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Archive for Omnibus

Dec. 30, 2018 — Wishes for the new year

There’s been a lot going on in this space over the last year, and, while people are making resolutions for 2019, here are a few things we hope will happen:

I am hoping for the best for a very young U.S. women’s national field hockey side as they begin training for the 2019 FIH Pro League. I hope that the young players, especially Erin Matson and Mackenzie Allessie, show that they belong at this level.

I’m also hoping that the U.S. team finds a good holding midfielder as well as a drag-flick specialist (yep, it’s the age-old problem, but it’s still a going concern).

I hope that U.S. field hockey watchers remember a decade ago when goalkeeper Belen Succi had exactly two international caps when she joined Argentina at the 2008 Olympics, and is now seen as one the Albecelestes’ all-time greats.

I hope that girls’ lacrosse watchers, especially in Florida, are able to appreciate the freight train that is Caitlyn Wurzburger as she is threatening the all-time numbers for goals; she already had the assist mark as a sophomore, no less.

I hope that the Boston College women’s lacrosse team is able to handle all of the scrutiny that will follow silver-medal efforts  the last two years, choosing instead to focus on the next possession.

I hope that the NCAA doesn’t decide to make the women’s lacrosse draw identical to the men’s, making it a more physical endeavor than what it is now.

I hope that the NCAA women’s lacrosse and field hockey tournament committees make it a point to reward mid-major teams for how they do during the season and not create multi-year monopolies which are difficult to compete against.

I hope that Carli Lloyd will have a glimpse at final glory at this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup.

I hope that a soccer player nobody heard of four years ago, such as an Abby Dahlkemper or Lynn Williams, makes an enormous impact in the U.S. team’s performance this summer.

I hope the tournament also become a great platform to show how good a player Tobin Heath is.

I hope both the WNBA and NWSL establish — and enforce — minimum standards for their teams so that you don’t have the greatest players in the world in their craft having to play in an building one step up from the local high school.

And I wish you, my readers, all the best in health and happiness for the New Year.

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Dec. 16, 2018 — Even more work to do

As some of you may know, one of my off-hours vocations is coordinating volunteers at public dance events at a national park. As such, I have a certain responsibility to ensure that the volunteers help create a safe and harassment-free environment for the patrons.

I assist two out of seven presenters for one specific dance form. There are seven different dance forms run out of this particular venue, and there are up to three dozen dance forms are enjoyed by tens of thousands of people in a metropolitan area of 6.2 million people.

As such, I’m beginning to understand the magnitude of the problem of what USA Today laid bare late last week, where Olympic governing bodies of sport have seemingly been unable to prevent banned coaches from having a role in the sport from which they were banned.

It’s similar to a situation which I witnessed a few weeks ago. After attending a dance held by another presenter, I went to a different dance on the same premises where a banned dancer from my dance form was engaged in his same predatory behavior towards young women.

I went to a seminar last weekend, trying to learn more about the magnitude of the problem and whether any kinds of “safe space” or other policy could ameliorate the situation. What I found was a legal thicket, involving an entire wing of the law called “premises liability” and the question of whether dance volunteer duty should involve mandatory-reporter duty.

The overall North American partner dance world has been roiled by scandals involving instructors who have been accused of sexual misconduct by victims emboldened by the MeToo movement. The ramifications have been immediate: disinvitation from teaching gigs, the discontinuation of a clothing line, and even the removal of footage of these instructors from YouTube.

Yet, there are also stories about many of these same instructors being able to find work, even though there is a common ban-list with the names printed out in black and white, But, unlike USA Safe Sport, there is actual documentation showing why the particular figure is banned.

Dance, and sport, are involved in a long game in order to mitigate sexual misconduct, and it appears that not even a higher level of transparency is helping.

Dec. 6, 2018 — Leaning in, but in Europe

Women’s soccer worldwide has suffered from a lack of support from major sponsors. Even in one of the most progressive countries, the United States, the teams of the National Women’s Soccer League have relied on funding from obscure companies such as ProChain software, and several health insurance companies Providence, Moda, and Orlando Health. There are a handful of familiar names on the front of NWSL kits such as Continental Tire, Microsoft, and Domino’s Pizza, a far cry from the days when ad patches on WUSA kits featured companies like Dent Wizard.

