The 2021 IRA Championship will feature several firsts, all of them driven by the ways by which Covid-19 massively distorted the 2021 rowing season (such as it was). In particular:
- Time trials will replace heats in all events that would require heats
- Update Friday Schedule as of 5/27/21
- Time trials advance directly to semis; see the full schedule here
- Seeding for events will affect the order of starting only; this will be based on the final coaches poll
- A record number of schools and Varsity 8s are entered, made possible by the switch to time trials
- The event has been compressed to two days - really one-and-a-half days - both to limit time in hotels and on site, and to reduce interaction among participants
First, some resources on when and how to follow along this year:
Webcast schedule Entries, Schedule, and Progression Heaps more stuff
Schedule Info, Including Time Trials
The schedule is very different this year and will go off in rough terms:
Friday morning: Heavy Men's Time Trials; Lightweight Women's and Lightweight Men's Finals Friday afternoon: Heavy Men's Semis Saturday morning: Heavy Men's Finals
The time trial format was chosen largely due to the absence of sufficient results to do anything like a coherent ranking.
"Trying to predict this year's outcome based on previous performance and recent history doesn't have any foundation in fact; every school's rosters has suffered losses, and no one has a comprehensive list of how Covid has affected any given team," Caldwell said. "There's a certain amount of subjectivity to seeding crews, and we don't have that information this year."
From there, buy-in on the format seems solid.
"There is genuine excitement about the time trial format," Caldwell said, "and about being a part of the largest varsity field in the IRA in the 120+ year history of the event."
The larger truth is that time trials are becoming more routine - and arguably more necessary - at all levels of the sport from high school to international racing, and our sport will need to get used to this, and fast; so many will be watching closely how it plays out.
As regards fairness during the time trials, the longest period from the first crew getting on the course to the last will be about 15 minutes in the Varsity 8, with 30 seconds between each of the 31 crews entered.
(For those who have not done time trials, the typical routine is to put odd-numbered bow crews - 1, 3, 5, 7, etc. - in an odd-numbered lane (probably lane 5 at the IRA), and even-numbered crews in an even-numbered lane (Lane 4), which on a 30-second start margin leaves one minute between crews in any given lane.)
The regatta did use the final coaches poll to determine the starting order "so that crews of like speeds are operating in relatively the same time frame, as at many head races. It is one more element to try to get as fair results as possible."
Caldwell notes that another aspect of the time trial is to allow flexibility in the event of weather-related issues.
"We have told coaches since February that this is the direction we would go if we had more than 24 crews, but as , we have the ability to go from time trials Friday morning directly to finals Friday afternoon without semis.
"So in terms of the appeal of the time trial, that adds another element in that crews that might think about relaxing a little bit, they will need to think about what the weather may or may not do."
Indeed, in the final IRA mailing this past week, the following was highlighted in yellow up high:
Weather forecast seems to indicate we might get through this without major problems, but if that changes heavyweights need to be prepared to go straight from time trials to finals Friday afternoon if forecasted conditions for Saturday are dire.
Covid Testing, Boat Weighing, Lightweight and Coxswain Weigh-ins
Back in February and March, the IRA had planned to do on-site testing for all athletes and participants on Wednesday and Thursday ahead of the racing; this has been changed to a system that requires each institution to assign a health officer who will be charged with meeting the Covid testing and reporting standards of the event.
Lightweight weigh-ins will be the same as 'regular season' weigh-ins - the afternoon before racing under the supervision of a school official - as will boat weighing. Coxswains will be weighed on site, however; this is due to the lower numbers of coxswains involved as compared to lightweight rowers.
"The responsibility for all these elements will be squarely on the shoulders of our member institutions, which we are doing out of necessity," Caldwell said. "We are trying to do the best we can to keep people healthy and safe, and at the same time run a regatta that adheres to the traditions of a regatta we have all operated under for the past 125 years."
The decision not to have spectators was made several weeks ago, and the IRA will carry through on those plans, in large part because many participating institutions are still in some form of lockdown.
"I have had a series of really delightful letters from parents in which every single one has thanked us for making this happen, and then some diverted to mention that, since the governor of New Jersey and the CDC have come out with relaxed rules, can you do the same," Caldwell mentioned. "I called some on the phone to explain that, at the time we made our decision, we were at no spectators at winter events in most of our footprint, and we made the promise at that time that we would follow the guidelines of our member schools.
"As recently as this weekend, we still have member schools that are completely closed to the public, are testing kids multiple times weekly, and when they have sports contests on campus, it is without spectators. Last weekend, a number of the women's conference championships were without spectators. The NCAA has lifted many of their sanctions, and it can do that, but for us, we still have a significant number of schools on lockdown, and we promised that we would adhere to safety standards. We also put a budget together based on not having spectators, and with the agreement and help of the LOC (PNRA), we are going to carry through on that promise.
Organizers estimate that more than 80% of the approximately 1100 total participants (athletes, referees, officials, staff) are fully immunized, so we are approaching herd immunity in our community, and we are going to keep that community safe while they are under our supervision.
row2k will be on site with reports, photos, and updates all weekend; tremendous luck to all the crews this last weekend of the collegiate racing season.