By Jesse Squire
February 15, 2018
Jesse Squire’s Thursday Morning College Trackstravaganza and Field Frenzy runs every Thursday morning at Citius Mag. You can follow him on Twitter at @tracksuperfan.
Parker Morse tweets by the handle “Flashes of Panic”. You probably don’t know him, but you probably read some of the track & field websites he’s designed. Most of his tweets are about the various shortcomings of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, but last weekend was New Balance Indoor Grand Prix weekend in his native Boston.
He had a sixteen-part tweetstorm, of which a few parts are below. Speaking of Boston University’s Valentine Invitational on Friday and Saturday:
8/ Now for Valentine: collegiate indoor track in the USA is essentially a marks-chasing exercise. Because the national championships field is the top X marks in each event (or everyone who beats a qualifying standard), athletes spend the season chasing the standard.
— Parker Morse (@flashesofpanic) February 10, 2018
9/ Boston University’s track is famously friendly to mid-distance and distance runners. (I’ve raced there; it’s very forgiving and comfortable, if those are words you can imagine applying to a track.) It’s a great place to chase marks.
— Parker Morse (@flashesofpanic) February 10, 2018
10/ BU hosts two big multi-day meets – Terrier, in January, and Valentine, in February – which are heat after heat of collegiate athletes from literally all over the country chasing a mark that will get them to Nationals.
— Parker Morse (@flashesofpanic) February 10, 2018
I agree with Morse’s opinion here:
11/ Aside: in my opinion, this sort of meet is the worst part of the sport in the USA. The schedules sprawl over two days, and 98% of the races are as boring as watching paint dry for any spectators who don’t have a teammate or relative in the race.
— Parker Morse (@flashesofpanic) February 10, 2018
except I think it’s closer to 100%.
This last weekend was what I call college track’s “silly season”. The only thing that matters is getting a fast time or a big distance. It’s the kind of thing that might be fun to read about, but less fun to watch. Remember that it’s preferable for an athlete to be seventh or eighth with a fast time than to win with a slower time—which I find to be more or less the antithesis of competition.
All-around track techie and tweeter Chris Nickinson chimed in with “It’s also split squad season. I hate that so much.” I agree with this assessment, too. What makes college sports special is the colleges—I mean, I live and die with my Bowling Green Falcons—and splitting squads to two or three meets dampen the team aspect that makes college competition special within the world of track and field.
Where I disagree with Morse is the motivating factor behind the widespread practice of marks-chasing. I don’t think it’s all about qualifying for the NCAA Championships. Teams that don’t have a prayer of qualifying anyone still do it. So that can’t be the reason coaches of mid-major and minor DI teams chase marks.
Why do they do it, then? I think it’s for their conference championships. Many conference championships also use some sort of qualifying, especially during the indoor season when time and space are limited. But some conference championship meets don’t, or at least minimize it.
If I understand it correctly, the Big Ten Championships simply limit each team’s roster to 31 athletes and coaches can enter those athletes as they wish. The Mid-American Conference Championships follow a slightly more complex formula: rosters are limited to 30 athletes, entries are limited to three per event per team and 20 per event for the conference as a whole. I don’t think it’s an accident that the team aspect is more pronounced within those to conferences.
Two years ago a proposal was generated to redefine a “regular season” meet in order to standardize things and to rein in some of the problems Morse noted, but the structure of the proposal made it essentially DOA when brought before the coaches’ association for a vote. If any change is to be enforced on college track’s regular season, two things need to be kept in mind:
1) chasing marks is inherently uninteresting, and
2) coaches’ behavior is driven by what they perceive as their incentives, either real or imagined.
Addressing how individuals qualify for conference championships is a huge part of factor #2, and minimizing factor #1 would go a long way towards addressing the concerns of Morse, Nickinson, and myself.
LAST WEEK’S MEDAL WINNERS
Handing out the medals for the best in college track…
Gold – One record to rule them all
As (over)stated above, this past weekend was the height of college track’s silly season, where the only goal is chasing marks. Some did that very well.
Oklahoma’s Vernon Turner matched the highest jump ever by a college freshman (2.33/7′ 7¾”). USC’s Michael Norman and Texas Tech’s Divine Odudoru broke into the all-time world indoor top ten at 400 meters (45.00, #8) and 200 meters (20.18, #5). New Hampshire’s Elinor Purrier went to #2 in indoor collegiate history with 4:26.55, and Arizona State’s Maggie Ewen and Ole Miss’s Janeah Stewart both went to #3 in the shot (19.20) and weight (24.12) respectively.
We had two new collegiate records. USC and Florida dueled to the finish in the 4×400 at Clemson’s Tiger Paw Invitational and both broke the indoor collegiate record, with USC getting the win and the record at 3:01.98.
The other record is the one I find most impressive of everything that has happened in college track this year. Florida sophomore Grant Holloway broke the 60-meter hurdle record with 7.42 seconds.
