Monday, September 19, 2011

Oh, Hey Pitt!

I was enjoying a brief respite this weekend from what has been a far busier fall than I anticipated. Of course, when you have a smart phone you are always sort of at work. An e-mail flashed into my inbox. Pitt and Syracuse were joining the ACC.

You'll notice that I left Syracuse out of the title. It's not a snub at their recently departed swimming program. It's more at their University for shamefully dropping swimming. Although the details have yet to be hammered out, it appears that Pitt will be the newest ACC team.

This morning, I figured I would rouse myself from my Gustafson-level posting frequency to comment. Major media outlets will focus on the football and basketball implications. But you don't care about that, right? Well, maybe you do, but you at least sorta care about the swimming right?

Pitt will fit in very well in the ACC right now. They have traditionally competed against ACC teams (UVA most frequently), they bring another nice facility into the league, and academically they are very comparable to the rest of the schools in the league. The geography will be a little strange, but they are way closer to the rest of the league than BC is and could\probably swim Virginia Tech, UVA and Maryland each year.

It also will provide a nice bolster for the ACC, which is saying goodbye to Clemson after this coming season. The ACC is probably fourth out of the five "power" conferences, and could be "last" if the Big East ceases to exist.

From a recruiting perspective, I think that Pitt gains more from entering the ACC then the rest of the league gains from their presence. Western Pennsylvania has always been a strong recruiting area, and UVA in particular has made a killing recruiting in that area. I don't expect that to change. Pitt, however, will gain from being in a league that has a presence up and down the east coast.

Everyone seems to think that Pitt won't be forced to wait the compulsory 27 months to switch leagues, so we could see them at the ACC championship come 2013. From what I'm reading today, there could be more. I only wish we could get a cooler team like the Screaming Viking's alma mater Missouri State, but you can't get everything you want.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Could the PAC-12 TV Deal Bring Back Husky Swimming?

Do they have a chance to get back in the race?
I just wanted to point out a link today from the Seattle PI in which the author, who plainly states that he doesn't give a rip about swimming, speaks up to support bringing our beloved Husky swim programs back.  He states that since the University of Washington blamed hard financial times as the culprit forcing them to cut the mens and womens swimming programs for a whopping 1.2 million in savings, they really don't have any reason to not bring them back.  They just landed a sweet tv deal in which they will bring in about 12 million annually over what they previously received.

From the article:

"So, I understand why Woodward killed the swimming program in 2009, but now? Now that they are knee-deep in greenbacks because of someone else’s business acumen (read: the aforementioned Larry Scott) it would be embarrassing for the UW if they continued to ignore their castaway. It not only would appear greedy, it would simply be an overt gesture of greed.
If the excuse for killing the program before was lack of funds, what’s the excuse now?"

Amen brother!!  The only problem is, the author probably isn't aware of the history there.  Admin had been trying to kill swimming at UW for decades and finally had a financial crisis to fall back on as an excuse.  I would do anything to see the Huskies back in the water, but I really worry that the thought won't even occur to them.  Maybe now is the time for the swim community to rally and make them aware that we know the money problems are gone and this wrong should be made right.

Don't forget, the Husky Swimming Foundation is still fighting the good fight.  Let them know you still care by making a donation or supporting their events.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

British Comedy, Swimming and Charity. What's Not To Love Here?

David Wallliams swimming past my brother's house this past weekend for Sport Relief

David Walliams, actor and comedian best known for the BBC show "Little Britain" (and Little Britain USA on HBO) swam the length of the Thames, about 135 miles total, for the British charity Sport Relief.  The swim took him 8 days to complete.  He said he was in tremendous pain and he and was  warned by the health authorities he'd be swimming through sewage.  Sure 'nuff, on day 3 it resulted in a bad case of "Thames Tummy" and yet kept calm and carried on (get it?  get it?)   He raised over $2 million.

