hockey League and, at one time, had a nearly coast-to-coast footprint, save for Nova Scotia.

But this iteration of a Canadian league ceased operations after the 2007 season. By 2010, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League was formed as a five-team league, one of which (Boston Blades) was American-based.

Five years later, a new National Women’s Hockey League was formed, with teams in Buffalo, Connecticut, Boston, and New York. Both leagues competed for post-collegiate talent, and, after some original resistance to salaried players, the CWHL started paying its players more. A couple of years ago, however, the new NWHL had to impose some financial austerity measures, including 50-percent salary cuts leaguewide.

Despite the lack of sponsorship opportunities and media interest, both leagues took risks when it came to new markets. The CWHL brought in the Shenzhen Red Star team to help China develop players for the 2022 Winter Olympics, and the NWHL brought in the Minnesota Whitecaps, a team which originally played with the Western Women’s Hockey League in Canada.

For me, the NWHL’s gambit came up trumps: the Whitecaps won the Isobel Cup this season. The team in China never contended for the CWHL title.

This makes me wonder what the look of the NWHL is going to be in the next few years. I know an unbalanced five-team league isn’t going to be the most sustainable model, and I think there is going to have to be a bi-national footprint.

I see a league with Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, Detroit as well as the current five teams.

That leaves one slot, which could go to either Calgary, Vancouver, or a town like Brampton, Ontario, a place where women’s ice hockey is very much ingrained into the culture.