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Archive for Omnibus

March 25, 2023 — World governing bodies are finally acting

It was back in 1976 when an opthamoligist named Renee Richards shook up the world of sports by seeking to compete in the U.S. Open women’s tennis tournament after a gender reassignment operation.

After nearly 50 years of inaction, and a number of athletes in sports from track to ice hockey to soccer competing as transgender, there has finally been some movement on regulation and definition from where it should have come from in the first place: individual sport governing bodies.

Last June, the world governing body of swimming effectively banned transgender women from swimming in women’s events unless their transition occurred before the age of 12. And this past week, the IAAF, the international body for track and field, introduced a similar ban but also included a testosterone level regulation for transgender athletes to be able to compete in women’s events.

It’s befuddling to me to see how long it has taken the lords of swimming and track to have figured this out.

Usually, sport is out in front of societal change; Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby integrated baseball decades before the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

But then again, when you look at the sordid history of world track and swimming since the start of the Cold War, it was the doping of female athletes by Eastern Bloc countries which saw the mining of medals in individual events as a key to winning the medal count.

East Germany, which had a powerhouse women’s swimming and track team in 1976, mined the system for 40 gold medals and 90 overall at Montreal.

Thing is, people in the swimming and track communities knew this was going on, and the IOC, FINA, and the IAAF looked the other way for decades. And when you notice the list of athletes whose medals were revoked over the years, there are still only three entries for the 1976 Summer Olympics — all in weightlifting, none from East Germany.

I’m not trying to change the discussion about transgender athletes into one over doping, but it bears mentioning how out-of-touch and how behind world governing bodies of sport are when it comes to dealing with the situation.

I’d like to think that the ham-fisted attempts by state governments in the U.S. to ban transgender athletes from schools (much less school sports) is prompting these actions.

March 22, 2023 — Is this a good time for U-16s in pro women’s soccer?

Back in 2016, Mallory Pugh raised some eyebrows when she turned down an athletic scholarship to UCLA in order to ply her trade as a professional soccer player, singing with the Washington Spirit. At the time, she was 18.

In the last few years, however, some signings by National Women’s Soccer League have pushed the envelope when it comes to youth signings with pro teams. Two years ago, Olivia Moultrie signed with the Portland Thorns. In the last couple of weeks, the Washington Spirit signed 15-year-old Chloe Ricketts and the San Diego Wave has signed 15-year-old Melanie Barcenas to a three-year professional contract.

Now, we’ve seen teenage males sign professional contracts before; Lionel Messi left Argentina for Barcelona at the age of 13, but it took him four years to work his way up to the first team. John O’Brien was in the Ajax youth academy at the age of 12, working his way up over several years to the level of senior football.

But for this group of teens in the NWSL, there’s no developmental network, no U-18 division for the league. The player has to be good enough and fit enough to make the senior team, and that’s what the owners of these teams are counting on.

And yet, the NWSL is coming off a period of scandal in which coaches with questionable pasts and disturbing behavior almost brought down the league. Numerous published reports have painted a portrait of permissiveness and a lack of due diligence as well as a lack of adherence to what would have been normal practice in other professional sporting environments.

As one Twitter user put it so clearly:

Can we stop signing children into this league until maybe we can have at least one year that doesn’t have some sort of abuse scandal?

@Jalisa6661 on Twitter

It is a pertinent question.

March 11, 2023 — A bad look before a signature event

A few days ago, the French Football Federation announced that it would be parting ways with longtime women’s national team coach Corinne Diacre.

Diacre, who has been in charge since 2017, has run afoul of a number of players in her charge, including captain Wendie Renard. Renard, and a few of her teammates, left the national team pool and told the media of their dissatisfaction with their manager.

Last week, several members of the Canadian women’s national team, your current Olympic champions, testified in front of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. They expressed their lack of confidence that Canada Soccer would come through on their demands for equal pay with the men’s team.

Meanwhile, the seventh-ranked team in the world, Spain, is dealing with the aftermath of a player revolt last fall which has resulted in head coach Jorge Villa dropping 15 veteran players from the selection process.

