When I was a high school kid, Tennessee was one of the top track programs in the nation. Or at least it seemed that way, with all their two-sport football/track guys like Willie Gault and Sam Graddy. They dominated the SEC for a long time, winning 21 out of 23 men’s conference titles from 1964 to 1986. The Vols were still a top team even after the Arkansas juggernaut moved to the SEC from the Southwest Conference in the 90s, as the Vols won the NCAA title in 2001 and finishing second the next year.
But the last few years haven’t been good. In fact, they’ve been downright terrible according to Marvin West, who has the post-mortem for you. He doesn’t have anything good to say about head coach JJ Clark, who took over a newly combined men’s and women’s program in 2010 (save this bit: “there are no complaints about inequality. Both teams are bad.”)
Don’t be deceived by the alt-weekly website for which West writes; he is in retirement but is still a heavy hitter. He was the former sports editor of the Knoxville News-Sentinel, then promoted to managing editor, then became the national sports editor for Scripps Howard News Service, then promoted to managing editor for the whole Scripps Howard service. That he dedicates an entire column to Volunteer track says both that West knows his stuff and that track is more important in Knoxville than most college towns.
On the other end of the sportswriting spectrum from a consummate pro like West is the amateur’s message-board rant. Here we have a diatribe from a fan of a program that has fallen from an even higher level of success: Southern Cal.
The Trojans have won the men’s NCAA (outdoor) Championships twenty-six times, more than twice as many times as any other team. Even though they haven’t won it all since ’76, they have been in the top ten in thirteen of the last twenty NCAA meets. But it’s not been as good in the last few years, capped off by a 7th-place finish at last year’s Pac-12 Championships.
The mens track and field program is in need of a change.The old excuses regarding inadequate coverage from the SID’s office,scholarship limitations, difficult admission standards, recruiting losses, etc may all have a grain of truth to them, but the problem runs far deeper. We are stuck and have not kept pace with the times. And everyone else is not only literally outrunning/outjumping/outthrowing us, but also outcoaching and outstructuring us.
There’s quite a bit more (about 700 words, or nearly enough to fill an entire page in Track and Field News), and well thought out. Clearly he’s a frustrated fan who loves USC track and hates the direction it’s going.
My perspective is usually from that of a fan, so I agree with several of his points.
Why have the Trojan Invitational [last Saturday], one of the few home meets this year, without [Olympic silver medalist] Bryshon Nellum competing? I understand that he needs to be saved for later in the season, but at least let him run once early on, and let the home fans enjoy one of his last outings on his home track.
…what has happened to the concept of fielding a competitive ‘team’ that excites the fans and maintains interest in the success of the program. Everyone else is moving to scored meets, scored invitationals, etc, except us. The squad competes here and there, with athletes outsourced to a variety of meets, without
any sense of projecting an image as a ‘team’, with no aspirations to compete for a conference title, NCAA top 5 finish,etc. I would rather see us compete and lose, as opposed to this quasi team/quasi individual regime that has come to take its place…
Nothing could make me happier than track fans who are angry about a losing team. It’s negative passion in one sense–these people are upset at things they don’t like–but like they say, the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. Track and field needs more people like this, who are anything but indifferent to the results they see from their favorite team.