The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

The NCAA "Preliminary Round" idea wasn't so bad after all. The plan was hatched last year: reduce from four regionals to two, and compete only enough to cut the field to twelve in each event. Forty-eight competitors in each field event all at once sounded like a complete clusterfuck. But it went off just fine. I thought the whole thing was going to be boring beyond imagination, but I found myself compelled to follow the rounds obsessively. I can identify two reasons I got into it: this cool championship bracket, and the fact that it truly was do-or-die as there were no at-large bids available.

I don't yet know the attendance totals for the East, but the West attendance (1,798 on Saturday), while not great, was better than all but two of this year's conference championships. While you might think the crowd was mainly family and friends of athletes, that doesn't explain why the attendance increased every day as the fields were reduced. This system might be a one-off experiment, but if it were retained and a meet held within driving distance I would go.

Chaunte Howard had a great week. First she beat super-jumper Blanka Vlasic at the IAAF World Challenge meet in Ostrava, the Croatian's first loss of 2010. Then on Saturday she broke the 22-year-old American Record with 6' 7 3/4" (2.04 meters) in Cottbus, Germany. It's been a very long time since an American high jumper has been on a roll like this.

College track meet attendance sucks. OK, we didn't learn that this week. But it got written up this week at the always-excellent Heps Track blog. Finding that the Heps (aka the Ivy League) had the best attendance of any conference meet this year, Brett Hoover wrote about it and quoted me as saying
I tend to avoid college meets because they’re never interesting. No team scoring, nothing on the line, and the system rewards fast times over racing for place. Give us six straight weeks of that and of course no one comes out for the one meet that matters at the end of the season.
Commenter Greg Page agreed.
Why on earth would the general sports fan want to attend an athletic contest with no team winner, and with competitors more interested in beating a clock than in beating each other? Where’s the drama or entertainment in that?

I founded three collegiate track/x-c programs and coached The Sport for 26 years, but unless I had someone (like alma mater) competing in it, I wouldn’t walk across the street to see a college track meet. Many hours with nothing at stake, no intrinsic drama.

And yet track people genuinely wonder why college track teams are being eliminated.
Track is doing better in the USA than most people think, except for the college level, where it's doing worse than almost anyone realizes.

The California Relays aren't dead. But they may be soon. Track in the US is almost undead sometimes, not really alive but impossible to kill. The meet formerly known as the Modesto Relays moved up to Sacramento after being canceled last year. A meet that used to reliably draw 5,000 fans in a sparsely populated area only brought in about 1,000 after moving to the big city. I'm not sure how much that can be blamed on anything besides their complete lack of self-promotion, though. I don't know if that was an oversight or a limitation of the budget. Either way, the meet will either do better or disappear.

Dr. Sander gets it, and so does the OSAA. As reported earlier in this space, the Armory Track & Field Center's head honcho knows how to really make things work: bring together multiple levels of track and field, such as at the Penn Relays. Not coincidentally, those Modesto Relays long ago were the Modesto Relays and State Junior College Championships. The Oregon high school championship meet, held yesterday, included a special 1500m pro race. Most other state athletic associations would have nothing to do with that, but Oregon generally knows what's good for track.

Des Moines is going for the jugular. An article in today's Des Moines Register indicated that the city and Drake University are going all-out to get the 2016 Olympic Trials. They've got a formidable opponent in Eugene, but they're hungry like the wolf and will leave no stone unturned. Can I get some more cliches in there? I think they've got a fighting chance, though. Some universities have endowed their track program, but Drake has endowed a meet director. The recent two-day Iowa High School Championships drew over 26,000 fans, which is off the charts for a state as small as Iowa. Pro-rate for population and Texas' championship would have to draw over 220,000 to top the Tall Corn State (a two-day total never achieved anywhere in the world). Last year's NCAA championships were held at Drake in the middle of epic floods and still broke the meet attendance record. Iowa can fill some seats, no doubt about it.

You see something new every day. If I told you this was the start of a 400m hurdle race, would something strike you as odd?
Lane four is using no blocks. This is the finals of the NCAA Division III Championships, held on Saturday in Berea OH. The athlete in question is Ben Zill of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, who took second in the race in 51.46. That time would have narrowly missed qualifying him to the national championships in Division I. I'd love it if somebody were able to get to add a dedicated track site to their coverage of four other sports. It would make following a large and diverse level of track much easier.


pjm said...

I think Des Moines does have a fighting chance over Eugene, if only because I think Eugene may find it has Trials Fatigue after two go-arounds. If 2012 isn't as good as 2008 - and 2008 is a very, very hard act to follow, among the best meets I've ever attended. I have to wonder if by 2016 Eugene might be ready to take an Olympiad off.

Kwame said...

I was so excited to see Chaunte Lowe break the American record. She's been a great athlete since high school! I love her passion for the sport. I've also noticed that she's given the long jump a go this season. 6.61 isn't too bad!

You're point on collegiate meet attendance is strong. I had never thought about the focus on times rather than position. Being a track enthusiast, I look for a time. I remember too having to explain the significance of those times with my wife.

Another thing that should be on professional meet director's radar is bringing the races to the people. There's no reason we can't have a head to head 100m race on a street in Times Square. Penn Relays would be a great test for this. Maybe move the Championship of America 100s to a street nearby. Build a straightaway and let's go!