There are a couple of reasons I find this so impressive. One of them is that straightaway races aren’t nearly as dependent on the inherent speed of a track as are multi-lap races. It still matters, but the difference between sprint straightaways of today and yesteryear aren’t nearly as different as they are in the ovals. Today’s hydraulically banked 200-meter tracks are a far cry from the jerry-rigged boards of the 1960s and 70s.
The other reason I find Holloway’s record so impressive is that he’s equaled a legend. I’m not talking about Omar McLeod, the Olympic and World champion whose record Holloway broke. No, I’m talking about the greatest collegiate hurdler of all time: Renaldo “Skeets” Nehemiah.
Nehemiah was a hurdler ahead of his time. He broke twice broke the world record as a sophomore (13.16 and 13.00) and again (12.93) after what would have been his senior year had he stayed at Maryland. It was seven years before another athlete ran under 13.00. He likely would have put the record further out of sight in today’s sport, where he could have cashed in instead of going to the NFL.
The reason Skeets didn’t hold the collegiate indoor record is that they didn’t run 60-meter hurdles back in Skeets’ day. Instead, it was either 50 or 55 meters or 60 yards. We can only make approximations of how fast his times would have been at 60 meters, albeit fairly confident ones. Here is a combined all-time collegiate indoor list:
Could Holloway go on to a 13.00 clocking this spring like Nehemiah did in 1979? We’ll have to watch and find out.
Silver – Championship Site Rebidding
Oregon has hosted the last four NCAA outdoor championships and was scheduled to do so through 2021. But just two days ago the 2019 and 2020 championships were reopened to bidding due to planned construction on Hayward Field in preparation for the 2021 IAAF World Championships.
Don’t get me wrong here. I think Oregon does a fantastic job of hosting the NCAA Championships, better than anyone else, and Hayward Field is a great site. But eight straight years is just a bit too much. I went to the championships last year with a couple of college buddies and had a blast and we all planned on going again, yet we felt no urgency to do it this year because it’s always at Oregon. Another issue is that it’s hard to grow interest in an event that stays in one place.
With two championships opened up for anyone to bid on hosting, where could it go? One sticking point is that the NCAA requires a seating capacity of at least 10,000, and there aren’t that many of those in this country. Here is some thinking out loud…
Des Moines (Drake Stadium)
Pros: Has lots of experience hosting major events, has a standing organization that can organize an NCAA meet in short order, the locals know and appreciate track
Cons: Small city and fairly remote
Assessment: I feel fairly confident I’ll be driving to Drake in 2019
Sacramento (Hornet Stadium)
Pros: Also has lots of experience and interest in hosting major track and field events
Cons: Can be hellishly hot, stadium has poor sightlines, and more championships on the West Coast doesn’t expand college track’s footprint
Assessment: The second most likely to win one or both bids, but I have no interest in going there
Philadelphia (Franklin Field)
Pros: Would be the first 20th-century NCAAs in the Eastern time zone and in a major metro area, Penn Relays organization/officials/media are second to none
Cons: Stadium has nonstandard track configuration and the long throws are well away from the track, either of which could be a nonstarter
Assessment: Three years ago HepsTrack.com posted an April Fool’s article about Penn hosting the NCAAs and then heard that it was actually somewhat accurate in terms of Penn’s future plans for Franklin Field and in fact not a joke. The facility has definite drawbacks, but if workarounds could be made…well, it would be something special that you just couldn’t miss.
New York (Icahn Stadium)
Pros: Either the New York Road Runners or the Armory would be top-notch organizers, and it’s the greatest city in the world
Cons: Permanent seating is only 5,000 and I’m not sure if temporary seating could double that
Assessment: I doubt any of the New York-area universities are interested in bidding, but it would be about as can’t-miss an event as above
Los Angeles (UCLA/Drake Stadium)
Pros: A quality stadium in the other greatest city in the world
Cons: UCLA has never hosted an NCAAs and might not have the organization to do it
Assessment: I would definitely go to an NCAAs in LA, but UCLA hasn’t shown an interest in hosting anything since Chico and the Man went off the air
Austin (Myers Stadium) or North Florida (Hodges Stadium)
Pros: Quality facilities, lots of experience hosting NCAA regionals
Cons: Meh locations that are too damn hot
Assessment: Likely bidders, but I’d just watch at home on TV
Berkeley (Edwards Stadium)
Pros: America’s forgotten historic track stadium in an area of the country even weirder than Portland but one that doesn’t feel a need to crow about it
Cons: Stadium needs a lot of work, Cal doesn’t have the money
Assessment: Would be cool, but isn’t going to happen
Fayetteville (McDonnell Stadium)
Pros: They hosted NCAAs before
Cons: Nobody went
Assessment: More likely to happen than you think, but uninspiring
Columbus (Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium)
Pros: High-quality facility in a state that has never hosted any kind of NCAAs—outdoor, indoor, or cross country—and that has a lot of track fans
Cons: Ohio State doesn’t care about track in the least
Assessment: Monkeys are going to fly out of my butt before this happens
Bronze – A new championship contender?
