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Archive for Omnibus

Nov. 30, 2022 — A watershed moment? Or “not a big deal”?

Tomorrow, the FIFA men’s World Cup will be seeing a moment which is unprecedented since a world soccer tournament was conceived and played for the first time in 1930.

The event will be the group-stage match between Germany and Costa Rica. The game will be refereed by France’s Stephanie Frappart, assisted by Neuza Back of Brazil and Karen Diaz Medina of Mexico.

Now, for a sport which has shown itself to be resistant to change and resistant to give credit to the women who play the sport, this is a pretty big step forward.

But it’s long overdue, especially given the progress of women in officiating various sporting events over the years. Dee Kantner, starting way back in 1997, was a trailblazer for officials when she started calling NBA games. Dozens have followed, thanks to the college game, the WNBA, and the G-League giving the officials the ability to prove themselves at a higher level.

Women are taking their place in the NFL, with three — Maia Chaka, Robin DeLorenzo, and Sarah Thomas serving in crews this year.

And if you’ve been watching enough field hockey over the last several years, you barely notice the gender of the umpires on the international level.

In many other Olympic sports, women have been officiating everything from tennis to equestrian to swimming to volleyball, and somehow their accomplishments aren’t being as celebrated with the vigor of tomorrow’s match.

Perhaps, it’s time to look at which athletic competitions have been open to more diverse groups of officiants.

Nov. 29, 2022 — A breakdown at so many levels

Last weekend, the women’s basketball teams from Colorado State, Auburn, Indiana, and Memphis played one of dozens of four-team invitational basketball tournaments which dot the non-conference landscape this time of year.

The site of the tournament was the Mirage casino hotel in Las Vegas, Nev.

Now, casinos have been the site of numerous sporting events over the years. They have built temporary facilities to host boxing matches and even Formula One races in their parking lots.

Only the Mirage didn’t think about that. It put up a basketball court in a ballroom.

A ballroom.

No seating for supporters, no bands, no fan experience.

Here’s the thing. You don’t even need a professional-sized arena like the T-Mobile Arena (Vegas Golden Knights), or a large college arena like the Thomas and Mack Center (UNLV) to host a four-team tournament. There could have been the MGM Grand Garden Arena, the Mandalay Bay Events Center, the Orleans Arena, or the South Point Arena. Any of these could have hosted a four-team women’s basketball event and brought their fanbases (including Indiana’s, which is quite sizable).

But the organizers of this event chose a ballroom with one row of seating on each side. And since it was in a building, it was also difficult for outsiders, such as emergency medical technicians, to get to the court in the event of an injury. This happened when Indiana’s Grace Berger suffered an injury.

Now, in almost every arena in the country, there is some kind of medical unit on site in case of an emergency. But in this case, it took more than 40 minutes for paramedics to arrive at the scene.

This is inexcusable.

MGM Resorts said yesterday it would be cutting ties with events coordinator Ryan Polk, but I think the company could take a hard look at itself. MGM has its own 17,000-seat facility on the Las Vegas Strip, and it’s mind-boggling that the event wasn’t held there.

In terms of events trying to draw fans, this one takes the cake. Well, a small cupcake.

Nov. 19, 2022 — A first try at lessening the officiating crisis

According to a press release a month ago, more than 50,000 scholastic sports officials have quit the business since March 2020, the beginning of the global Coronavirus pandemic.

No sport, it seems, has been immune to the officiating shortage. The shortage is especially acute in developing sports in developing areas, especially in athletic pursuits experiencing high growth, such as lacrosse.

The National Federation of State High School Associations has created a public information campaign called “Bench Bad Behavior,” which concentrates on lessening the abuse leveled at umpires, referees, linesmen, lane monitors, and other game officials in scholastic sports by both coaches and spectators.

