Thursday, January 14, 2010

Give It A Rest

There are currently six schools nationally that have a sprint football team, with a seventh (Post, in Connecticut) on the way next year.

One former member of TigerBlog HQ has the distinction of having three of those seven schools on his resume and a fourth as his last name, though that's not quite the point.

If you are on one of the campuses, you are familiar with sprint football, with the weight limits, with the history of the league, all of it. When someone says "sprint football," you immediately know exactly what they're talking about and jump right into the conversation.

If you're part of the 99% or so of colleges that don't have sprint football, you have no idea what it is. When one of the sprint football types talks to a non-sprint football type about the sport, the immediate response is a very puzzled look, followed by some explaining.

The college athletic calendar here at Princeton has the same element to it.

Essentially, the college athletic year is basically the same across the board, regardless of school. You have your fall sports, your winter sports and your spring sports and then nothing in the summer.

Sure, some schools have more sports than others, which makes the overlap of seasons more pronounced at some places. For instance, Princeton has 38 varsity sports, and on a normal November or March weekend, more than half of them could be competing. The national average of sports for Division I teams, on the other hand, is about half of what Princeton has.

But there are differences in the average school year that have long ago become the norm on one campus that are completely foreign concepts on others. Princeton basically has two of these.

The first is that fact that fall practices start so much later than most of Division I. By the second week of August, most of the rest of the country is already back in business, getting ready for openers in fall sports that now often come later that month, rather than in September or even after Labor Day.

The Ivy League has actually changed its rules to allow soccer and field hockey to start practices a week earlier than they used to, and the results have been very positive.

Still, even with that, the "fall" rolls around later in the summer here than it does most places. TigerBlog remembers one year back at the paper when he stopped at Princeton to do something on the start of football practice and then went to Rutgers for the football opener.

But that kind of scheduling is uniform across the league. Princeton is currently in the middle of the other scheduling anomaly, and this one is now pretty much unique to the Tigers.

Each January, as the winter sports season kicks into highest gear around the country, Princeton athletics grinds to a halt for a little more than two weeks for first semester exams. There are no games and very few practices, most of which are informal gatherings with a handful of players represented.

The men's basketball team is currently in the midst of a stretch of no games between Jan. 6, a win over Marist, and Jan. 24, a home game against Goucher. TigerBlog took the liberty of looking up how many Division I games would be played during that time, and the answer is 946. That's nearly 1,000 Division I men's basketball games in between Princeton games; the number for women's basketball is basically the same, TB assumes, and therefore isn't looking it out.

It also creates a situation where the basketball season gets split almost exactly in two parts, beginning with an assortment of spread-out games and concluding with a sprint.

The Princeton men are 8-5, and the season began on Nov. 14 (at Central Michigan). This means that the Tigers played 13 games in 53 days from the opener through the Marist game; add the 18 days off, and Princeton will have played 13 games in 71 days.

The final 14 games of the year after the Goucher game are all Ivy League games, and they will be played between Jan. 29 and March 9, or a 39-day stretch.

The same is basically true of all of the winter sports. For instance, the women's basketball team has played one league game, but they'll go with 13 more in the same 39 days as the men.

The men's hockey schedule would be the same, except for the fact that that season begins with 13 games in 44 days, takes a 15-day break, continues with five games in 12 days and then takes 15 more days off before finishing with 10 games in five weeks and then the playoffs. The women's team takes 20 days off and then sprints through its final four regular-season weekends and into the playoffs as well.

Of course, no schedule is more interesting than squash. The men's team has a 45-day break from match play, which will then be followed by eight regular-season matches in 18 days and then by the national championships a week later.

The women's team goes 53 days between matches and then flies through four league matches in 11 days (determining, like the men, the Ivy title) and eight total matches in 24 days before the national championships a week later as well.

And of course, to those who compete or work here, this is all perfectly normal, just another part of the year. For those of us who have been here for a long time, it's even more so.

TigerBlog remembers covering men's basketball at the paper or being the men's basketball contact here at HQ and having some big Ivy games before the break and then waiting through two free weekends before getting back at it.

Now, it seems like more years than not, Princeton does not play a league men's basketball game until after the break, by which time every team in the country other than Princeton and Penn has played in conference. And Penn has usually completed its Big Five games, which is sort of like a conference. As for the rest of the world, many will have reached double figures in league games before Princeton plays one.

The first semester exam break used to be the measuring stick for TigerBlog about whether or not his lacrosse guide was getting done on time. Now, with that no longer an issue, TB has been using that time in more efficient ways.

Like watching basketball on TV.


Anonymous said...

Should the academic calendar be changed? Is that the point? Or do you like it this way?

Princeton OAC said...

TigerBlog isn't taking sides on the academic calendar. He's just used to it this way, whereas most people in college athletics are amazed that we have this huge gap in our schedule this time of year.