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Battling bias in college sailing

Published on October 26th, 2021

After the college competition schedule got squashed for the past two seasons due to the pandemic, there was optimism that 2021-22 would see a return to norm. But if this is the norm, Ian Beckley has concerns.

Beckley, a previous sailing captain at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and the active coach at the University of Wisconsin, finds the upcoming Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association (ICSA) schedule in conflict with promoting fair play. Here are his personal thoughts on the situation:

A busy October of collegiate sailing comes to a winding close next weekend as teams face their rivals for conference titles. Starting line-ups have begun to emerge from the top 36 teams as they’ve battled for bragging rights at the recent Women’s and Coed Atlantic Coast Showcase events.

Female skippers, historically a rare sight in coed competition, are increasingly taking up starting roles. This shift is supported in part by the non-concurrence of the Coed and Women’s Showcase series. Unfortunately, no such care was taken when scheduling fall championships.

Concurrent championships pose an immediate value problem for teams across the country. Many of the ICSA’s top teams are led by an experienced, full-time head coach and their lesser experienced assistants. This week, coaches will discuss among their staff where resources are best spent.

This is an incredibly unfortunate position for a coach to be in. Not only will one of your teams lack useful counsel at their conference championship, but the choice signals which championship is of higher value.

Just like coaching staff, one sailor cannot be at two venues. Top-tier female skippers in the ICSA must choose between one event or the other. In combination with coaching decisions, this leads to an immediate decrease in the level of competition at either event.

More troublesome is the continuation of our value problem. If a coach retains a stand-out female skipper for the coed championship, there is a signaling that a coed championship title is more valuable than a women’s one, a longstanding bias amongst college sailors. Unfortunately, when travel rosters come out for Halloween weekend, teams across the country will finish their season with this bias at the forefront.

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