Lafayette field hockey returns to the familiar surroundings of the College next week, along with their classmates, to begin classes for the spring semester. Unlike their friends who are not athletes, the team will begin its preparations for a spring season that will be a period of experimentation for the fall. The coaches will be evaluating their returning talent, and without the graduating seniors and new recruits, this will be a period of competition where many will see far more playing time than they did in the fall.
Many of our Leopards have not been wasting the December-January period but playing and honing their skill as well keeping fit. Spring is always a challenge that many of the youngest players have not seen before. However, upperclassmen as well have been hitting the turf to be the best they can be. Amanda Magadan is playing with the US under 21 team, getting ready for the Junior Pan Am games by playing against tough international competition. Freshmen Rachel Bird and Kristen Taylor spent early January in Barcelona playing with their Vancouver Team in the 68th Torneo de Reyes tournament. Kristen was the captain of her team leading them to a 1-1-1 record against teams from Holland, England,Belgium, and Spain.
This period can be extremely important especially for the younger players. Arriving on campus in shape and ready to play is extremely important. The first order of business will be conditioning, as the coaches plan to have the team ready to hit the turf in a month when the snow and ice leave the field. They will be using the field house in the meantime to play indoors, and Coach Stone has planned to attend an indoor tournament March 5-6 where the Leopards will meet against some of the top teams in the country, including Maryland and Syracuse. The indoor game, played on a hard floor with a different stick is faster than the outdoor version, but is a welcome break to the monotony of early training.
The spring schedule, time wise, is less demanding than the fall schedule, but in many ways doesn’t lack for intensity as everyone is trying to impress the coaches with improvement. In the meantime, classes remain a primary focus and there are less travel issues, as all the games are weekends and at local venues.
The NCAA is weighing ideas to limit the hours athletes devote to their sport. Many of the ideas, are already current practice for Ivy and Patriot League schools. One idea calls for a ban on practices and other mandatory athletic activities from 9pm to 6am. I can’t remember a time where that was that issue at Lafayette. Another proposal is to create a three week break at the end of the traditional season. Again that is a practice for Patriot and Ivy schools. Some colleges at the “elite” level spend 40 or more hours a week on sports. I have heard of cases where coaches have discouraged players from majoring in the STEM area, because of time limits at some schools.
The above proposals are a starting point, as described by the NCAA, but to my mind do not touch on the most important consumer of time, and that is travel time. As many large university athletic conferences have merged and enlarged, the regional nature of athletic conferences has disappeared. Unlike the Patriot League and Ivy League, it would not be unusual for a soccer team, field hockey team or worse a baseball team to travel thousands of miles during the week to meet their conference foes, missing valuable classroom hours in the process. This is especially acute for the “non-revenue” sports. The Patriot and Ivy conferences remain regional conferences with no foe more than a bus ride away.
This does not make either of the conferences less competitive, but certainly more in the line of supporting the term “student athlete.” I have written about this before and more that ever I believe young recruits should take that into consideration in their school choice. Even the big power conferences are beginning to realize there is a limit. One conference is considering including travel days as part of a 20 hour restriction on athletic time. Jack Swarbrick, the athletic director at the University of Notre Dame agrees, and was quoted in the Chronicle of Higher Education, ” If you’re really concerned that student athletes have enough time, you ought to focus on scheduling and traveling. Nothing is more important than that,” he opines
Time will tell how this eventually gets sorted out, but the Patriot League model continues to be a pretty good template to follow in my opinion. Perhaps in the future, conferences may be more sport specific and regional, to rationalize the travel time issue. That’s my suggestion but, highly unlikely to be adopted anytime soon.