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Sunday, March 16, 2008

NCAA D-1, day two

Trackshark coverage

In the pre-meet formcharts, Arizona State was a co-favorite to win the women's title but neither Trackshark nor Track & Field News had them in the top five on the men's side. The USATFCCA computer rankings had Arizona State's men ranked #1 for three weeks in a row, which made me think their system was crap.

How do you like them now? ASU pulled off the double victory. But I still don't know why a campus with an average January high temperature of 68 degrees has an indoor track program.

This is one of the big problems with our sport, and the college end of it in particular. A while back I mentioned that indoor track is not real track, and it set off quite a bit of criticism. Over at Runnerville there's a discussion about whether indoor track merits championship status.

My opinion is that indoor track is preseason track and nothing more. In the midwest and northeast, it's an absolutely necessary part of the track program, since competing or even getting good practice outdoors isn't much possible until about six weeks before the conference meet. Anywhere else, taking it seriously is a colossal waste of resources. But if championships and All-American status are offered, the overly competitive nature of D-I athletics takes over and no one really seems to gives a damn if your title was won indoors or out.

I saw the true amateurs, the true college athletes. With the exception of four quarter-milers from Texas, it seemed like everybody came from either the northeast or the midwest. But since D-3 stretches over the entire nation, it's safe to assume that the small schools have kept their heads about indoor track and warm-weather areas don't do much of it.

One effect of an overemphasis on indoor track is stretching out the competitive season far too long, which wreaks havoc on distance runners and merely leaves most of the rest uninterested in summer competition. But it also leads to shortening the outdoor season, which limits opportunities for bona fide competition (everyone is looking for a good mark). Schools as small as Bowling Green or Kent State spend millions building indoor facilities. In the interest of getting marks for the indoor nationals, college athletes started avoiding the 160y banked board tracks decades ago, which limited the fields available for the big indoor pro-am invitationals, and they largely disappeared.

All in all, indoor track is fun and useful, but nothing more. Treating it as an end to itself is ultimately destructive to the sport.

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