Sport Relief is associated with Comic Relief (which if you're American of a certain age you may be having flashbacks of Whoopie Goldberg and Billy Crystal doing jokes about homelessness in acid wash jeans) and BBC Sport.   Sport Relief raises millions and millions for causes in the UK  including: bringing sports into lower income communities, mental health treatment, support for domestic abuse and sexual abuse survivors as well as worldwide funding schools for girls, clean water programs and free trade initiatives.  

Good stuff.  Why don't we have anything like this in the States? The NFL has charities as does the NBA but there is no national, all sport, all inclusive charity which also brings in entertainment.  Phelps vs Shaq was great television.  Millions watched and millions of dollars could have been raised.  In America we're very good at bringing everyone together after national emergencies and global tragedies.  What I love about this is it's a national movement.  People hang red noses on their doors, school children hold "sport days," there's a mile walk, there's usually a telethon of sorts with great clips like these:

James Corden  (aka "Smithy") and Beckham 

James Corden and Tom Daley

We want to grow the sport?  I think this is a great way to do it.  Everybody wins.  This country can use a little "feel good" about now.  I know Mel Stewart agrees with me.  He's written about this on his blog, too.  In the meantime, expect to see David Walliams be given an OBE (Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth soon. Well done.  If you're interested in learning more about Sport Relief you can find it here and big thanks to my brother, Gavin, for letting me use his picture. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Nighttime Snack: Top Ten Public Pools in the World!

This one's in Denmark so even DeSantis can enjoy!

I have a new bucket list.  Yahoo has come out with a list of the "Top Ten Pools Even Nobodies And Losers Can Use" and every single one looks amazing.  The link is here and if you click on it you'll never want to go to the Y ever again.  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Can We Please Admit We Have a Problem?

When I read yesterday that Ben Sheppard, USA Swimming's (now former) Diversity Consultant and club coach in the Oakland area, had been fired, I have to admit I wasn't that shocked. I wasn't shocked because I know that there are far more coaches that have inappropriate sexual interactions with their swimmers than have been "caught" That is pretty depressing. Sheppard wasn't someone I knew well, or at all, but he was a facebook friend. In this weird new era, Ben Sheppard and I were "friends" although I never recall having a conversation with him.

And now he has been suspended from his club and fired from USA Swimming, according to the article linked to above. The allegations against Sheppard center around facebook messages to swimmers. If there's a silver lining in this story, it's that the young girls that made the report understood that what they were being sent was not right. That's not insignificant.

The title of this post is devoted to the fact that we, as a swimming community, still seem to be in denial. There is no question in my mind that despite all attempts to cast this as a "societal problem", its far more frequent in swimming than in general. It's a big problem and we could do a lot more to solve it if we actually admitted that it existed.

The problem is, of course, that USA Swimming is being sued and part of that lawsuit hinges on sexual abuse being prevalent in swimming. So the denial will continue, even from sensible people in the organization who know exactly what is going on. If and when USA Swimming verifies the accusations against Sheppard, there will be a concerted effort to not discuss the matter.

But as the frequent refrain goes, admitting you have a problem is only the first step. USA Swimming has taken action, most of it in the form of creating more hoops for coaches to jump through in order to be on deck. I would like to see USA Swimming tackle this topic from another angle, a more positive one. Let's do more to encourage the right people to be on deck with kids.

Right now, swim coaching is disproportionately represented by unmarried men. Why? Just read fellow blogger Shawn Klosterman's post from earlier this week if you want to know the particular stress coaching swimming can put on having a family. Or ask almost any coach. Not every coach works the kind of insane hours that Shawn works, but most coaches work during times that other professionals are likely to have "off", nights and weekends. That's time you can use to have a normal social life. With a summer season that cuts clear into the middle of August, there's no true "off season" for swimming.

And the above only addresses issues that coaches of any gender face. Women coaches are under even more pressure, and in my opinion that they are fewer in number. If you somehow pass through all the above as a female and get married and want to have a family, there is absolutely no "good" time of year for you to have a baby. Swimming has lost a ton of great coaches because the structure of our sport put women in such a precarious position.