Indeed, according to a survey of officials who have left the profession, the following came out in the data:

  • 84% said fans treated them unfairly
  • 59% said they didn’t feel respected
  • 55% left due to verbal abuse
  • 46% said they felt unsafe

Read that first line again. Nine out of 10 game officials left the profession because of unruly spectators.

The website has a number of posts and a toolkit that you can download including signs to be posted at games, a script for public-address announcers to read, and player/parent contracts.

At the same time of the Bench Bad Behavior campaign, the NFHS has also started an initiative to recruit game officials through the website HighSchoolOfficials.com. Through the site, the Federation is attempting to recruit for everything from the revenue sports to activities such as bass fishing, scholastic bowl, speech and debate, and even theater and film competitions.

I’m hoping that these measures may help in getting more game officials to consider a career in sports officiating, but I think there are some others that need to be considered, such as a bump in pay to compete with the growth of pay-to-play club competitions in many sports nationwide.

Oct. 31, 2022 — Remembrances of a weekend

Your Founder spent parts of Friday and Saturday immersed in events surrounding the National Women’s Soccer League’s 10th championship final.

The numbers of scarf-clad supporters coming from all 12 league cities are a testament to the staying power of the league, in direct contrast to what had happened in the previous two USSF-sponsored Division I leagues, the WUSA and WPS. Both of these leagues had only about six or seven teams, and they had front offices with little clue as to how to build a long-lasting fan culture amongst people in the host cities.

I saw some folks I had not seen in a while, people who I have been in the wars with while watching games involving two iterations of the Washington Freedom, the Washington Spirit, and the U.S. women’s national team.

But the most surprising and pleasant reunion I had over the weekend was with a member of the Kansas City Current’s front-office staff, who was a lacrosse player of fine repute when I was in the dailies. She would go on to play Division I soccer at Loyola College in Maryland.

“I still have all of these binders of articles you wrote about me,” she told me.

I take a lot of pride in that. I worked for a decade in the world of daily journalism in the smallest city in America with two competing daily newspapers. We had to get our information out in the morning, and we had to get it right. We got scoops on each other and we found ways to make our coverage in the sport better.

Today, the newspaper I wrote for is a shell of its former self. Journalists file stories from home with little of the accountability required from being in a newsroom for eight hours or more. These days, it’s all turnkey journalism, where box scores are automated and very few newspapers are printed since the data is now all on the World Wide Web.

My mind goes back to a staff meeting in 1995 when the publisher of the paper (il capo de tutti capi, you might say), told a room full of writers and editors, “People don’t want to read a newspaper on the Internet.”

That was a fateful misstep.

I feel lucky to be in this space, pretty much being able to write as I please, take an historic view of the sport, and break new bounds in scholastic sportswriting.

And I’m proud of the body of work done in the last 24 years.

Oct. 10, 2022 — And it’s not just below the 49th Parallel

In a strange coincidence within the North American sports community, Canada is grappling with its own governance scandals within a sport which has a deep connection with its national identity.

That sport is ice hockey. There have been allegations over the years of sexual exploitation of players, each of which was dealt with individually and within the scope of the league or club involved.

But when a woman won a lawsuit against Hockey Canada because of a 2018 gang-rape by members of the U20 men’s national team after a gala feting the team’s gold-medal win, the scandal exploded when it was revealed that a fund made up in part with players’ registration fees was used to pay for that settlement as well as numerous other “uninsured liabilities” such as sexual and mental abuse cases, going all the way back to 1989.

These revelations received attention and commentary as far up as the office of the Prime Minister.

“It boggles the mind that Hockey Canada is continuing to dig in its heels,” Justin Trudeau said last Wednesday to a gaggle of reporters. “Parents across the country are losing faith or have lost faith in Hockey Canada. Certainly, politicians here in Ottawa have lost faith in Hockey Canada.”

The heel-digging to which Trudeau is referring is in the form of statements that interim Hockey Canada chair Andrea Skinner made to the House of Commons defending Hockey Canada. Skinner said that toxic behavior is a societal issue and inferred that the governing body of hockey was being made a scapegoat.