In many places across the world, women’s soccer players appear to be in a full-on revolt against their respective national federations, and sometimes, their coaches.

This dissatisfaction is not unjustified. These women are wearing of being underpaid and sometimes overcoached in comparison to some of their more successful counterparts in worldwide women’s football.

I sincerely hope FIFA takes notice of this. We’re not so far away from the crown-jewel event in the women’s game, the World Cup. And with three of the top seven teams in the world rankings in turmoil, it’s not a great look.

March 10, 2023 — The second skate drops?

Remember this?

Today, The Athletic wrote this.

There are questions being asked about the future of the current women’s ice hockey coach at Harvard, but it appears as though the athletic administration has doubled down on the side of Katey Stone. In a conversation with the student newspaper three weeks ago, Harvard athletic director Erin McDermott declined comment on the situation.

In truth, I think the team itself made its biggest comment. The Crimson lost its last nine games of the 2022-23 season, and closed its regular season with a 10-1 loss to Yale.

If that’s not rock-bottom, I don’t know what is.

March 9, 2023 — An era of restlessness in college sports

Two months ago, a study was released by the NCAA. The study looked at survey results of more than 6,000 colleges in NCAA sports at all levels.

A number of figures have been pulled from the data. But for the purposes of this blog entry, we’re looking at the mental health concerns of the surveyed coaches. Some 40 percent of head coaches say they have “constantly” or “most every day” felt mentally exhausted. One in three have trouble sleeping. The number of coaches overwhelmed by their workday is around 37 percent.

At the same time, think about a couple of statistics that UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma threw out during media availability a couple of years ago. He said that there were approximately 1,000 female basketball players in the portal, and some 200 of them were never contacted by any college.

Behind the excitement, behind the pageantry, behind the color and sound and action of college sports, I think there are an awful lot of very unhappy people.

Indeed, when you look at the world of college sport, there’s only one team per level per sport that finishes off an ultimate winner at the end of the season. That’s an awful lot of losing teams, and players, as well as coaches who feel as though they are not getting the requisite support from their athletic administrations.

Today, The Great Retirement in college coaching has claimed 47-year head coach Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, a coach in a high-revenue sport: men’s basketball. This is a man who survived an early 90s period of probation to win his lone national championship 20 years ago, then saw a number of blocks shifting around him as the school went to the ACC and the team’s home, the Carrier Dome, get a major refurbishment and a new corporate name.

But Boeheim seemingly has become the latest veteran head coach who lost the confidence of an athletic administration and/or the group of players in that locker room. Many coaches who have been interviewed have cited players as the major reason they have decided to quit. Much of that stems from players’ contacts with name, likeness, and image companies and the ability to use the transfer portal.

This is turning the offseason in many sports into something resembling a Spanish-language telenovela. And I don’t think that’s the best thing to happen to college sports in America.

March 3, 2023 — The role of “disruptor” in women’s sports

Since the beginning of the women’s sports revolution coming after the 1996 Olympics, there has been professionalization of many team sports, such as soccer, basketball, softball, ice hockey, volleyball, and lacrosse.

There have been leagues which have become the standard of competition within each sport. At the same time, however, there have been disruptors which have vied to become the top promotion of the sport.

I’m writing this because this weekend is another weekend of hockey games run by the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association. This group has many of the top stars in North American women’s ice hockey who do not play in the Premier Hockey Federation, the seven-team circuit which has been around since 2015. The PHF has roots in the old National Women’s Hockey League, which merged with the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in the 2010s.

The PWHPA has been playing a touring schedule, visiting such varied locations as Truro, Nova Scotia and Tampa, Fla., and will finish out next weekend in Palm Desert, Calif.

Pro women’s hockey isn’t the only sport to have competition for players and fan attention.

When the WNBA started play in the spring of 1997, there was already a women’s pro league. The American Basketball League was a single-entity league which sought to develop itself as a league before bringing in team partnerships in each city. The ABL also had a pretty good level of competition because of the number of national-teamers playing in the league.

