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Archive for Omnibus

June 22, 2020 — A significant hurdle to “reopening”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown of most of the United States 100 days ago, there have been a number of organizations hell-bent on reopening.

But, as we’ve learned from the uptick in Coronavirus cases in many places where bars, restaurants, and beaches have been allowed to open, the virus is still out there, and is still lethal.

The sports world has been cautiously reopening, with the PGA Tour, the German Bundesliga, the Premier League, NASCAR, and La Liga (amongst others) holding events without fans and with a number of safeguards.

Sports has had to tread a fine line between making a decision which makes sense from a business standpoint and having that decision set a poor example for the general population.

In the United States, we’ve already had one NASCAR official, a member of D.C. United, a handful of hockey players, and several Philadelphia Phillies test positive for the virus. Frankly, this tells me that we’re not ready, as a country, to safely reopen a lemonade stand, much less a $1.7 billion entity such as the National Football League.

For perspective on this, I urge you to read this story from the Tampa Bay Times, which brings in a very important angle on reopening: liability for sickness and/or death.

I think liability issues will permeate the discussion on college campuses and at school board meetings more than anywhere else. Schools and colleges require meeting and assembly in common buildings and classrooms, and social distancing is a definite problem in this environment.

I had a conversation with my sister a week before the COVID-19 lockdown in mid-March, and she had a definite perspective on this, being a staff member for a university in Maine. She saw that coming back from spring break, where all of the students were off campus and either at home or on travel, would create a petri dish of germs and viruses on campus, a trend she has seen for years amongst her students.

The “rush to play” is very much a rush, one which could cost thousands more lives. And frankly, we’re not going to be ready to play unless we have the testing, the treatment for people already infected, and a safe and effective vaccine.

May 30, 2020 — No statute of limitations

There have been a number of misconduct scandals involving people who have been entrusted with managing national governing bodies of sport in the last few years.

The complete seamy underbelly of the USA Gymnastics Federation has been unveiled over the last five years, with the investigation of former women’s gymnastics physician Larry Nasser.

The culling of people within USA Gymnastics has continued, with the suspension two days ago of prominent coach Maggie Haney, who was targeted by the SafeSport program after allegations of abuse. Haney has been suspended for eight years (two full Olympic cycles) because of her actions.

But the SafeSport program has also been investigating not only coaches, but higher-ups within individual sports. And, in a welcome move towards transparency and justice, the term “statute of limitations” does not apply.

Take, for example, the allegations against USA Hockey president Jim Smith. While he was holding positions with the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois between 1985 and 1988, he had allegedly been notified of sexual misconduct on the part of Tom “Chico” Adrahtas, a Chicago-area coach.

The allegations were made by The Athletic in February, and Smith’s response was that he didn’t have knowledge of the misconduct while he was AHAI president. Which could have been true.

It could also be argued that the reporting structure for such crimes was not in place 35 years ago.

But the fact remains that the Adrahtas went on from his coaching position in Illinois, only to perpetrate other kinds of misdeeds while on the staff as the University of Minnesota men’s hockey team as well as when he was head coach at Robert Morris.

And as we’ve gotten to know over the last several years when it comes to these kinds of scandals, the errors of omission (i.e., doing nothing about the situation) are just as egregious as the errors of commission.

I have a feeling this is going to end badly.

May 16, 2020 — A start, but then what?

I’ve always thought that the three key elements in terms of bringing people back into greater society are going to be (a) widespread testing for the virus; (b) treatment for people who have gotten sick; and (c) an effective vaccine so that people don’t get the Coronavirus in the first place.

Among sports fans interviewed over the last few days at FiveThirtyEight, the presence and use of an effective vaccine would be the single most important factor in bringing back sports altogether.

This weekend, a couple of North American professional sports are going it alone without a vaccine, with the resumption of horse racing at Santa Anita racetrack in California, and NASCAR holding a race in Darlington, S.C.

The events are going to be held without fans in the stands, which is, I think, going to be the new normal in this entire COVID-19 health crisis. At least, for a while.

Thing is, while there are pro sports like NASCAR, baseball, soccer, and golf planning on going without fans, these are athletic pursuits who, through lucrative sponsorships, turn a profit without selling a single ticket.

