July 2004

IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT. I’ve always liked that dictum, much as I have trouble following it myself. Those words have become somewhat of a mantra for the anti-Regionals crowd, who say that all was copacetic in the collegiate track world before Regionals were introduced last year. And make no mistake, when it comes time for the NCAA to review the concept later this year, there will be those who will clamor to roll back the clock and return us to the bad old days of meaningless run-for-time qualifying instead of having meets of substance.

Unfortunately, the antis may have exactly the kind of ammunition they need with the Alistair Cragg case (see p. 43). Just in case you’ve been on vacation on Mars, what happened was that Cragg, one of the greatest distance runners in collegiate history, skipped the 5K at his Regional, Arkansas apparently believing there was such a thing as a “medical waiver.” As I read the rules—and as did the T&F Committee—there is no such thing, so he was denied entry to the Nationals.

When the thought of Regional-type qualifying was first floated a couple of decades back, I was hugely among the antis, fearing exactly the Cragg kind of scenario. I didn’t think the very best performers should be denied access to the Nationals. And I still don’t. Thus it was that when the first Regionals rolled out last year I was glad to see that there was a proviso which allowed the people at the top end of the list to be advanced no matter what they did at Regionals.

Unfortunately that bedeviling “honest effort” concept reared its ugly head. As we wrote in T&FN at the time, “A significant number of high-end people apparently took advantage of the good-mark provision by false-starting or no-showing, but no ‘honest effort’ DQs resulted. Arkansas distance star Alistair Cragg joked, ‘Maybe I should have taken a step.’ ” So this year the NCAA “fixed” the problem by requiring “honest participation in all finals.” Maybe Cragg should have taken that step.

Clearly, the NCAA needs to do one of two things: either eliminate qualifying- from-the-list altogether, or remove the need for list leaders to compete at all. I would vote for the latter. Qualify 6 out of each Region (instead of 5) and allow for 3 wild cards. And if I were in charge, here’s a major change I would make:

Eliminate relays from the Regionals and let them qualify on a pure year-list basis, just as is done for the 10K and multis. One of the things Regionals was supposed to do was make for meaningful competition during the regular season. With meets like Texas, Drake and Penn, the relays have always had that. They don’t need to prove it again in a Regional. Eliminate the relays and you eliminate most of the doubling and tripling that causes the coaches to grumble the most. Remove those races and I think many of the antis would become pros.