Thursday, May 26, 2011

My 2 Spikes Worth: What's not to like about the NCAA Track Championship process?

photo TrackAndFieldPhoto
Let me start off by saying this, Vin Lanana is a very smart man. He has done an excellent job with the US Olympic Trials ('08 and '12), he's done a great job coaching the Oregon Ducks and alumni like Andrew Wheating and more importantly, he's an overall excellent ambassador of the sport of Track & Field. When I heard he was in the running for the CEO of USATF, of course I thought he or Mary Wittenberg (of NYRR) would be excellent choices, but that both would probably pass as they both already have excellent, well-paying jobs, with no "problematic" boards to answer to. All this being said, I think Vin is wrong in disliking the new-ish NCAA Track Championship qualifying rounds.

The way I see it, the old system rewarded those that ran excellent times with almost a pass through to the NCAA semi-final (and sometimes final). The new system rewards those that are in the top 48 (in many cases) in their region and lets them battle it out like the NCAA Basketball Tournament does; the same tourney that puts the nation into a frenzy in March every year. The new system gives the little guys a chance, albeit a small one, and rewards those that peak at the right time, under pressure. Check out the brackets!

Case in point: Jordan Neil from East Carolina University ran a 3:43.43 for the 1500 meters at the Florida Relays this year; an excellent time and likely close to a school record. In the past, after conference, Neil's season could have come to an end. Now he is the underdog (a la Butler Bulldogs), but he does have a chance to compete for it. Another point here is that teams like ECU don't always get into the great meets like Stanford, so they have to chase times at meets with often lackluster competition. Teams like Oregon, Stanford, UCLA or even my alma mater of North Carolina don't have to worry about this. Not to beat a dead horse, but they don't even have a track at ECU. They started building it maybe last January or so and it's not done yet, so they've been training on the local high school track a few miles from campus.

Maybe I am a fan of underdogs, but the cream should rise to the top, right? And at minimum, this will get our best collegians ready for the pressure of rounds at USA's, Worlds or even the Olympics! I guess we'll find out soon enough as the NCAA Regionals get fired up today!

Here's a few links for coverage:
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