That cannot be said for numerous athletic pursuits across the U.S.

American sport is not only a business, but the industry relies on other businesses for maintenance and upkeep. Whether you are in a major coastal city or a small county in the rural South, you are paying taxes for your local stadium, ballpark, or civic center. These can be in the form of the bonds needed for public financing, the roads and plumbing supporting the facility, or a small surtax added onto the price of a ticket.

Without top-level sports, entire small-town economies from Bowie, Md. to Fresno, Calif. are deprived of the income from fans coming to see Division I college football, major and minor league baseball, and the professional women’s sports circuits that dot the summer calendar.

We’ve already lost the FIH Pro League (at least until next year), as well as the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League (same), and it’s hard to compile the damage that is going to happen in both WNBA and NWSL cities.

College sports are their own species. They are are run on such a fine edge that only a handful of NCAA member institutions don’t plunge themselves into debt every year trying to compete with the Alabamas and Penn States of the world.

That’s why the negotiations amongst the “Power Five” conferences with the NCAA regarding the start of the major college football season cannot be ignored.

A month ago, these rich and powerful universities applied for a major rules change within the NCAA, one which affects the requirements for the number of sports each school must compete in, something which cuts at the very core of Title IX as well as the raison d’etre of universities and their role in American education and society.

As such, it will be interesting to see whether college presidents will feed into the narrative that a university is a sports team, not a school conferring degrees.

 

May 13, 2020 — The first shoe?

Yesterday, one of the largest state-sponsored higher-education systems in the United States announced that its 23 campuses would be going online only this fall.

The system is the California State University (CSU) system, which includes a number of NCAA Division I institutions, including Fresno State, San Diego State, and San Jose State.

“Our university, when open in-person without restrictions, is a place where over 500,000 people come together in close and vibrant proximity with each other on a daily basis,” Chancellor Timothy White told the CSU board of trustees in a virtual meeting. “That approach, sadly, just isn’t in the cards now.”

This appears to also put a stop to intercollegiate sports at all 23 campuses, if the Emmert Doctrine is adhered to. As we discussed yesterday, Emmert, the president of the NCAA, has said that no virtual campus would be hosting any intercollegiate sports as long as the campus is closed.

The CSU action yesterday is significant, given the fact that it is a large network of institutions of higher education in an American state which is the nation’s sixth-largest economy.

We don’t know whether the University of California (UC) system, which includes field hockey-playing campuses such as UC-Davis and UC-Berkeley, will also go to virtual learning.

Now, Los Angeles County extended its stay-at-home orders until  July 31st, so it’s evident that officials there are taking a go-slow approach. We don’t know whether it is because of flareups in places like Germany, South Korea, and Russia where there were liftings of quarantine orders, but given the stakes involved in the country with the most cases of Coronavirus in the world, a delay in opening college campuses might be the most prudent move.

May 12, 2020 — Will we have a college sports season at all this fall?

A few days ago, NCAA President Mark Emmert threw a sizable bucket of cold water on hopes of restarting collegiate athletics after the abrupt ending of all seasons in March, right in the middle of the lucrative conference tournament season in men’s basketball.

Now, it seems as though the equally lucrative football season, as well as other fall sports, may be in jeopardy. Emmert made this statement late last week:

“College athletes are college students, and you can’t have college sports if you don’t have colleges open and having students on them. You don’t want to ever put student-athletes at greater risk than the rest of the student body.”

The Emmert Doctrine boils down to a simple principle: a school that doesn’t reopen fully won’t be playing sports.

Given the uneven rates of spreading from state to state, there are going to be a number of universities that may remain closed for much longer periods of time than colleges which may feel as they can open by early August.

The problem is that every university has a diverse student population, with people coming from all over the nation, if not the world. Without reliable testing, treatment, and a vaccine, the reopening of college sports as we know it is not likely to happen at all.

In Canada, where the acceleration of infection and mortality is slightly higher than in the U.S., there is movement to truncate intercollegiate athletic participation.

Canada West, which envelops the four western provinces, will be shortening their regular seasons. A notable exception is the three field hockey teams in the Canada West conference — University of Victoria, University of Calgary, and the University of British Columbia — which are scheduled to equal last year’s regular season of just eight games.

