Superfan Daily: Millrose Debate

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The leading story at the LetsRun.com home page today is a Weldon Johnson bit titled How The Millrose Games As We Knew It Died.

My beef with the Millrose Games is that it gave up on Madison Square Garden before it was absolutely necessary. Our sport may soon be so marginal that it can not even support one meet a year at a major arena in the US. However, we are not at that point yet, as USATF stepped up to the table to put on the US Open at Madison Square Garden. I told Ray I could not understand how the Millrose Games ended up at the Armory. Ray said he did not know the details so I started looking into it.

He got ahold of various documents related to the transfer of meet ownership from the Millrose Athletic Association to the Armory Foundation. He also talked to many of the people involved in the decision to move the meet from Madison Square Garden to the Armory, which is the action the Johnson brothers find unacceptable.

Apparently the big sticking point came down to keeping high school and college athletes in the meet. USATF was willing to absorb all the losses involved in putting on the meet, provided they had the final call on how it was to be organized. USATF wanted it fixated on the pros with no guarantee that colleges and high schools would remain, as they always had been. The Armory Foundation, headed by Dr. Norbert Sander, would not agree and so they decided to go it alone, which meant moving the meet out of MSG.

Johnson doesnt come right out and say it, but he implies that Sander is a villain who wanted the Millrose name for himself and his organization, and that he gave up on Madison Square Garden too soon. It puts the LetsRun.com founders in the strange position of defending USATF priorities and decision-making.

My response to everything here can best be summed up by one of the climactic scenes in the 1992 classic film adaptation of The Last of the Mohicans. The Huron warrior Magua has brought British prisoners before his chief Sachem, and wants to kill them all. Hawkeye walks into the conference, risking his life, to talk the chief into refusing Maguas request. Sachem listens, and replies with the long view of life:

The white man came and night entered out future with him. Our council has asked the question since I was a boy: What are the Huron to do?

He then makes a split-the-baby decision that has something for everyone and fully satisfies no one, a situation similar to what we have here.

A track meet in Madison Square Garden is much like the last of the Mohicans. It is the sole survivor of a dying breed, having already outlived the Sunkist Invitational by nine years and a tribe of others by far more than that. Night has entered our future; no amount of wishful thinking will bring back the 1960s and 70s, when track meets on 160-yard banked board tracks in big arenas dotted the landscape and drew big crowds and lots of media attention. The whys and the wherefores are ground that has been covered before. Millrose used to sell out its 18,000+ seats before Christmas; last year it sold a grand total of 5,238 tickets at MSG plus another 2,500 or so elsewhere (such as the Armory).

The real question is that which we track fans have been facing for over twenty years: what are we to do about it? Is having a bad and poorly-attended meet in Madison Square Garden more important than having a good one somewhere else? Or would it be better to throw tradition to the wind and try something new in order to keep the whole system afloat?

The end result of what happened here is that there is a multi-level meet with heavy emphasis on pros at the Armory and another pro-only meet at MSG. Along with these two is the New Balance meet in Boston, making three pro meets in three consecutive weekends in the most densely populated part of the country. An expansion of the domestic track circuit is no small thing.

Is the new Millrose a different thing than in the past? Yes. Will that be a new thing this year? No. It has not generated excitement in decades. If Millrose died, then it was suffering from senility for years.