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May 9, 2017

The IC4A/ECAC meet: what the heck is it?

Folks, this one goes out to the kids from the Not East Coast who maybe have wound up on the East Coast for their continued education, and who are also pursuing collegiate distance running while there.

There will come a time–more than likely–where you’ll peep at your team’s tentative racing schedule and see the usual suspects: meets held in towns with strange names like Binghampton; duels against old-timey rivals that are no longer that fierce of rivals; and unusual and mysterious acronyms. These acronyms probably are scheduled for the weekend before, or of, your conference meet.

“What gives?” you probably are asking yourself. “I’m supposed to be winning conference or gearing up for Nationals!”

I’m here to tell you that there’s a good chance you’ll do neither of those things, and that it’s okay.

Every May for the past several years at Princeton University’s Weaver Stadium, just-shy-of-national-caliber track athletes from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic congregate to close out their seasons, or take one last stab at securing a regional-qualifying mark.

This meet is called either the IC4A or ECAC Championships, depending on your gender. For the men, it’s called IC4A (Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes of America), and for the women, ECAC (Eastern College Athletic Conference).

And at this point, it has a conciliatory air about it. If you run fast enough, jump high or far enough, or heave your implement with enough force to qualify for IC4As/ECACs, chances are you started the season with ambitions of qualifying for the regionals, or perhaps even nationals.

That’s not to say impressive marks aren’t posted annually at this Princeton, New Jersey, mainstay of a track meet. It’s just that for the bulk of its competitors, there’s some place they’d rather be, a meet of greater consequence they’d rather be training for.

But it hasn’t always been like this. The IC4A outdoor championship has been continually held since 1876, and at various points throughout its existence, was the preeminent collegiate championship meet in the United States.

The NCAA first held an outdoor track championship of its own in 1921, and the writing was slowly scribbled onto the wall for the IC4A. The two meets coexisted nicely for a bit, with many non-east coast schools opting for the IC4A meet over NCAAs until the Great Depression. (The 1932 IC4A outdoor meet was held in Berkeley, California!)

That said, as late as the 1970s, the IC4A meet still possessed the clout necessary to draw top-level athletes from the eastern U.S., often as a tune-up meet before NCAAs, but in some instances, in lieu of it.

Several IC4A meet records of note were set in the 1970s, most notably Sidney Maree of Villanova’s 3:37.41 and 13:27.07, and the 1:45.34 run by Tom McLean of Bucknell. But by the late 1970s and early 1980s, the cost of traveling to the NCAA championship–not guaranteed to be on the east coast–had no longer so prohibitive as to dissuade east coast schools from sending their qualifying athletes.

Unfortunately for east coast track women of the era, the first concurrent running of the ECAC championship was in 1984–well past the heyday of the once proud eastern seaboard championship meet.

So just because you’re not at the meet of your dreams this weekend, it doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of it. Princeton is a great place to run fast, and enjoy a decadent sandwich after made up of breakfast delectables, cured meats, and special sauces. Plus, if you score or win an event at IC4As you cement your place in a history that goes back to our nation’s Centennial, which is really cool.

Everything matters so long as you put personal weight and significance into it. So have some fun in the best state in the union–New Jersey–and create some fond memories while there.

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