But football (yep, the 12-player variation) is moving from an eight-game regular season to a five-game round-robin tournament to qualify for the Hardy Cup Playoffs.

I’ll be interested to see what happens south of the border in the next few days as some of the critical dates for reopening states and allowing mass gatherings approach.

 

May 10, 2020 — Keeping your mind right

Yesterday, I learned of the death of a woman I knew from work while being a data analyst.

Carly* worked just over the wall of the cubicle I sat in when I wasn’t in some far-off location gathering information for my project. She was a brilliant mind when it came to deduction, synthesization, and presentation. She commanded a room whenever she was in it.

It turns out that she was a heck of an athlete, as she ran triathlons for fun. Indeed, her main release from the cares of the world was training for, and completing, the ultramaration. She would sometimes run 50 or 100 miles over the course of a weekend. It had to be a brutal test of one’s physical and mental makeup.

That focused drive was channeled into Carly’s professional ambitions, and she helped author a groundbreaking study on the costs of mental health coverage in the U.S. healthcare system, there changing the dialogue for insurance companies.

Regrettably, I lost touch with this dynamic person after she left employment with her working group. I know she fell in love and got married and had a child, but by then she was fighting a new enemy: bipolar disorder.

Court documents show that her mental illness cost her not only her marriage, but custody of their child, something which was fought over even up until her death. While we don’t know exactly how she died, the court document mentions “suicidal ideation” in its front matter.

I really, really hope that Carly didn’t commit suicide. If so, it is a supreme tragedy. She was a person who I really liked. We had great conversations over coffee and lunch.

So, why am I posting this note today? The worldwide Coronavirus contagion has isolated us, and, as we are social people, it runs contrary to what we are all used to. I’m sure that mental health issues are going to show themselves more than ever before, and there’s not going to be any of us who doesn’t know someone who is either depressed or suicidal.

I ask each of you to reach out to folks during this pandemic and offer good vibes and cheer to them, even if you may not know them well.

It might make someone’s day. It might save a life.
____________________________
*Name changed to protect the innocent

May 3, 2020 — No easy answers

Over the weekend, a ruling came from a California judge nullifying a number of the counts in the U.S. women’s soccer team’s lawsuit against U.S. Soccer in its fight for equal pay.

It is a ruling which has confounded many observers of the sports landscape, chiefly because the ruling has left a portion of the allegations in place but stripped out others.

It is an action which has rankled many who see the lawsuit as a gender equity issue and that there’s no reason that U.S. Soccer shouldn’t be found at fault for its inequalities over the years.

The decision, however, takes a practical and utilitarian approach to the issue, pointing out that the men’s and women’s soccer teams negotiated different contracts rather than equal contracts.

That’s fair.

But there are still inequalities having to do with charter flights, staff, and travel which still have to be dealt with. If negotiators can create the right linkage between these issues and issues having to deal with player salary structure, this is still very much a winnable case. After all, the U.S. women’s team is coming off a dominant performance at the 2019 Women’s World Cup and is a prime favorite to medal in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics despite missing out on the podium altogether in Rio.

And, most importantly,  the new president of the U.S. Soccer Federation is one Cindy Parlow Cone. She was the left wing for the U.S. women’s team on July 10, 1999 when they played China in the third Women’s World Cup final.

Somehow, I think this lawsuit is going to be settled before a trial is called.

April 30, 2020 — Another set of casualties

The contagion that is the COVID-19 virus has had tremendous human, social, and economic costs.

There have been nearly a quarter-million people killed worldwide. The U.S. is in its worst economic recession since the Great Depression nearly 100 years ago.

Entertainment has been relegated to video and the internet. Restaurants have had to change their business models in order to survive. Other businesses have closed.

Amongst those businesses: private schools, some of which offered field hockey and lacrosse to their student populace.

There have been nearly a dozen reported nationwide, including, just this week, the first school closing in the history of the Lancaster-Lebanon League, as Lebanon (Pa.) Catholic decided to close permanently.

Another school which has had a successful recent history in field hockey is Hammonton St. Joseph’s (N.J.), which won three sectional championships in a four-year span from 2010 to 2013, each time losing the state final to Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.).

