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Friday, January 01, 2010

Top Ten of the Decade #2

Got a little behind here...

My #2 fan experience of the decade is the NCAA Cross Country championships. You may be thinking "why rank this so high?" Possibly because I go with old friends evey year and get good and drunk the night before, but that's not the real reason. Indiana State and the city of Terre Haute do what every host of a meet ought to do, namely work in the interest of the fans.

When ISU opened its Laverne Gibson Championship Cross Country course in 1997, the idea of a facility dedicated solely to cross country seemed odd. When they hosted their first NCAA championships in 2002, it didn't anymore. The place was fantastic. You could run the course before the meet. There was a PA system. The wide-open layout made it easy to see where the runners were going next. ISU hosted again in 2004 and every meet since.

But what really kicked it up a notch was that every year, ISU did something to make the meet better. They brought in a big scoreboard, then they brought in a video board. They used chip technology to do team scoring during the race (which allowed you to appreciate Colorado's dramatic come-from-behind victories). They had a fighter-jet flyover for the national anthem. They improved the course to give TV cameras better angles. The PA announcer started doing play-by-play (much better than TV announcers, by the way).

They do such a good job that no one else bids for the meet anymore. The meet never used to be on TV, but a few years after it went to ISU it got the tape-delay treatment. This year it was live. ISU managed to do something nearly impossible: they turned one of the least spectator-friendly championships into a major spectator event.

Missouri State and Wisconsin have both now built stand-alone cross country courses, and likely will bid for an NCAA meet. They'd better learn from the pros. ISU puts on the best XC show on the planet.

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