I don't pretend to have all the solutions, but I think some creative reform could tackle this issue from another angle, and ultimately make swimming in general better. At the same time we are cracking down on coaches who misbehave, we must also make a concerted effort to buoy coaches who are doing the right thing.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

View From the Stands: A Swim Fan's Survival Guide to "Off Season"

The Minnesota Grand Prix is 64 days away

The other night I found myself watching swimming on You Tube.   At one point I said to myself, "this must have been what it was like during the Great Depression when people ate rutabagas they grew in their front yard and made clothes out of potato sacks."  I wondered if there were Hoovervilles for swim fans where we could all go, get a hot meal and re-watch Worlds or irrelevant NCAA races from 2003.    I really don't want to get heavily involved in another sport so I've been coping with enormous handfuls of chocolate chips and large blocks of cheese.  Desperate times require desperate measures.

This year we were especially spoiled because we had Worlds and then immediately Nationals.  We couldn't even keep up with all the blogs and tweets.  My tivo was loaded.  Every night it was like Santa came by and dumped a load of presents under my tree.  (If my children are reading this yes, Santa is real and this is not merely an analogy.)  It was a glorious few weeks but that just made the comedown even harder.  Not only did Santa stop coming but so did the Easter Bunny, Hanukah Harry and the tooth fairy.  

 For the past few weeks the swim fan has endured almost nothing but vacation tweets and silence from their favorite elite level swimmers.  But....listen....(ahhhhhhhh.....) there has been a recent rash of tweets from swimmers about being sore and tired.  Ricky Berens tweeted yesterday he had his first double of the Olympic season but it's still early.  Tyler Clary doesn't even know what time practice is, he showed up an hour early or something.  There's been a lot of activity at the NCAA level (like no one wants to be in the Big 12 anymore)  but, overall, it's been quiet.

This year I have taken some initiative.  I have decided that being a swim fan means supporting the sport at all levels.  A couple of weeks ago I took my daughters to our local high school's swim team "open house."  It was awesome and the kids really appreciated it.  You could tell they weren't used to a lot of attention.  I'm also taking the girls to some meets at Mizzou if there's anyone to swim against (ha ha) and to some sectional meets.   Going to see the high school swim team really showed me elite-level swimming is only a piece of swimming and there's much more out there to enjoy.  I had a great time at the high school, saw some good swimming and got a great recommendation for an think you're gonna get that at Ultra Swim?

So hold on swim fans we can do this.  Don't call Dr. Drew just yet.  Check out the swimming in your area;  the college, high school or even club.  Get around some chlorine, I guarantee your serotonin levels will rise.  In the meantime, how are you coping?  I'm getting tired of cheese.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Scared of Realignment

Gratuitous headline photo loosely tied to Texas A&M

Is college swimming staring down it's Ragnarok?

While the college football world is completely abuzz with rumors that Texas A&M, in the Swimming World we only have one article from TSC to put the swimming information in perspective. Last week, as Georgia Tech coaches gathered for our all staff meeting, our Athletic Director made a passing reference to realignment while stating that we are committed to the ACC. And then it was done.

I wish I had some extra special information to put in this blog, but the truth is that I am as scared and bewildered as everybody. When I read in a college swimming thread that Georgia Tech was supposedly one of the teams they could use to form the SEC super conference, at first I laughed. Then I thought "could it be true?". 

On the one hand, maybe nothing bad will happen at all. Maybe its just a reorganization of chairs that happens from time to time with conferences. But its hard to feel completely safe when the decisions are being made primarily on the basis of football (and maybe basketball, a little).

The last time around, there were certainly some positives that came out of realignment. To speak specifically to the ACC, Virginia Tech makes way more sense geographically and educationally in the ACC. Their swim team has flourished since switching conferences. Boston College, on the other hand, didn't even send their best male swimmers to the ACC championships last year, a curious decision given their membership. 

