April 2007
FROM THE NCAA GUIDE: “The American people have shown a fondness for sports events that can be completed in the time of two hours or less. There is no reason why all the track meets cannot be finished within a space of two hours time.”

File that quote under the plus ça change category. Here’s the rest of the quote: “At the 1929 NCAA meet the program with the exception of the pole vault was completed within 1 hour and 53 minutes.”

That’s right, we’ve been fighting the bloated track meet concept since time immemorial. (I hasten to add that the ‘29 NCAA meet was single-sex and didn’t have the steeplechase, 10,000, any relays, triple jump, hammer or multi-events. All the prelims—which meant all but the last three attempts in the field events—and the 2M were held the day before.)

The final day of this year’s NCAA Championships (that would be Sacramento on June 9) harkens back to the old days when it comes to wham-bam-thank-you-mam. The decision was driven more by the need to fill a TV window than anything else, but on Saturday no fewer than 17 finals—5 on the field, 12 on the track—are going to be crammed into a window of just under two hours.

That’ll make a good TV package, and it’ll be a lot of bang for the buck for the people in the stands. If they don’t mind morning track, that is. To fit into an East Coast TV window, you see, the meet kicks off at 10:00. Would you believe a meet that’ll be done in time to go have a beer after the meet and it’s not even noon?

While I’m a fervent believer in keeping meets nice and tight, I’m having trouble getting warm and fuzzy feelings about this year’s concept. It’s one thing to go to an invitational meet and be entertained; it’s quite another when it comes to deciding national titles, where every event is a gem and deserves your (almost) undivided attention.

Forget those 5 field events.

Putting on an announcer’s hat, let me break  down the presentation for you.  All the field events are slated to begin at 10:00 (why do they have to begin at the same time as the racing?). Properly introducing the field for each jump/throw will take 2–3 minutes, so that series of announcements needs to begin about 15 minutes before the meet actually starts. With a race going off roughly every 8½ minutes starting at 10:05, that’ll be about the last you hear of the jumping and throwing.

Roughly speaking, there will be only about 24 minutes of actual racing in the period between 10:05 (the start of the first race) and 11:52 (the end of the last). But when you add in 2:00 for introductions before each race and another 2:00 after each for letting the buzz die down and the reading of the results off the scoreboard and doing video replays there’s another 44:00 gone.

So now we’re down to 39:00 left for the field events. But wait! You’re forgetting that the NCAA does 8-deep victory ceremonies for each event, and those take about 3 minutes apiece, if lucky. So divide 39:00 by 3:00 and you get 13 victory ceremonies (and there are 17 events). So not only do we have a shortfall on basic time, we’ve not allotted a single second for announcing field events.

Last time I looked the name of the sport was track and field.

Memo to the NCAA Track & Field Committee and the Sacramento Sports Commission: since you’ve still got a couple of months in which to do so, please reconsider your proposed timetable, even if it’s only to boot all the victory ceremonies into a post-competition window. Thank you.