TRACK & FIELD
RETURNS TO ITS CORE
by Tom Lingel
RETURNS TO ITS CORE
by Tom Lingel
Can you imagine going to a football game—let’s say between USC and Oregon—and at the end of the game it was decided that Johnson of SC was the best defensive back, Lewis of Oregon the best linebacker, Oliver of Oregon was the best running back and so forth, but they didn’t keep score so the fans left without knowing which school had the better football team that day?
Of course you can’t; however in Track & Field the majority of competitions do not involve team scoring—hence the lack of appeal to the casual fan.
This past weekend the Naval Academy took their Men’s and Women’s teams to West Point to face Army, and although the Navy women won rather easily, the Men’s competition came down to the final event, the 4 x 400.
In my humble opinion there are few things more exciting than two 4x4 teams battling, with the winning relay clinching a victory for that school.
According to the Army website, fans were lining the infield cheering there team, and to make this case even better Navy had to fight all the way winning by a narrow 1.23-second margin to get the Midshipmen the win. The fans not only saw a great series of competitions but when they left-they knew Navy had won, and Army had lost.
Luckily for us, scored meets are making a comeback in Collegiate Track & Field. This past weekend in Eugene, the University of Oregon hosted the Pepsi Team Invitational featuring four of the most tradition-rich programs in the country as U of O competed against Texas A&M, UCLA and Washington. The Ducks and A&M will be among the major players fighting for the NCAA crown in June.
Not only did the fans at Oregon’s Hayward Field see an excellent competition but when they left they knew that the Oregon had won, A&M finished 2nd, Washington 3rd and Washington 4th.
On the Women’s side it was Oregon, Washington, Texas A&M and UCLA.
The other meet that stood out this past weekend was held in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as LSU hosted the Battle On The Bayou, which featured two SEC teams (LSU & Mississippi State), three Big 10 teams (Iowa, Illinois & Penn State), two Big 12 teams (Texas Tech &Missouri), a Big East squad (Connecticut) and a Conference USA power (Houston).
This competition (given the number of teams) was even stronger than the Pepsi Invitational and in the end again the fans left knowing that LSU had won, Mississippi State was 2nd and Iowa finished 3rd. Both these meets had outstanding competitions for the “hard-core” fan to enjoy and the casual fan could come and root for the home team and was exposed to the joys of our sport.
Coaches over the years have tried to convince us that with scholarship limits these kind of meets are too hard and put a strain on their athletes—and there may be some truth to that—however if that’s the case-please explain how UCLA does it.
Kudos have to go out to Bruins men’s coach Mike Maynard,=. In the last few weeks UCLA has hosted Texas on March 24th, Washington State and Tennessee on March 31st, they went to Eugene this past weekend (as previously noted) for the Pepsi Team Invitational and at the end of the Month they will host crosstown rival USC.
This weekend the trend will continue as Stanford travels to Cal for the annual Big Meet, and Arkansas and LSU will head to Tempe, Arizona, to face Arizona State in a meet that will feature in all likelihood 3 of the top 10 teams in the country.
However there are too many schools that have not joined in. There are so many great meets—that would make the fans so happy to see—and more importantly bring fans to our sport. How about Florida and Florida State meeting up annually, Texas/Texas A&M, Alabama/Auburn and Wisconsin/Minnesota to name a few.
My personal love for our sport grew out of attending meets with my father (who officiated back in the days of manual timing) at the University of California. The great majority of these meets were scored competitions as the Bears competed against a variety of schools. In those days you could expect crowds in the neighborhood of 7 to 10 thousand fans at any meet at venerable Edwards Stadium. It was exciting to see these teams: but there were winning teams and losing teams.
I would propose a rule for all college coaches: during the outdoor season every school should have to compete in at least one Dual, Triangular or Quadrangular meet and one other scored meet (featuring 10 schools or less—and no your conference championships don’t count).
And coaches, let’s make an effort to actually win these meets. You can’t schedule a dual meet and then leave many of your top (non-injured) athletes behind.
Coaches let’s keep the trend going there is no more effective way to rebuild and develop new fans than by getting on board having your squad’s compete in scored meet-it also is great for team-building!
(Tom Lingel is a former Fresno State sprinter who now resides in Sacramento, California, and is former chair of the Golden West Invitational selection committee.)