With the recent introduction of Cindy Timchal’s first full recruiting class, about the only thing left for the fledgling Navy women’s lacrosse program to do is to play their first varsity game. That will probably happen in February, and I’m sure it will be a feel-good event with plenty of smiles and comments about what a great day it is for Navy sports. I’ll probably join in the celebration. My celebration, though, won’t be without concern.
I have nothing against women’s lacrosse. My unease is over any sport being added. It just seems to run counter to everything that’s been said about adding another varsity sport at the Naval Academy over the last few years. One of the best things about the athletic department at Navy is their openness, especially when compared to a lot of other schools. The “Ask the AD” section on Navysports.com, for example, is a great way for fans to get straightforward answers to their questions. Questions about adding another varsity sport are among the more common topics. Here’s one about ice hockey:
Q: An April 8, 2004 article on USCHO.com mentioned the Naval Academy recently received funding for a new hockey arena. This appears to be a big step in the direction of hockey becoming a varsity sport at the Naval Academy. In a previous response to a similar question, you said “…the two biggest hurdles we have to cross are finding appropriate resources and an adequate facility.” With the facility problem out of the way, what else stands in the way? Is there a possibility of fielding an NCAA Division I hockey team for the 2005-06 season? I would be interested in any information you can give me on your progress. Thank you. – asked by: Lance Wheeler –
A: Lance, the biggest hurdle we have is generating the annual resources necessary to sustain a competitive Division I hockey program. The operating budget can be close to half-a-million dollars for travel, uniforms, equipment, staff, supplies, and other related expenses. One thing we don’t want to do is field a varsity team without a chance to succeed.
I’m not into doing anything half way, and supporting 30 programs at this time is a real stretch on our resources. Taking on the addition of ice hockey would be another stretch, and the money would have to come from existing allocations. Unless we can find a way to generate supplemental funding in a realistic and legitimate way, we’re going to have to continue to study ice hockey as a potential varsity sport. I am, however, ambitiously approaching this project in hopes that varsity status could become a reality somewhere down the road.
Note the comment about the “real stretch on our resources.” But that’s for hockey; everyone knows that hockey would be a huge financial commitment as far as coaching, facilities, recruiting, equipment, and travel. Adding a women’s lacrosse team should be a little less demanding, right? The women’s lacrosse section seems to have disappeared from the site. There is a question about it tucked away under “Lacrosse,” though:
Q: Will Navy ever field a women’s lacrosse team? The sport is growing tremendously. – asked by: Dan Collins –
A: I think the Club women’s lacrosse program has done an outstanding job over the last few years, and I believe that women’s lacrosse in Maryland, at any institution, is a natural. Right now, however, we’re fielding 30 Division I programs, which is a stretch on our resources and support. There are a number of Clubs that would like elevation to varsity status, but it’s going to be difficult to do that until we find more opportunities for funding. I would, however, like to see it happen in the short term, if possible.
Once again we get a comment about a “stretch on our resources” and the need for an additional funding source. Well, we have a women’s lacrosse team now. Does that mean we received the funding for it? According to Chet in the official release announcing the team, “resources have been allocated.” That doesn’t sound like a new funding source to me; that sounds more like rearranging what we already had. There’s no mention of a new funding source in Bill Wagner’s writeup, either. There was something else, though:
Bolstering the case for adding women’s lacrosse is the fact Naval Academy leaders recently decided to increase the percentage of females in the Brigade of Midshipmen. That figure is growing from 17 to 20 percent, which means there will be approximately 150 more women in the brigade within a few years.
And there’s the key. Without a new revenue stream to apply to a women’s lacrosse program, the push to add women’s lacrosse wouldn’t have come from inside the athletic department. It had to have come from above; that means the superintendent.
VADM Rempt made it his mission to change the culture of the Naval Academy. More specifically, he wanted to change the way female mids are perceived by their male counterparts and create a better environment for women in general. Among the more high-profile examples of this were the changing of the lyrics to the alma mater and pushing the (COUGHridiculousCOUGH) Lamar Owens sexual misconduct court martial. Rempt’s aforementioned decision to increase the percentage of women admitted to USNA is another measure taken to reach that goal.
Adding a women’s lacrosse team would be a good way to account for 35-40 of the 150 women that the Naval Academy will add over the next four years. I firmly believe that athletics programs help to attract good candidates who otherwise would not consider the Naval Academy. That being said, I have two basic problems with the whole situation:
In case you haven’t been able to tell, my first problem is with the money and resources needed to maintain the team. If a new funding source hasn’t been identified, that means women’s lacrosse is being funded by budget cuts for the other 30 varsity teams. It isn’t like any of them were rolling in cash to begin with, either. Being forced to tell existing programs to suck it up is a lousy way to start a new program. Hopefully this won’t lead to any of our other sports eventually going the way of the now-defunct fencing team. That might be a little on the drama queen side, and it’s pure speculation on my part; but I’d still watch my back if I played squash or sprint football.
Money isn’t the only resource that’s at a premium. Land is too. As in practice fields. Where is this team going to practice? With football, men’s lax, men’s and women’s soccer, sprint football, platoon drill, and intramurals, grass is in pretty short supply on the Yard. If any club sport wants a field to use, they’re apparently going to have to reclaim more land from the Severn.
The second problem is that VADM Rempt’s plan isn’t going to work. (CAUTION: Non-sports-related rambling ahead.) The Supe was right about one thing: the Naval Academy could be a better environment for women. I wrote in another post here that people with an axe to grind against athletes at USNA use the mistakes of one as an indictment against all of them. The same can often be said for women. When one screws up, there are some who start grumbling about women in general. One woman is left being held indirectly accountable for the mistakes of someone else, even if in reality she’s a model midshipman. The way to eliminate that kind of mindset is not to admit more women. In order to admit more, the school will have to lower admission standards for women so that there are more to choose from. Doing that is going to mean more “screwups,” which will reinforce bad attitudes rather than eliminate them. The answer is to be even more selective so that the ones that do come to USNA are a bunch of fire-breathing ass-kickers ready to shine. Opinions are personal decisions that are made by individuals. They aren’t going to change by authoritarian means; to make the attempt will only breed resentment. The culture will change when these people realize that their ideas are being proven wrong. Jennifer Harris singlehandedly changed more attitudes as her name was etched into the walls of Memorial Hall than any superintendent could ever do. As they say from the moment you first step onto the yard as a plebe– leadership by example. It’s what every midshipman respects.
It’s ironic that the timing of all this talk of a new “flagship” women’s program is at a point when the Navy women’s soccer team just completed the most successful season in any women’s sport in the history of all three service academies. They were Patriot League champions, had a win over a top 10 team, were a legitimate top 20 team themselves, and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Add a nationally respected coach and one of the finest facilities in the country… If that isn’t a flagship program, then what is? This isn’t the time to be cutting their budget. This is the time to scrape together as much money as we can find to try to add to the momentum.
My concern over the women’s lacrosse team should not be interpreted as malevolence. These women are still going to be wearing the Blue and Gold, and as such they will be one more team for me to live and die by. My worries are no reason not to offer the support and admiration I give to every other team. But it’s that support of the other 30 teams that causes me to worry about the effects of the 31st.
It isn’t like there’s anything sinister behind this. Hell, I could be completely nuts and there actually was a new funding source. I doubt it, though. So for now I can only sit back and cheer the team on while Chet G. tries to make lemonade out of the apparent lemon that was handed to him. Time will tell if he succeeds.