The Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) Stewards met today to approve the running of the 118th IRA Regatta as a two-day regatta on Friday - Saturday May 28-29. While some high-profile teams will not attend, at present 26 teams have declared their intent to compete, with as many as a half dozen or so more potentially in play.
"It's a different IRA, but I think it will be a very exciting IRA," IRA Commissioner Gary Caldwell said. "With the 26 schools we have now, the Varsity 8 will have three teams from the 2019 V8 Grand Final, three from the petites, four from third level final, all six from the fourth level final, and 10 more schools that weren't there, and there could be more.
"For schools who have never been or rarely make it to the IRA, and for a school like Fairfield who has never raced the Varsity 8 at the IRA, this is an incredible opportunity for them to see what it is like at the top of men's rowing in the country. Then there are schools like Marietta, where Greg Myhr, who is in his second year as head coach, is going to bring the boathouse, three eights and a four. We think this is a great thing."
Just a few months ago, a 2021 IRA looked extremely unlikely, Caldwell admits.
"Did I think two months ago that we would have the largest IRA field ever? No, that was the furthest thing from my mind," he said with a short laugh. "But coaches and athletic departments, who sometimes get a lot of criticism that they don't care about men's rowing, all stepped up. Literally every single coach said they wanted to come, and then yesterday entries were pouring in ahead of our deadline, and everyone is coming.
"And now it's incumbent on all of us in our community to put our best foot forward and put it together with the same spirit of cooperation that got us to this point."
Caldwell offered extensive details on the plans for the regatta in a call with row2k today.
Covid-19 Testing Protocol
The IRA has established clear testing protocols in the run-up to the regatta, to be run by Linda Muri, who Caldwell terms the IRA "Covid czar," with input from chief ref Laura Kunkemuller and on-site doctor Scot Fisher.
In brief, teams will be required to do the following:
Take a PCR test within 48 hours prior to arriving at the regatta site, or an antigen test the day of departure
Take a rapid, 15-minute test after 11am on Thursday
Provide a university-designated officer who will be responsible for administering testing, reporting, interactions with regatta staff and officials, contact-tracing and other elements in the event of a positive test, and similar functions
In accordance with the NCAA practice of testing every two days, a negative test on Thursday will get everyone through to the end of racing on Saturday.
Teams have the choice of administering their own testing or using a testing system that the IRA will have in place on-site. That test, a rapid antigen test offered by Abbott, can give results in 15 minutes (which functions a bit like a pregnancy test for ease of comparison) , will have the athletes pick up a kit, connect by phone to receive instructions from folks at Abbott, then wait 15 minutes for their results.
The IRA is working up a protocol in the event of a positive test that would put the team on 'pause" as a contact-tracing and evaluation procedure was put into effect, which will be administered by Muri and Fisher.
If a team chooses to use the IRA's rapid test, the cost is approximately $50 per test, which they would pay to the IRA.
At present the following preliminary entries have been declared:
26 Varsity Heavyweight Men's Eights
23 Second Varsity Heavyweight Men's Eights
15 Third Varsity Heavyweight Men's Eights
12 Varsity Heavyweight Men's Fours
Entries for the men's and women's lightweight eights will be announced later (see below for more)
Caldwell noted that there is the potential for up to 32 institutions competing ultimately; read more on this below under the heading "Potential Late Comers."
See the full Preliminary Entry list here.
At present, lightweight participation on the men's side comes from Mercyhurst, Navy, and Temple; on the women's side it is Boston University, Stanford, and Wisconsin. In both cases Georgetown is a potential participant, but is not declared as of this writing.
There will be no 'head count' threshold for running an event; Caldwell said he had considered this, but a conversation with a colleague who mentioned 'it's not their fault if other schools can't get there" took it off the table.
"That really resonated with me. They trained with the assumption that they will have someone to race, and if there is someone to race, we should do everything we can to give them that opportunity."
Potential Late Comers
There are still a number of teams on the sideline at present that could express late interest in the regatta; these include NESCAC teams, and even potentially some Ivies, which could chose to enter competitions on an institutional basis, and not a league basis. At least one or two Ivies are in or close to "Phase 4," which will allow competitions.
Caldwell said that, due to the time trial format, some additional entries could be accepted without creating an advancement problem, although at certain benchmarks different advancement scenarios might come into play.
The IRA Declaration deadline is May 17, which should allow any team that wants to declare for the event plenty of time to do so.
