The Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) Championship continues to review options for the IRA Regatta this spring, including complications wrought by yesterday's announcement that the Ivy League will not participate in any conference competition this spring, including league championships.
IRA Commissioner Gary Caldwell spoke with row2k at length about the IRA's current status and considerations for the 2021 regatta; the most salient points from the conversation are outlined here.
The Ivies almost always make up eight of the 24 participating institutions at the IRA; absent 33% of potential participants, many of them medal and championship contenders, several issues arise. Most significant of these might be the financial implications of participation.
The IRA is a cost-sharing organization, which means that all members and regatta participants share equally in the cost of running the organization and the championship each year.
Thus, in a normal year that has 24 participating organizations, each school contributes 1/24 of the annual budget for the regatta.
In a typical year, the cost to a participating program might be in the low-ish to mid- four figures; for 2021, that number could soar to five figures per program.
A boost in per-program expenses could be caused by fewer programs shouldering the overall cost, top-heavy costs of Covid-19 testing, and the loss of revenue due to prohibitions on spectators and other paying attendees.
On-site Covid-19 testing would likely be the largest source of cost increase; Caldwell said that it will cost approximately $1500 per boat to participate in the testing. Thus, a school that brings three eights and a four would add $5000 or more to the overall cost of the regatta.
The likely testing protocol would be along the following lines: test upon arrival on-site, then every two days after that. A sample testing regimen in the case of a three-day regatta might see a team tested on arrival on Wednesday, then again on Friday after the heats, then again on Saturday afternoon in anticipation of Sunday morning racing.
How many schools decide to attend is also critical, Caldwell noted; given the cost-sharing structure, if attendance is lower than the typical 24-program subscription, fixed costs will go up per program.
Other potential sources of a cost increase could include revenue losses in the form of absent parking revenue, alumni tents, vendor tent fees, and similar ancillary income.
Some cost savings may exist for a scaled down event in the form of no Jumbotron, not having to provide facilities to spectators (Porta-Johns, other), reduced security, and other factors.
The 2021 IRA will almost certainly have no spectators
Caldwell did note that a broadcast would still be likely to serve the larger IRA shareholders and interest groups. "My feeling is that we would have to do a broadcast," he said.
Caldwell did note that, in the event of lower subscription overall, whether in the total number of programs participating, the number of crews each team brings to the event, or a combination of both, could allow for a two-day regatta instead of the traditional three-day regatta, which would cut down on many of the associated costs, including testing, broadcast, and more.
As we wrote last year in Regatta Organizers Talk About When and How We Can Return to Racing During a Pandemic, regatta organizers need a solid six to eight weeks to pull a large event together. The timeline for decisions about the 2021 IRA is very consistent with this truism.
The IRA staff and Stewards have been in constant communication, and are in touch with 2021 site hosts PNRA in Mercer County, Caldwell said, and the Stewards next official meeting is March 12. From there, Caldwell said IRA staff will formulate anticipated costs based on all available information, including a sliding scale based on potential participant numbers.
Cost estimates for a 24-school event, or an 18-school event, or a 15-school event, will be shared with all IRA members.
From there, Caldwell anticipates requiring a firm declaration from programs by March 31 on whether they can and will attend the regatta, as well as a financial commitment; March 31 is eight weeks and a couple days before the current IRA racing start date of May 28.
The question of what might be a cutoff for whether to run the regatta at all is still under consideration; Caldwell did mention the 2020 NCAA ruling that required at least 50% of sponsoring institutions to be in competition for there to be a championship, and since IRA rules are based on and very closely track NCAA rules, the IRA had planned to adopt that number last year.
That would mean at least 12 teams would have to declare participation for 2021, but notably would also have to shoulder the entire cost of the regatta among their reduced ranks.
If 24 teams do declare, it could close the regatta to teams that are not quite ready to declare by March 31. So if a team wanted to join late in the game - perhaps a school that could not commit in March due to low confidence in their "phase" at the time saw rapid improvement, or evolving Ivy guidelines created the possibility of participation in the event (or a school within the geographical radius got a pass to attend), the regatta might already be 'full.'
With many variables in play, the overarching impetus is that many programs hold out hope of offering their athletes some sort of season-ending race event; or potentially, any races at all.
In the absence of Ivy participation (as well as that of MIT, which has also decided not to participate in competition this spring), the ranks of traditional IRA lightweight programs stands at a bit less than a handful for both the men and women, with Boston University, Georgetown, Stanford, and Wisconsin on the women's side, and Georgetown, Mercyhurst, Navy, and Temple on the men's side.
Even beyond institutional decisions on participation interest, there could be debate on whether low participation numbers could be declared a national championship; if only three eights show up, the Stewards would have to decide whether it warrants the 'championship' designation.
(On that issue, several IRA events are not official national champions, a designation saved for the top three heavy men's eights and the light men's and women's varsity eights; all other events are nominally "IRA Champion." This approach could potentially be applied if subscription is low, but Caldwell said that this is not under discussion at present while the actual number of participants is still unknown.)
In a year that will have very limited competition, and potentially no cross-country competition, the difficulty of seeding the regatta is also under review.
For example, the Eastern Sprints will look very different, as it has served annually as the Ivy Championship, and no Ivies will be in attendance this year if the new policies remain in place.
Caldwell did note that, prior to the 1990s, all events were subject to a random draw; this would certainly create some intrigue at the annual IRA seeding show.
There are multiple considerations in play, both at the IRA and institutional level of varying complexity; an example might be if a competition takes place significantly after the end of a school term - say school ends May 13, and the IRA will not take place until two weeks later - will students be allowed to stay on campus to train? Can they train at a neutral site?
Caldwell noted that it is not within the IRA's purview to decide if an institution can race or not for any reason.
"It is entirely up to the institution and conferences to make those decisions," he said. "If we can run a regatta and their institution clears them, they will be able to participate."