Monday, July 6, 2009

Would The Henley Model Work In America?

For the ninth time in University history, the Royal Henley Regatta crowned a champion from Princeton. On Sunday, the undefeated and national champion Princeton men's lightweights became international champions by topping the Brown freshman heavyweights (and four other crews) to win the Temple Challenge Cup.

For the season, Princeton went to the starting line 13 times against a grand total of 29 opponents and never once crossed the finish line second. Whether it was a dual race, a heat, a championship final or a Henley showdown, Princeton always finished first. It is an amazing feat and surely deserves its due credit. The Henley Royal Regatta web site is filled with information and photos from Sunday's championship and is worth a visit for all rowing fans, and has followed the team closely with stories and videos during this championship season.

For today, though, TigerBlog has a question to the many rowing fans out there. Is there a place for the Henley model in American collegiate rowing?

Having covered the sport for seven years, TB appreciates the importance of tradition in the sport. To alter the EARC, EAWRC or IRA national championships would probably be sacrilege to those who have grown up in the sport. A six-boat championship final, following days of heats, repechages and semifinals, certainly is an exciting and fair way to determine a champion.

But nothing in collegiate sports grips the country like March Madness. Even in a year (like 2009) when most of the games really don't live up to the hype, the overall tournament is always a success. And part of the reason why, at least in TB's opinion, is that you can put almost anything into a bracket and get people interested.

Perhaps this is worth a try in collegiate rowing now. Since you could never change the way champions are crowned, how about starting each season with an American "Henley" challenge?

You take the top 16 varsity eights from the IRA heavyweight and NCAA open women championships and the top four from both lightweight divisions and you send them to one location the next March for a season-opening competition. You could do the competition in two days, with one race in the morning and another in the afternoon (and the lightweights would only need one day). Not only could it draw some early interest to the sport, but it would add some actual drama to the third-level finals at IRAs and NCAAs; all of the sudden, the difference between fourth and fifth place is significant.

TB knows the heavyweights compete in the prestigious Copley Cup competition in San Diego early in the season, and that draws many of the national powers, so perhaps that would be the weekend to try this format. You would have all of the nation's best rowers in one spot for the only time of the year (since the open women don't go to IRAs) and could have an amazing showcase for the sport to begin each season.

To all of the rowing faithful out there, would you be interested in a little April Madness on the water?

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