College Notes

With the pros not quite up to speed yet, most track news comes from colleges. Here are four college track items worth noting.

Ken Goe is back on track
Now that college football is finally over, Goe is going back to his track assignment. A sportswriter for Portland’s Oregonian newspaper, he covers track for the non-college-football half of the year. His daily Oregon track and field rundown is required reading, especially considering how Oregon-centric our sport has become on the elite level.

I would be remiss if I did not also mention the return of the House of Run’s Morning Run, a similar news aggregation which is both less serious and less “Oregon-ey”, to use their word.

The USTFCCCA has raised its standards
The coaches’ organization has done promotional work for college track and cross country for quite a while, and it went up a notch a few years back with the hiring of communication director Tom Lewis.

It has really gone to another level in 2013, though. Lewis now has an assistant in Kyle Terwillegar, and the organization now has Athlete of the Week awards for Divisions I, II and III. They have weekend previews, picking a Meet of the Week for each of the three divisions and noting where each of the top ten ranked teams will be competing. I imagine even more is on the way.

Kansas is building a new track facility
A few years ago the rumor started flying that Kansas was going to redo Memorial Stadium, which would require removal of the track (as football stadium upgrades always do). That became a lot more solid recently, and just the other day the specific plans for a new track facility were announced. It will be part of Rock Chalk Park, a larger development including facilities for soccer and softball, which is planned to be ready for the 2014 Kansas Relays.

Usually the result of taking the track out of the football stadium is a nice track and field training facility but one that offers little towards fans, with vastly reduced seating. That will not be the case here, as Kansas’ new track might actually be better than the old one in Memorial Stadium. It will seat 7,000 with space for temporary expansion to 10,000, and its grass infield will allow all the throws to be held in-stadium.

Why so much seating? One reason is that the Kansas Relays does tend to draw a crowd, bringing in more than 18,000 for its final day as recently as 2005. Another reason, and even more important in my estimation, is that Kansas is committed to bidding for and hosting the NCAA Championships–which requires that kind of seating capacity. (The track at Memorial Stadium is a non-starter as an NCAA host, as it is one of the few remaining 440 yard ovals left.)

These days, the only sites seemingly interested in hosting outdoor NCAA or USATF Championships are Oregon and Drake. A third party entering the fray can only be good for the sport.

NCAA Cross Country Championships Mega-Celebration?
This might not be actual news, but it’s news to me. So it might be news to you too.

As I am every Wednesday, last night I was on “Coffee Talk”, the college track talk radio show hosted by University of Toledo head coach Kevin Hadsell. Kevin brought up a very interesting proposal from December’s USTFCCCA convention.

Apparently the 2014 season is the 100th anniversary of collegiate cross country. (I’m not sure how that is calculated, but I’ll take their word at it.) In search of ways to honor this special occasion, Hadsell noted that the same year is the 75th anniversary of the NCAA basketball championships, and that’s being honored by holding all three divisions’ Final Fours at the same site on the same weekend. Kevin suggested that we do the same for cross country, hold all three divisions’ championships at the same site on the same weekend. His proposal could be considered because the championship sites for 2014 have not yet been awarded.

After discussion, in which a few coaches thought it a monumentally stupid idea, a vote was taken and Hadsell’s proposal had overwhelming support. The logistics may be impossible to manage, but it sounds like it should be looked into.

Kevin asked me about where such a thing could take place. My immediate thought was the Lavern Gibson course at Terre Haute, Indiana. The facility is the best in the country and the organization is also second to none. But Terre Haute isn’t big enough. It barely has enough hotel space for the Division I championships, and would be horribly inadequate for all three.

My next thought was Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. Easy for everyone to get to and more than enough hotel space. It’s not a great course for spectators, though, and there are other drawbacks. New York is horribly expensive and this huge cross country happening wouldn’t even make a ripple in the local news. Kevin suggested Lehigh’s course, but again I’m not sure how much hotel space there is in the Allentown/Bethlehem area.

After I was off the air I came up with another idea, the one place I think could really work: Boston’s Franklin Park. No problem getting flights or trains directly into Boston, and plenty of hotel space. The course has hosted the biggest of the big–the IAAF World Championships–and a stadium finish could be arranged. Boston is a runner’s city, and has all the human infrastructure necessary to pull of such a logistical nightmare. And this would be a big deal in Boston, considering that there are plenty of running powerhouses in New England across all three divisions. And it would be the 100th anniversary of cross country races at Franklin Park.

Could such a celebration of collegiate cross country happen? We’ll have to wait and see. Regardless of where it happened, though, I’d go. It would be a once in a lifetime chance.

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