AND NOW THE (ATHLETIC) SHOE IS ON THE OTHER FOOT. For years I’ve chided people who were big fans of collegiate football and basketball for their whining whenever one of their favorite still-eligible players turned pro early. “Kwitcherbitchin,” I’d say. “You wouldn’t dream of stopping the school’s ace violin player from joining the New York Philharmonic before graduation.”
So much for that analogy. Track has lost the occasional star through the years, but all of a sudden I’m seeing the scene through the same agonized eyes as my ball-friends have. Too many of our virtuosi are gone this year! And gone from more than the NCAA, which is the real crux of the matter.
As noted on p. 22, no fewer than four Olympic 4x4 gold medalists (Jeremy Wariner, Otis Harris, Dee Dee Trotter, Sanya Richards) didn’t come back. Wariner and Trotter were also reigning NCAA outdoor champions, as were early-pro-goers Lauryn Williams, LaShaunte’a Moore and Tiffany McWilliams. Add to that roster of stars former winner Lashinda Demus, Olympic champ Veronica Campbell and the concept of a Justin Gatlin who redshirted the Olympic year and you’ve got an ’05 collegiate scene that doesn’t look anything like it could/should have. But I can live with a changing collegiate scene.
Indeed, one of the great things about NCAA competition is the never-ending flow of new faces. That’s not the problem: the real issue is the fundamental disconnect between the U.S. and international seasons in our sport and what the go-pro-early phenomenon has done to the domestic side of the sport as a whole.
If your favorite collegiate hoopster jumps to the NBA early, no big deal. You just watch him play in a different league at the same time. But U.S. track has this huge problem of a domestic season that runs from February through June and an international season that runs from June through September. Unless it’s the Olympics, Americans don’t spend a lot of time thinking about track after the first couple of weeks of June are up. So the product they get in the early window is crucial. This year’s product has been lacking.
Pros having no choice but to tailor their seasons towards the overseas action—particularly in a year where everybody wants a long rest after the Olympics—you get an ’05 U.S. season that starting with indoors and running through the middle of April has been woefully-woefully-woefully short on its big-name people competing domestically.
It’s understandable that we have to live without the Gatlins and Wariners of the world as collegians, but when they’re not competing at all, their absence becomes only more noticeable.
• • •
WHAT DOES USATF HAVE AGAINST FIELD EVENTERS? I realize there are issues with the carrying capacity of any facility, particularly when you’re trying to stage the Junior Championships and the multi-events along with the rest of the national championships, but the tentative schedule for Carson this year is highly unfriendly to both field eventers and their fans.
This meet is the World Championships Trials after all, but many of the nation’s finest jumpers and throwers are going to get short shrift in June. The distribution of their finals over the course of the 4-day meet is 6-4-3-3. That means that 10 of the 16 events will likely be contested in front of a virtually empty house. The two big-ticket days will see only 3 field finals each. The athletes and the fans both deserve better.