So I'm hoping its all good news, that Texas A&M makes the SEC that much faster, that Texas and Mizzou men find a conference meet to go to and that Kansas, and Iowa State don't get left out in the cold. I'm hoping that this decision doesn't ricochet off in so many other directions and put programs at risk. To think that's exactly what is going to happen given the atmosphere in college swimming, however, is almost completely naive.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

It Finally Boiled Over

The Viking is gonna be typing a little slower than usual for a while...

I have hardly blogged all summer. I have just been too busy. Renovations, teaching, high school swim, summer league, USA coaching, swim lessons... in a small town the swim program can often seem like a one horse show. I have tried a few times to write about it all, but have abandoned the post every time. The frustrations I have are aimed in too many directions, and none of it is really anyone's fault. It just all adds up to being more than one person can handle.

I put in at least four weeks of over 100 hours on the clock this summer. Physically, that isn't so bad. For a large chunk of my life that has been the norm. That is the coaching life. I chose this over commercial fishing. At age 15, the first job I ever had took me away from home for a week where I worked shifts as long as 41 hours, and I was sea sick for most of it. I can handle the grind, but now that I have two little girls at home I struggle with missing them. I cried when I missed their first jumps from the diving board because I had a Sunday night meeting. I can deal with being tired and watching my body slowly fall apart, but this is new.

My classes started today. My renovations aren't done. I am not ready at all. Not ready for class. Not ready for high school swim season. We are hosting a meet this Thursday and I can't find our stopwatches and back-up buttons. I can't secure an official. We still have no seating of any kind and we have about 90 lockers on the deck that were supposed to be installed over a week ago. The new filtration and chemical systems aren't adjusted and automated yet. I don't have time to do the things needed to get the pool ready. We are using it and can actually swim, but when kids are in the water, my hands are tied regarding getting anything else done. What in the hell kind of a job can you work from 5:30am to 8:30pm six or seven days a week and still have work to do when you get home? No one would ever guess a swim coach could claim that. The other teachers laugh and give me a funny look when I talk about how stressed I get. Especially in the summer.

Tonight is also the first practice for the club. Since we could not find a coach, I am back in the game. I love doing it. The club is my baby, but it is a huge sacrifice for family and my stress level. I am not handling it well and the season hasn't even started yet. I had my main assistant back out on me, which means that since I have so many conflicting high school meets the club won't have any coach at all on deck for about half of the meets on the schedule. Another part of the stress is simply that I am in a state where high school coaches can't coach their high school swimmers outside of the season, which means that when I have to coach the USA program, my school gets screwed. I am making all of the other schools better and am forced to exclude my swimmers from the elite groups. They are swimming (if I find an assistant,) but they must swim with the novice groups because they cannot be directly coached by me. There is no way around it. Once again, small town kids get screwed. The cities have multiple clubs to swim at; the small towns don't. My club serves multiple small towns and with it being so hard to find coaches, it puts my swimmers at a disadvantage. I heard once that coaches in Michigan won a lawsuit to force their state to drop those restrictions, but I don't have the time or money to pursue that. I would if I could. Every year we search for coaches, and there just aren't any. The rules are supposed to be about making things equal. Right now they are keeping my athletes from getting the same opportunity as everybody else.

Either way, it doesn't matter. The only other option would be to shut down the club. I am not okay with that. It would doom me to never having a chance to have success for the remainder of my career, and more importantly swimming in our area would go back to the dark ages where swim moms didn't understand why their swimmer who wins all the time in the summer league isn't being offered full rides and Olympic team spots. Before my club got here, no one knew about the great big world of swimming out there. The kids who live here deserve the chance to truly pursue excellence. That is why I built it and I was fully aware of the high school restrictions when I did.

The problem is, I am starting to crack. This life-consuming job is fundamentally changing who I am. I have developed anger issues. Today I got angry about the stupid pool vacuum. I punched the wall. I have three fractures in my wrist. I am an idiot. I haven't always been an idiot. I promise.

My wife told me "please don't punch anything else today."

My response: "You don't have to worry, baby. I look like a dork when I throw a punch with my left hand. I don't want to look that stupid."

I have already started telling the kids I got attacked by ninjas. I don't think they're buying it.