>The first in an occasional series of what-ifs…
I would radically change the NCAA track seasons, their championships’ formats, and the nationals qualifying system. I would make team orientation emphasized over individual orientation.
I’ve noted before that fan interest for high school and collegiate track is greatest when team elements are emphasized. I’ve also written that collegiate track is boring in comparison to collegiate cross country, because of the lack of team orientation and the lack of meaningful regular-season competition. If we’re not currently facing a crisis in terms of public interest in collegiate track—and I don’t know how anyone could deny that we are—we will be very soon. Radical change is necessary.
What we need is scored meets which choose a winning team. We need lots of them. We need them to matter. What we need less of is qualifying times, split squads sent to multiple meets at the same time, and teams that specialize in a few events areas to the exclusion of others.
I’d eliminate regionals and move the NCAA Championships to Memorial Day weekend. There’s surprisingly little major sports action that weekend.
I would make the NCAA outdoor championships into a combined team and individual competition. Only eight teams would be able to compete for that coveted team title (individual champions could still come from any team). Five of the eight teams would automatically qualify, the champions of the ACC, Big Ten, Big XII, Pac-10 and SEC. Another three teams would be chosen by committee for at-large berths based on their results of regular-season scored meets. And their entire teams would qualify to the championships, not just select individuals.
Think about how this would change the emphasis of the regular season. Teams would no longer seek the best facilities and weather to get qualifying marks, as they once didwhen nationals qualifying was purely marks-based (and likely will resume again). Instead, they would seek the best competition, regardless of the site, and team wins would be paramount. Texas versus Arkansas versus UCLA wouldn’t just be a fun meet; it would really matter who won. The Jesse Owens Classic would be scored, and it would rock.
Here’s how it would work. In each event at the nationals, there would be 32 athletes. Sixteen would come from these eight teams, and another sixteen would qualify as individuals and not count in the team scoring. For example, if three finalists in the 400 meters came from the team qualifiers, they would be fighting for 10, 8 and 6 points, while a B-final comprised completely of team qualifiers would duke it out for the remaining 5-4-3-2-1.
I would not use this team championship format for the indoor season, though. I’d keep that the way it is. This way, we’d crown two different kinds of champion teams in the two track seasons. Outdoor would be for teams with broad-based excellence, and indoor would be for teams with a smaller collection of higher-caliber athletes.
The only major change I’d make to the indoor season would be to shorten it. I’d bump the championships back a week or two. This would accomplish several things. It would de-emphasize indoor competition, which right now is taken almost as an equal to the outdoor season. It would allow top individuals to compete at the USATF indoor championships. It would keep the NCAA meet from competing for attention with conference hoops tournaments. And it would give some time between the end of indoor and spring break, so that teams from the north and east could travel south and west for meaningful team-scored meets on their spring trips.
The other thing I’d do would be to remove all barriers to collegians competing at indoor VISA Championship Series meets. A lack of top collegiate talent at those meets has been bad for the domestic circuit, and reduced interest in track in general is bad for college track in particular.
Next task: world peace.