July 2006
I’M SURE REGULAR READERS OF THIS COLUMN have noticed that I spend an extensive amount of time talking about meet presentation, particularly when it comes to the scheduling of events.

Sorry if I bore you, but I continue to fight this battle because if our sport is to stay healthy in these competitive times, it needs to remain spectator friendly, and I just don’t see either the NCAA or USATF Championships as being all that warm and cuddly, at least to anyone but the hardest-core fans (any left?).

There are those who say that one of the sport’s great appeals is the 3-ring-circus nature of it all. People not only running, but also people jumping and throwing at the same time. But like all things, this has a limit, and both meets too often exceed it.

How much attention can one give to each of the 6 field events (both shots, both triple jumps and the women’s pole vault and hept javelin) that will be happening at 12:35 on Saturday in Sacramento when the NCAA women’s 100 goes off?

Two weeks later in Indianapolis, when the men’s 400H final starts on Friday night you can choose between that and an infield orgy with three jumps and a throw.

There’s a simple solution to the logjam—some events have to go. Specifically, multis and Juniors. To its credit, USATF did ease the crunch a bit this year by starting the Junior Championships—unfortunately, held concurrently with the pros—a day earlier. Now if they’d just give them their own meet, separate from the big boys.

The other thing that needs to be done at USATF (and at the NCAA) is a return to the setup when the multi-events had their own separate days, or even a separate site. It’s better for the athletes and it’s better for the fans.

The problem with having the Juniors and the multis commingled with the big meet boils down to the simple concept of carrying capacity. No matter how shrewdly you schedule or how versatile you make your facility, somewhere along the line you’re going to run into a problem with there not being enough rings and/or pits. So the meet gets longer and longer. When all is said and done, Thursday and Friday in Indianapolis will both essentially be 12-hour days in the stadium. Try selling that to the public.

The country’s elite-level field eventers, who are supposed to be in training for things like the World Championships and Olympic Games, deserve to learn how to compete in that style of competition, with proper qualifying rounds. Instead, the facilities logjam has our jumpers and throwers throwing in a stultifying flights system that fails to prep them for the rigors ahead and also puts fans to sleep.

Aside from the logistic logjam the multi-event athletes put on the facility, as an announcer I can also tell you that their presence is counterproductive from a presentation standpoint. With so many extra events going on, it’s impossible to keep the fans informed on what’s happening everywhere on the field. So people make national teams and don’t even get noticed. That shouldn’t happen.

And to be properly appreciated, multi-events need the love and care of an announcer who has the airtime to gently massage all the statistics and facts and make them known. That doesn’t happen in the context of the USATF or NCAA anymore. It’s a lose-lose situation all around.