The USTFCCCA computer rankings are about one thing and one thing only: assessing a team’s scoring potential at the NCAA Championships. The top end of the rankings tends to be decently accurate. Early in the season, the rankings are calculated using athlete PRs, but this is the week in which the rankings switch to using 2018 season bests. And a new team emerged at the top of the men’s rankings: Texas Tech.
I find the prospect of Texas Tech as a championship contender very interesting. College track and field mostly has a handful of teams in the championship hunt every year: Oregon, Texas A&M, Florida, Arkansas, LSU, USC. It’s been a long time since someone new joined that club.
More interesting yet is that Texas Tech doesn’t have any history as a men’s track power. The Red Raiders have a pair of fifths at the NCAA indoor (2013 and ’15) and otherwise have never finished higher than eighth at an NCAAs, either indoors or out. They have just two conference championships in the last sixty years. Texas Tech is definitely a newcomer at the top of college men’s track.
The Red Raiders haven’t won anything yet, though, and it’s worth noting that the rankings are based solely on marks recorded in competition. Texas Tech has a brand-new high-quality indoor track facility located at a helpful elevation of 3260 feet above sea level. Are Texas Tech’s athletes the fastest, or are they merely fast athletes who got to run on the fastest track? It’s a distinction that will become clear come championship time.
THIS WEEK’S MEETS
The top meets of the upcoming weekend are rated from one to three dip finishes for sheer watchability…
Three Dips: None
It’s the week before most conference meets and there isn’t much going on in college track.
Two Dips: USATF Championships
The USATF Championships is going to be a great meet from a pro perspective, but for this column, I assess things from a college perspective. There are a small number of collegians competing. Texas’ Teahna Daniels is a possible finalist in the women’s 60 meters.
Two Dips: Conference USA Championships
A few conferences hold their championships a week early, and Conference USA is the best of them. I’d have to guess that Middle Tennessee State and UTEP are the top contenders for both the men’s and women’s championship, but I don’t really know. I do know that Michael Saruni, the collegiate record* holder in the indoor 800, is entered in the 800 and mile. The second of those should be interesting. His PR is 4:03.32 from last year’s C-USA Championships, but he’s a far better runner now than he was then.
*There is no “official” collegiate record but a list of records is maintained by both the USTFCCCA and Track and Field News. I don’t think their 800m record should count because Paul Ereng ran it in a Kenyan uniform, not a Virginia uniform. But I don’t get to decide these things.
One Dip: K-State Steve Miller Open
The meet where your times keep on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.
One Dip: Nebraska Tune-Up
I’ve based this column on Drew Magary’s Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jambaroo, and one of the things I find entertaining about it is that he’ll just skip previewing boring games and rant about something completely unrelated to football.
I’ve always lived close enough to Canada to get the Windsor CBC station, either on my cable or on an antenna back in the 70s and 80s. Hockey Night in Canada is great and their news coverage is based on the idea that the viewers are, you know, functioning adults. But by far the best thing about it is when the Olympics come around.
I was too busy to watch anything until Tuesday night, but holy cow. CBC’s Olympic coverage is on 22 hours per day. They break for news and Coronation Street and that’s it. My breakfast got cold the other day because I waited for a commercial to go get it and that turned out to be a fifteen-minute wait. They keep the talking heads to a minimum and the sports action to a maximum. Preproduced tearjerker pieces exist, but they’re considered extras to be added at the margins.
NBC, on the other hand, is terrible. Just awful. NBC Olympic broadcasts often reinforce the worst stereotypes of Americans: jingoistic, self-absorbed, and not only ignorant of the rest of the world but almost defiantly unwilling to learn.
If an event doesn’t feature Americans as contenders then it might as well not exist. They act as if the hosts and announcers are the stars instead of the athletes. Incredibly stupid things get uttered on air with regularity, and I’m not even talking putting the execrable Tom Hammond on the microphone for speed skating. Ten years ago nobody even bothered to learn how to pronounce the name of the host city, and they haven’t learned now either.
But what really bothers me about the NBC approach was best summed up by John Madden. In his Hey, Wait A Minute! (I Wrote A Book!), he talked about one of his first pre-game meetings with CBS producers. They told him they had a really great show today, and Madden angrily told them they were not broadcasting a show but a damn football game. He said they’d louse it up if they did it as a show and he wasn’t interested in being part of that. NBC tries to do this as a show, but the Olympics are clearly athletic competition.
Of course, if you install a VPN you can be just like me sitting up here in my frigid poutine-soaked Rust Belt post-industrial hellscape and kick NBC to the curb.
Enjoy the Nordic Combined!
I was second in the 1980 Olympic* long jump. (*Cub Scout Olympics, Pack 99, 9-10 age group.)