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December 21, 2022

A Global Championship Qualifying Shakeup For NCAA Meets

During The Bowerman awards ceremonies, there was a quick mention of something that could greatly disrupt the qualifications of American-based athletes for global championships. I highly recommend this thread by Becca Peters which gives a brief oversight into the dissonance between the NCAA and World Athletics.

To summarize, World Athletics is now requiring that athletes’ qualifying marks for both purposes of world standards and rankings be achieved in meets that are listed on the Global Calendar. Although there is a relatively short 60-day runway to do so, it is achievable for most meets across the globe as a country’s federation must submit meets for national permits at a small cost.

We need more information to fully understand the implications, though it seems a high possibility that some marks, which will be accepted for USATF Championships may not be accepted for World Athletics Championships.

This rule basically sets the precedent that “to qualify for our meets, you have to play by our rules” which is reasonable. As we have seen an influx of countries join the competition manipulation watch list, the greater the need for additional oversight. But the main issue for US-based athletes is that the NCAA does not play by the same rules as WA.

Most significantly, there are major differences in policy on shoes and drugs.

The allowance of super shoes on the track should be changed for a number of reasons. The first being that it’s unfair that the previous generation of athletes’ calves would hurt for a week after racing a track 10,000m and the modern competitors’ don’t. But more seriously, as the sport evolves there should be some level of consistency that will mitigate the need for any extra asterisks. And in theory, this one’s not too drastic of an overhaul – if someone is wearing a pair of Vaporfly high heels at the NCAA Championships then they’re DQ’d. (If you think that sounds unnecessarily punitive, just remember that that’s an avoidable outcome: just wear spikes or legal flats.)

Drug testing is slightly more complicated, though not as big of an immediate issue for reconciliation. As noted by Peters, there was a serious issue with Semoy Hackett a decade ago when a failed NCAA drug test was not reported and she was able to still qualify and compete in the Olympics. There are different standards, different budgets, and different expectations. Is this disagreement over such points just part of a century-long feud between two organizations that does athletes a huge injustice?

Yes.

The ambiguous line drawn which divides amateurism and professionalism is the foundation of many problems in the sport. Now, with the opening of NIL deals, which allow athletes to get paid without compromising their eligibility, one of the major pushes to leave the NCAA is no longer as tempting. But it also further muddies the waters when it comes to marketing a professional sport that is only partly composed of professionals.

In theory, with the correct structure, plenty of notice, and all the major parties fully committing to the changes, I like the idea of meets not counting unless they’re part of the global calendar. The unoriginal analogy is that NCAA basketball players are not eligible to play in the NBA Finals. Go pro if that’s your interest!

My perfect and unrealistic world consists of 20-25 professional meets across the globe each season. It’d be much easier to market the sport if there were only ten event groups and a much smaller contingent of the athletes on “the circuit.” You’d know exactly when everyone is competing. It’d be possible to mandate eligibility criteria. And there’d be a huge increase in head-to-head competitions. But that’s not going to happen unless they put me in charge.

Besides, sharing this update two weeks before 2023 begins, while the qualifying windows are already open, is not the best way to enact any sort of meaningful reform. Hopefully, the NCAA and USATF can work together to make accommodations so that American-based athletes that rely on college meets still have ample opportunities this season.

With this week’s release of the 2024 Olympic standards, which are not easy (an understatement for the likes of a sub-27:00 10,000m), this becomes even more important. Despite having some of the most competitive meets in the world, college meets get ranked terribly by WA because of these minor differences. NCAA athletes will have to cross mountains to qualify via rankings, and they’ll have to wear the right spikes to do it.

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