But it was announced today that UEFA, the continental governing body of soccer in Europe, had signed an eight-year agreement with Visa to promote the UEFA Women’s Champions League, European Nations League, and European Championships through 2025.

What is enormous about this deal is not only its length, but the fact that UEFA already has financial and credit sponsorship already, but on the men’s side. This is a gender-specific deal, and it could ratchet up competition for becoming The Official Credit Card for all of UEFA once the next deals are negotiated.

UEFA is also very protective of its sponsors; in the original version of the Champions’ League opening credits for the world feed, the seven major sponsors figured prominently in the computer-generated animation. A couple of these sponsors remain on board to this very day, which shows how loyal this governing body is to the people who help finance major competitions within Europe.

And with the influx of cash, it could be interesting to see how many and which European club teams decided to spend money to attract top talent and compete with the NWSL for talent.

Dec. 5, 2018 — A bankruptcy, but what about a real solution?

This afternoon, USA Gymnastics, already under severe financial pressure from hundreds of lawsuits stemming from the Larry Nasser affair and a likely target of a decertification action by the United States Olympic Committee a month ago, hit the panic button.

The national governing body of a sport which has put the names of Retton, Zmeskal, Strug, Moceanu, Dawes, Liukin, Douglas, and Biles into Olympic lore since 1984, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The move comes in the wake of a number of questionable decisions on the part of USA Gymnastics in the wake of the probe that saw the former team doctor land in prison for more than 100 years. Indeed, it was anyone’s guess who was really running the organization, given the recent resignations of Kerry Perry, then a scant five weeks later, Mary Bono.

The bankruptcy filing will likely buy some time for USA Gymnastics to work on fighing its decertification, but a more practical outcome is the likely consolidation of 350 complaints into a single court procedure.

“Our board has been talking about this bankruptcy strategy for a while now — well before the Section 8 complaint was filed,” said Kathryn Carson, chair of the USA Gymnastics board. “Our primary reason to do this is to expedite those survivor claims.”

Question is, what happens afterwards? It’s less than two years from Tokyo 2020, and for the States to try to repeat as team titlists on the women’s side and to try to put together a competitive men’s side even as the number of NCAA Division I collegiate gymnastics programs has dwindled to 15 (yep, it’s that low), it’s a tough ask when your governance is in such disrepute.

Nov. 29, 2018 — The effects of foreign players in American collegiate field hockey

Today, Shippensburg’s field hockey team won its NCAA Division II national semifinal 4-0 over West Chester University on a magnificent four-goal effort by sophomore Jazmin Petrantonio, who is from Argentina.

In the second game, East Stroudsburg beat Pace 3-0 thanks in part to an assist from Celeste Veenstra, who is from Holland.

The last few years have been a collective high-water mark for foreign athletes in NCAA field hockey. And not only has it been their mere presence on rosters, but the importance of the players within their teams.

Connecticut, for example, had the finest player in the country last year, Charlotte Veitner from Germany. This year, UConn had a strong foreign presence with six of its top eight scorers coming from foreign lands.

Maryland, the national runners-up, had a three out of its top five scorers from outside the United States. North Carolina, the champions, may have had its top two scorers from the U.S. women’s national team (Erin Matson and Ashley Hoffman), but four out of their next six point-scorers were from outside the United States.

Indeed, when you look at the 18 rosters that made the Division I tournament after Selection Sunday, there were 120 foreign players.

The last couple of years, the all-American teams chosen by the National Field Hockey Coaches’ Association have leaned heavily on foreign athletes. When you look at the 160 players chosen for the all-regional Division I teams, 87 players are from outside the United States.

There has been a little bit of imitation on the part of other divisions, as more foreign athletes have infiltrated Division II and III rosters.

Question is, should the NCAA do something about it? Is it in the interest of the people who run collegiate sports in the United States to limit participation by foreign players?

The answer, I think, is no. But that includes a big “however” attached to it.

The “however” can be boiled down to the following: it’s possible to go to the well once too often in order to find the one talismanic player (such as a Charlotte Veitner, a Marina DiGiacomo, or a Paula Infante) who can affect a team’s fortunes.