Much has happened since Trudeau’s remarks. Major sponsors of Hockey Canada, such as Canadian Tire, Chevrolet, Telus, Esso, Nike, and Tim Horton’s, pulled their sponsorship late last week. In addition, provincial hockey governing bodies nationwide announced their intentions to withhold funding to the national body.

And then, Saturday night, Skinner resigned from her chairmanship.

So, with less than two months to go before hosting the World Juniors (one of the world’s biggest hockey tournaments), Canada’s national governing body of ice hockey is in disarray, far down in finances, and embroiled in scandal.

And I have a feeling more resignations are coming.

Sept. 29, 2022 — An enormous investment in four women’s sports … why not five?

It was announced that Athletes Unlimited, the promotion which gives women’s basketball, softball, lacrosse, and volleyball players a professional outlet in a unique choose-up format, is in receipt of some $30 million in venture capital from, amongst others, former U.S. Olympian Angela Ruggiero and current NBA star Kevin Durant.

Let me pull out the one fact from the previous sentence that you should pay attention to: $30 million.

Compare that to the reported $18 million in venture capital that was realized by the investors of the Premiere Lacrosse League, a traveling show of the men’s game which recently finished its third season.

This is pretty big coin.

And it is enough, I think, that it could be split not just four ways, but a potential five.

I’ll step on the soap box again and make the pronouncement: America is ready for an Athletes Unlimited field hockey league.

It would be the first organized professional league for the sport in the U.S. and would be a great, great outlet for postgraduate and/or masters players in a league which is player-centered.

Thing is, there is no excuse not to have the league somewhere in the footprint of the country with the game of field hockey. It could be held in the winter in locales like Chula Vista, Houston, or Moorpark. It could be held in the spring in temperate climate in places like Chicago, Louisville, or the nation’s capital. Or it could be held in the summer in Michigan or New England.

There are more than 100 water-based turfs across the United States, with most at U.S. colleges but also a few at U.S. high schools.

Now, I also recognize that sometime in the next year, the FIH standard for the waterless turf for the Paris Olympics is supposed to be made known, and that could prompts the people who run AU to go from water-based to waterless turf, given the fact that the major sponsor for AU Lacrosse last summer was an environmental firm.

I know that what I’ve been saying on this blog and out in public is repetitive. But the field hockey community has been begging for a professional league for years. Look at the number of people who signed up for the original Harrow Cup. There were dozens of players, from Division III standouts to local pickup players to athletes at the edge of the U.S. national team pool.

It’s time. #AUFieldHockeyNow!

Sept. 22, 2022 — Is Spain having its own NWSL reckoning?

Today, nearly half of what would have been the expected roster of the Spain women’s national soccer team indicated that they wished not to be made available for selection for national-team duty.

This is a Spain team which has been on the rise in Europe the last few years, making the final four of the UEFA championship, losing to eventual champion England. Spain has boffo credentials in the sport, and has developed a first division which has the backing of teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Athletico Madrid.

And yet, somehow, the Spanish federation seems to find ways to shoot itself in the foot when it comes to women’s soccer. The women’s league had a late start this year because of a strike by referees, one which was resolved this month.

But the simmering tensions between the national team and head coach Jorge Vilda have been constant since at least late August. Vilda has been accused of being autocratic in his coaching of the team, and reports have said that individuals have lost confidence in the coach, and that there was a split in the locker room.

The Royal Football Federation of Spain, however, has doubled down with Vilda.

“The RFEF is not going to allow the players to question the continuity of the national coach and his coaching staff, since making those decisions does not fall within their powers,” it said in a statement today. “The Federation will not admit any type of pressure from any player when adopting sports measures. These types of maneuvers are far from exemplary and outside the values ​​of football and sport and are harmful.”

The lengthy statement went on to say this: “”The players who have submitted their resignation will only return to the discipline of the national team in the future if they accept their mistake and ask for forgiveness.”