"We can take anybody, generally speaking, until our closing amended entry date," Caldwell said.
Progressions: Time Trials, Semis, Finals
Since seeding will be difficult to impossible, no heats will be run, and instead a time trial will be used to advance directly to semifinals.
Using current numbers, a 26-crew V8 event could result in three semis that would each send two crews to an A final, two to a B final, and two to a C final; and then two more four-boat semis that would send three crews each to a D final, and two boats to an E final.
Unless weather or other unforeseen factors prevent it, semis and finals will be run for all entries; in the 26-entry scenario above, there will be four six-boat A-B-C-D finals, and one two-boat E final.
Site Plan: No Spectators, Tiered Interaction, Masks
There will be no spectators at the event, and Caldwell emphasized that breaking the 'team bubble' could have very unfortunate fallout.
"It's an unfortunate part of this, but any outside interaction could lead directly to someone's team being shut down, so we are asking everyone to watch from home and not to try to come to the regatta, meet with the students outside the hotel, or any other interactions."
The IRA sent the following to all interested schools:
"Due to the ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic the IRA Stewards, Medical and Regatta Staff, and the Local Organizing Committee have determined that the best and safest way to secure the health of all the competitors, coaches, staff, officials and local volunteers is to run the regatta without spectators. Teams on site will be restricted from outside contacts with family, friends, and university alums. Violations of these rules could lead to the suspension and/or expulsion of individuals and teams.
"Please, for the sanctity of the championships, and the health and safety of all participants, do not visit the regatta site or team hotels. The IRA will be providing wall to wall internet coverage of the time trials Friday morning, semi-finals Friday afternoon, and finals on Saturday morning and urge you to enjoy the races from the comfort of your home viewing area."
Participants will be segmented into three tiers; Tier 1 will include all athletes, coaches, trainers, and referees, and will be the only individuals allowed in the boatyard and staging area; Tier 2 will include regatta staff and other operational personnel; Tier 3 will include sports information people and similar individuals. No direct interaction across tiers will be allowed, and they will be assigned to different areas on site. Access to the finish line will be extremely limited; no athletes or other Tier 1 individuals will be allowed to go to the finish.
"Kids have been waiting for a year and a half to be able to race in a championship, and no one wants to risk anything that would keep them from racing," Caldwell added.
Masks will be required to be worn by all participants in all areas; only "athletes after they push off the dock" will be exempted.
Video Will Show All Racing, Including Use of Two Drones
Caldwell noted that video is 'going to be a big deal, and because we can't have spectators is one of the most critical pieces we are working on."
A full stream will be available throughout racing, including the time trials, and permits for the use of two drones have been secured, one for the first 1000 and one for the second 1000, and on-water and ground cameras are in play.
"There is a new fiber optic cable and many other improvements that Kris Grudt and his staff have made to the site that will improve the quality of the broadcast," Caldwell said. "I should add that the PNRA folks have been bending over backwards to make all this come together, and we really appreciate it."
In our previous report, Caldwell estimated that the cost to each program might approach $10,000; it seems likely that the final cost could be a bit lower.
In 2019, the cost per program payable to the IRA to attend was $3000. For 2021, invoices to declared teams will increase by approximately $2250 for a total of ~ $5250, plus the cost of testing, which universities will assume themselves. As noted above, if a university uses the IRA's on-site rapid testing, the cost will be $50 per athlete.
The increased costs come mostly in the form of lost revenue, primarily from alumni tent fees and ticket sales.
To do the math - back in February, when Caldwell, IRA Executive Director Katie Boldvich, and the Stewards estimated that the cost per program could be up to $10,000, Caldwell set a goal of staying under that. Thus, if a school is traveling with a full team, coaches, a boatman, testing czar, etc., the full travel group might be 40 people. Using the IRA on-site test, that 40 people x $50/test is another $2000, bringing on-site costs to $7250 range. Add to that the pre-event PCR test, and the numbers pan out.
Is It A National Championship?
Even with 26-30+ schools lining up across multiple events potentially for both men and women, some very strong programs will not attend, and many still : But is it a national championship? From Caldwell's perspective, absolutely it is.
"You bet it is!" he said with obvious enthusiasm. "We will award the historic IRA trophy at the end of the varsity eight race, and I hope people focus on what a great opportunity this is, and what great racing we can have."