In addition, foreign influences in college sports have risen and waned over the years. In basketball, there used to be a lot of players from Europe and Africa on Division I rosters, but with the rise of Eurobasket and the quintupling in size of the National Basketball Developmental League, a lot of those players have gone those routes to develop their skills.

In ice hockey, Canadian influence has risen and waned on both the men’s and women’s sides, and it is notable that one route to quickly build a women’s team, especially when it comes to sides like Niagara and Mercyhurst, is to stack a team with Canadians.

In soccer, foreign players used to be on top rosters, but the club system in Europe and in Latin America has taken a number of the best foreign talent and gotten them to play on professional teams as teenagers. Heck, look at Mallory Pugh, who should be a junior at UCLA right now, but is playing for the NWSL’s Washington Spirit.

And if you want a look at the waning of foreign influence in an NCAA sport, look at women’s lacrosse. Yes, you have a significant Canadian influence that is beginning to evince itself through the heroics of Selena Lasota and Danita Stroup. But have you seen members of the English and Australian junior national teams on Division I rosters recently? I haven’t. Maryland, which made it a habit of recruiting from foreign lands, did not have a single foreign player last spring.

And when you look at the rosters of the two teams — Boston College and James Madison — that competed in the last Division I final, there wasn’t a foreign player on those rosters, either.

Somewhere along the line, I think, there was a diminishment of returns when it came to foreign recruiting, that it is harder to get players to commit to the Division I lifestyle with strong club programs at home.

Or maybe coaches in some sports eventually realized that good coaching isn’t all about finding players who are already good, but instead is about molding what comes into the university setting into a good team.

Nov. 24, 2018 — A concerning trend, or is it?

This past week, the United States U-17 women’s national soccer team crashed out of the U-17 World Cup in South America.

For a nation which has won the senior women’s World Cup on three occasions, and which are the current cupholders, this should be a concerning development.

But at the U-17 level, this kind of performance is expected. Look at what the U-17 women’s national team has done the last several cycles:

2008: Silver medal
2010: Failed to qualify
2012: Group stage
2014: Failed to qualify
2016: Group stage
2018: Group stage

Yep, so it’s been a decade since the U-17 women’s national soccer team has played a knockout game at a Women’s World Cup. And on that 2008 side were only a few players who are recognizable names today, such as Morgan Brian, Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis, and Kristie Mewis.

U.S. Soccer has reacted to this, but only in recent years. This is the second year of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, which has scooped up much of the best talent and placed them on teams which are together 11 months out of the year. But this year, the competing Elite Clubs National League has benefitted from a number of clubs defecting from the Development Academy.

Whether the benefits of having so many players in year-round competition will lead to success at the national level is anyone’s guess. The thing is, it’s hard to manifacture the kind of passion and desire that the likes of Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, Carli Lloyd, and Michelle Akers have shown over the years. Most of these players were relatively late bloomers, even though Hamm and Lloyd had celebrated scholastic careers.

In other words, I think it’s a fool’s errand to think you can manufacture the next Hamm or Lloyd in a domestic youth league of any sort — DA, ENCL, or the NCAA. It takes players who are used to being in a professional environment, having to earn their place on the team on a daily basis.

In other words, I think there are going to be a lot more Mallory Pughs who skip college altogether to play for an NWSL team.

Oct. 18, 2018 — The real work

Last night, the United States women’s national soccer team stamped its superiority over the CONCACAF nations by winning the championship final of this continent’s FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifier, 2-0 over Canada.

It is a team which has been completely and utterly re-formed after the triumph of four years ago in Vancouver, one which saw the retirement of many of its stars, but the continuation of the starpower of attackers Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Carli Lloyd.

I think there is going to be a lot to be said for the technical ability of players such as Kelley O’Hara and Tobin Heath, the defensive prowess of Julie Ertz and Becky Sauerbrunn, and how well (or poorly) Alyssa Naeher plays in the goal.

But I think the key three players in the side are going to be Crystal Dunn, Mallory Pugh, and Rose Lavelle. A lot are going to be asked of these three, and I think they are going to have to take the pressure off the aging superstars of the national side.

As good as the U.S. side in the CONCACAF Championship was, I wonder what kind of fine-tuning is going to happen with three added roster spots — and which veteran or veterans might have seen their last minutes in an American kit.