The ABL, however, ran out of funds and also suffered somewhat from its marketing. A number of the cities that the league chose — Richmond, Philadelphia, Columbus, Long Beach, and San Jose — have never had a WNBA side.

In soccer, there have been three USSF-sanctioned Division I leagues — the WUSA, WPS, and the NWSL. But there has also been lower-division soccer with a mix of amateur and college players, such as the National Premier Soccer League and the USL “W” League, with other competitions being planned for 2024.

And in women’s lacrosse, there was an era with two competing leagues, the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League and United Women’s Lacrosse, before evolving into Athletes Unlimited. But after two seasons of unified competition, the By The Pros promotion, signed 22 players who competed in an exhibition last December. There are no planned on-field competitions yet scheduled for 2023.

Now, what some call “disruption” may instead be thought of as “competition.” There are seemingly a lot of people and companies willing to invest in women’s sports — although the last decade and a half is full of cautionary tales in women’s pro soccer.

Feb. 16, 2023 — An Olympic champion makes noise

For the last several years, the U.S. women’s national soccer team has advocated to gain equal pay with the men’s program, a situation that was only rectified last year with an agreement and a signing ceremony close by the White House.

In the last few months, the Canadian women’s national team, the current Olympic champions, have been protesting against pay inequity, even threatening to go on strike before the start of this weekend’s She Believes Cup, which is a four-nations tournament involving the U.S., Canada, Brazil, and Japan.

Yesterday, the Canadian team said that it was operating under protest.

“I think we’ve made it pretty clear that we’re operating under a protest at the minute so we made a decision as a team that we were going to do this and show our solidarity together and this is one of the ways that we decided to do that,” said Canada forward Janine Beckie.

The Canadian players have pointed out that there were recent budget cuts, which affected salary and staffing for the women’s team, even as the men’s team, coming off some hopeful CONCACAF results leading to Qatar 2022 are reportedly not undergoing the same level of budget-cutting.

Too, the Canadian women have been out of contract since 2022 and have not been paid by the Canadian Soccer Association.

“It’s pretty disgusting that we’re having to ask just to be treated equally,” Beckie says. “It’s a fight that women all over the world have to partake in every single day, but quite frankly, we’re really sick of it. And it’s something that, now, I don’t even get disappointed by anymore. I just get angry about it because it’s time. It’s 2023. We won the damn Olympic Games. We’re about to go to the World Cup with the team who could win it. So we expect to be prepared in the best way possible.”

Tonight, there’s likely to be small and relatively silent protests by the Canadian players in their opener against the United States. But I have a feeling the gloves are going to be coming off once this tournament ends.

Feb. 2, 2023 — Death by 16 cuts

Last week, the list of coaches accused of wrongdoing increased by one, as the Boston Globe published accounts of abusive language and behavior against Harvard women’s ice hockey head coach Katey Stone.

Stone has built a legendary resume since taking the job in 1994. She has more than 500 wins, and has coached such luminaries in the game as Angela Botterill, A.J. Mleczko, Julie Chu, and Angela Ruggiero. These four played internationally, and in 2014, Stone was tapped to coach Team USA in the Sochi Olympics. In those games, the U.S. made the final but lost an overtime thriller to Canada.

Stone’s resume at Harvard has one major trophy: the 1999 American Women’s College Hockey Alliance tournament title. Once sanctioning of the sport was turned over to the NCAA, Stone and the Crimson have come painfully close on several occasions to winning a national championship.

There have been some years, however, when the team has found the going difficult. Since Harvard finished runner-up to Minnesota in the 2017 Final Four, Harvard did not see the NCAA Tournament for six years. This year, the Crimson are 7-13-3.

The report last week in the Boston Globe related the experiences of roughly 16 former players who painted a portrait of a coach creating a culture of fear. The coach was reprimanded for a tirade she directed against her team after losing in the ECAC postseason tournament, including the use of the term, “too many chiefs and not enough Indians.”

The incident was reported to the Harvard Department of Athletics, which did a comprehensive review over the spring and early summer before coming to a decision in July of last year. Stone was allowed to retain her position, but three First Nations figures with the team — assistant coach Sydney Daniels and players Maryna Macdonald and Taze Thompson — left the program.