That, to me, is counterproductive and treats the players like schoolchildren. It is not a good look.

Sept. 6, 2022 — A world-leading statement

This evening, in the nation’s capital, a group of soccer players and executives will hold a ceremony after the U.S. women’s soccer team plays Nigeria in a friendly.

Now, soccer has not often altered its usual ritual — pre-game walk-out, national anthem(s), pre-game photo, a first half, halftime, second half, post-game mixed zone. Sure, there have been some times when players may get a recognition for a milestone for the number of appearances. Once, a World Cup draw ceremony occurred during halftime of a U.S. women’s game in 1999.

But I don’t think there’s ever been the kind of ritual planned during the postgame this evening. This evening, the collective bargaining agreement which guarantees equal pay for the U.S. men’s and women’s national soccer teams will be signed. A number of dignitaries and politicians will be on-site, as well as members of the men’s and women’s player unions and U.S. soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone.

It’s a landmark agreement which guarantees identical compensation for all competitions and the introduction of the same commercial revenue sharing mechanism for both the men’s and women’s senior national sides.

It’s been a long time coming; the U.S. women, back in 1985, had a part-time coach, changed in hotel rooms, and even had to sew the letters onto their own uniforms. And even until the last World Cup cycle, the women’s national side got paid less money for winning France 2019 than the men would have received for finishing last in the 2018 Russia tournament.

Much of the credit for this evening has to go to Cone, who was a starting forward for the United States in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final and knows, as much as anyone in her station, what kinds of obstacles have been in the way of equality for the men’s and women’s national teams over the years.

Aug. 27, 2022 — A slow-motion train wreck

There’s supposed to be a football game between Florida A&M University and North Carolina today, one of a number of games that big-time college football teams schedule early in the season to guarantee a Homecoming-sized win and, from a financial standpoint, give the overmatched an opponent a certain degree of exposure as well as a windfall which is often the equivalent of the payout for making the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament.

These kinds of payouts, especially for an HCBU, are not insubstantial.

But Florida A&M was in a logistical pickle late this week. Fully a quarter of the team’s roster are academically ineligible to play, and the Rattlers have only seven available offensive linemen to protect their quarterback.

Indeed, we’ve been hearing that the players have been holding meetings to decide whether or not to play.

Ultimately, it seems, the money is the overwhelming aspect, over health and safety. The decision was to go ahead and play the game.

It is a decision which would not have been made a year ago if there was a COVID-19 outbreak amongst one or the other universities.

Think about it.

August 22, 2022 — A continual impossibility

This afternoon, Kris Ward was relieved of his duties as head coach of the Washington Spirit of the NWSL. He was seen as the savior of the franchise after the firing of Richie Burke due to allegations of misconduct while head coach.

It has gotten out, in the last few hours, that Ward had lost the locker room. There was a specific incident when the team disinvited him from a team event.

Ward’s firing comes at the end of a 15-game winless streak, one which occurred after he had not only steered the Spirit to the NWSL title, but deep into the bracket of the season-opening NWSL Challenge Cup.

The thing is, there appears to be nobody willing or able to take on the mantle of head coach at the Spirit. Assistant coach Angela Salem will be running training sessions for the team, but was not named as interim head coach. Another assistant, former U.S. international Lee Nguyen, had left the team in the last few weeks to pursue a playing career in the Vietnamese national league. And former Philadelphia Charge coach Mark Krikorian, now the Spirit’s general manager, is reportedly not being considered for the job, either.

As we’ve detailed in the pages of this blog, it’s been difficult to be a National Women’s Soccer League manager. In the last year and a half, almost every team in the league has had a coach, general manager, or even managing partner/co-owner have to step down or resign under a cloud of accusations about behavior and/or abuse.

And I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to take the Spirit job, given the level of scrutiny that hiring managers within the league and the team are going to have to undergo in order to get the job. And then there’s the real issue: being able to keep the job.