St. Joseph’s had a number of fine players, including Megan DeMarco, who scored 126 goals in her career. But head coach John DeMarco, her father, left the school to coach Absecon Holy Spirit (N.J.). Last fall, the Wildcats posted a 3-14-3 record, scoring a mere six goals on the season.

The school’s closing does not only affect the field hockey team, but other sports such as basketball and football at the school, which have been wildly successful.

Another school relatively nearby St. Joseph’s is Wildwood (N.J.) Catholic, whose boys’ basketball graded out as the sixth best in New Jersey before the pandemic shut down the New Jersey Tournament of Champions.

There have been other schools which have chosen to close their doors after long service to the public. In Lawton, Okla., St. Mary’s Catholic is closing its doors after 113 years. Lebanon Catholic had been open for 161 years, and St. Joseph’s for 78 years.

These are institutions with long histories, thousands of alumni/ae, and a long legacy in education. But against a historic threat through the pandemic, just about any kind of institution is at risk these days, even essential ones like schooling.

And for the students, it’s disheartening.

 

April 25, 2020 — Three field sports, three responses

We wrote earlier this month about the closure of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, a competition which was intended to raise the level of U-19 competition nationwide. But the DA took away thousands of young people away from their high-school teams and, critics charged, turned out players who were not ready for the next level, as exemplified by the failure of the U-23 men’s national team to qualify for Rio 2016 and London 2012, and the senior men’s national team to qualify for Russia 2018.

The worldwide Coronavirus pandemic has stopped youth soccer games and has cancelled the Olympic Development Program (ODP), the direct pipeline for the U.S. youth men’s and women’s national team camps for next year.

The Coronavirus has also affected youth programs in field hockey and lacrosse. The Futures program for USA Field Hockey has gone to a completely on-line program.

“Our goal is to be ready to resume delivery of on-field programming in a revised format as soon as it is safe to do so,” said a USA Field Hockey release earlier this spring.

A long-term plan is for USA Field Hockey to push back its Futures Tournament into mid-July in Virginia Beach. But for that to happen, regional camps will have to be held in various places across the U.S.

But that all depends on when state governments, through state and federal public health guidelines, relax regulations on public gatherings.

One major women’s lacrosse summer tournament organizer, the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches’ Association, came out one week ago with a statement announcing the full cancellation of its entire slate of girls’ lacrosse tournaments through the summer, with full refunds to participants.

The same day, however, Corrigan Sports — the ILWCA’s partner in running these events — announced that the tournaments would go on as scheduled, but without ILWCA involvement.

There is a significant reason for the uncertainty of these tournaments. That’s because another organization, Live Love Lax, has scheduled a tournament in Florida the same November weekend as the scheduled President’s Cup, which is also in Florida.

Of course, we won’t know for some time when Florida will have its quarantine lifted, but what we do know is that the vista of youth sports is going to be altered forever. I have a feeling that a number of the current businesses that help run or promote youth events are going to fall the way of the Development Academy.

 

April 4, 2020 — Another day, another pin in the balloon

Yesterday, as the worldwide toll of the Coronavirus contagion saw another 31,000 confirmed cases, the world of sports saw more cancellations on the scholastic side.

The California Interscholastic Federation has cancelled all further competition this academic year, as well as the Michigan High School Athletic Association and the Southern Preparatory Conference, which has a number of member schools in Texas and Oklahoma.

In Arizona, one of the up-and-coming areas for lacrosse, both the Arizona Interscholastic Association and the Arizona Lacrosse League for boys’ club teams have ceased activity, although the Arizona Girls Lacrosse Association is holding out hope that its season can be saved.

But one cancellation cuts deep into the soul of the game. The Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association has now joined the Virginia High School League in curtailing all activities for the rest of the season.

Why is the VISAA cancellation such a milestone? It means that the nation’s winningest girls’ lacrosse coach, Kathy Jenkins, will not get a chance to improve her all-time total of 802 wins. And today was supposed to have been the annual Spring Fling, a gathering of more than a dozen prominent teams from all over the country.

The regrettable thing about this and so many other sports cancellations is that so many hard-working seniors nationwide won’t get their customary “one last go-round”, including the customary Senior Night festivities.

At least most NCAA athletes will have another year. The high-school players won’t.