In the wake of the Globe report, Harvard has refused comment to the media, but the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Canada have sent a letter to the university demanding Stone’s resignation.

Now, I’m not in any position to judge Stone’s guilt or innocence here. I’ve seen too many times when coaches are accused of abuse — often when a team is in a poor run of form — and enough players testify to abusive behavior in an attempt to get the athletic department to get rid of the coach. Five years ago, there was a situation at Lehigh University when head coach Caitlin (Williams) Dallmeyer was accused of abusive behavior, but she was ultimately vindicated.

But the number of players cited in the Globe report is significant. It’s kind of like trying to filter through the repeated allegations against the likes of Rory Dames, or Harvey Weinstein, or Paul Riley. Or, for that matter, Bill Cosby.

I cannot say it looks good for Stone, despite all of the good she has done in nearly 30 years at Harvard.

Jan. 30, 2023 — Under the bowl. Again.

Yesterday, there was a panoply of competition available to watch on network or cable television. You had two enormous gridiron football games, regular-season fixtures in ice hockey and basketball, the denouement of the 24 Hours of Daytona auto race, and European soccer, including an FA Cup tie involving a celebrated team from Wrexham, Wales.

But perhaps one of the best and most competitive contests that occurred was one that almost nobody saw. That’s because the FIH World Cup of men’s field hockey was entirely and completely behind its own paywall.

The World Cup, a competition that happens once every four years, was shoved into 2023 because of COVID-19, and took place in India. The final saw Germany, a team which finished in second in its pool to Belgium, have a final rematch with the Red Devils, and were able to come out 5-4 shootout winners after a 3-3 tie.

Germany had an extraordinary series of results in the knockout stages of the competition. In the quarterfinals, they were down two against England in the final minutes, but pulled level at the death and won the shootout. In the semifinal round, Germany had fallen behind 2-0 to Australia, but pulled level. The Kookaburras took the lead with two minutes to go, but the Germans scored twice in the final minute in one of the most extraordinary phase of hockey you will ever see.

But many people didn’t see it, thanks to the Watch Hockey paywall, the average person couldn’t see the game unless they not only had the needed infrastructure to watch the games, but the subscription fee to watch the game, or a week’s worth of games.

Given what has been going on in terms of streaming video, especially in soccer recently, it’s unfortunate that the world of field hockey is joining soccer in putting content behind paywalls.

Which isn’t growing the game.

Jan. 29, 2023 — Recycling, not growing

In the last few days, the identities of possible markets for the newest teams in the National Women’s Soccer League were released. These markets are almost set for 2024 debuts: Salt Lake City, Boston, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

The thing about this wave of expansion teams is that each of them have had success and failure since the first USSF Division I professional women’s soccer league began play in April 2001. Salt Lake City was represented by the Utah Royals, which played in the NWSL from 2018 to 2020 before a scandal involving owner Dell Roy Hansen saw the team sold and moved to Kansas City.

Boston has been a presence in the old WUSA as well as Women’s Professional Soccer, but existed on the struggle bus in the NWSL, folding after averaging 15 losses per season between 2014 and 2017. The team also had a rough existence in the last decade, even having to take to social media to complain about the artificial grass service it had to use when its home ground was Dilboy Stadium in Somerville, Mass.

Now, we don’t know exactly where the proposed women’s pro soccer team in the San Francisco Bay Area will be, but it is notable that the last team in the region, F.C. Gold Pride, won the 2010 championship in Women’s Professional Soccer, then folded the following November because of a lack of investors. The league would collapse two years later.

In short, the current NWSL is clawing back territory and markets it had previously lost in the last quarter-century, instead of going to new markets like Dallas, South Florida, Columbus, Miami, or Colorado.

I’d like to see Toronto or Vancouver become the next NWSL target, even though a lot of people in the know believe that the NWSL’s 16th team is going to be a former WPS or WUSA market like Philadelphia or Atlanta.

We’ll see.