First off, a reminder of the weekend’s schedule of events (all times Eastern).
Sunday at noon: Flotrack live “blue carpet” show
Monday at 11 AM: Flotrack live race day show (like ESPN’s GameDay, but better because it’s cross country)
Monday at noon: NCAA.com live meet webcast
Monday at 12:08 PM: Men’s race
Monday at 12:58 PM: Women’s race
Let’s Run has its meet previews up, one each for men and women. Their take is basically that the favorites, Wisconsin for the men and Florida State for the women, are good enough that they’ll have to make a mistake in order to be beaten.
If you’re into perusing historical results, Track and Field News has an archive of complete results of each and every NCAA Championships.
Come Monday, it’ll be all right…
This might be the last time the meet will be held on a Monday. It will move to Saturday beginning in 2013, maybe 2012 if possible.
Since the very first NCAA Championships in 1938, the meet has always been held on a Monday. There were a number of reasons for this, but all were to avoid conflict with college football, which rules the Saturdays in November. One of those was to increase the visibility of the meet. Back then, that pretty much exclusively meant newspaper coverage, and there wasn’t much to write about on a Monday in November.
So why the move to Saturday? Now the claim is because it would lead to increased visibility. Newspapers don’t matter any more, but TV does. Could the meet be on live television? Not on a Saturday in November, unless the races were held before noon or so. But a Saturday meet probably would increase attendance, and that’s a big deal for the host. Indiana State has hovered around 4,000 paid attendees, and that’s in a small and somewhat remote city during work hours. On a Saturday, it might double, and at $5 a head that covers a lot of cost of doing business.
(Don’t even begin to talk about athletes missing class. That simply isn’t part of the equation in D-I sports. Besides, cross country runners compete less than athletes in any other sport and thus miss class less, and tend to be some of the best students anyway.)
In an online discussion of the issue, this is what one TFN board denizen had to say:
To paraphrase one coach, “It makes no sense to move the race in order to showcase it better until we have something to showcase.” In other words, until the meet is held on a course of 2K loops or shorter, where fans can watch the majority of the race while standing in one spot, and receive many team score updates (every 1K or so), there’s no point in worrying about media coverage/exposure/marketing, etc.
I disagree. I don’t see any reason to wait around to promote what you have, thinking that at some point in the future it will be an easier sell. I think college cross country is already a compelling product, especially when you have the technology for live scoring, which has been in existence for a decade. If I didn’t think it was a compelling product, I wouldn’t make the annual trek out to Terre Haute.
There are limitations to what you can do with college cross country, because it requires daylight. In November, that’s available on weekends and during traditional work hours. Two notable programs, BYU and Liberty, won’t compete on Sundays, so that’s out. What you have left is Saturday morning and afternoon, and the latter is eaten up by the gridiron monster. Saturday morning would be OK if there were only one or two time zones in this country, but if the meet ever went out west you’d have to start it at 7:00 in the morning, and in late November you don’t yet have enough daylight.
So the NCAA Championships have to be on a weekday or a Saturday afternoon. If it’s Saturday, then it can’t be hosted by a BCS school, because no college town can accommodate both a 500-athlete/10,000 spectator meet and a 50,000-100,000 spectator football game. Is this a problem? Not really. Football at Indiana State gets scheduled around cross country, and at Toledo (which will bid on future nationals) we haven’t played a daytime home game in November in generations (and rarely draw more than 20,000 in a metro area of 650,000).
Martin Smith got fired at Oregon a few years back, but with the Ducks not qualifying to the NCAA Championships, his Oklahoma teams have beaten the Ducks at three of the last four NCAA track and cross country championships.
Texas A&M, a sprint/hurdle/jump powerhouse which has won both men’s and women’s NCAA outdoor titles for three years running, qualified their men’s team to the meet plus a women’s runner and could have an All-American in Henry Lelei. That’s almost unfair. How can you be good at everything?
A coach who wished to remain anonymous asked me this:
How do you feel about how Track/CC programs can put ALL their scholarship money for distance runners (ie Oklahoma State). It makes for a team like [redacted], and many others who try to field an entire track team, very difficult to make the NCAA cross country meet. Heck OSU doesn’t even run the same guys at regionals so they can rest them for nationals. I’m sure I’d do the same thing if I was in their position (not a good facility) but competing against them in a legitimate track meet is a joke.
My thought is that the biggest problem is that Oklahoma State gets no negative publicity for having basically no track program. We’ve gotten to the point where success in outdoor track, indoor track and cross country are all viewed as equally valid. For example, no one even realizes that it’s been sixty-three years since a Big Ten team has won the outdoor men’s national title, because Wisconsin is so good at cross country and the Badgers won the national indoor title four years ago. It should be a major embarrassment to the conference, but it isn’t. We’ve also gotten to the point where “team” means something completely different in outdoor track than it ever used to. And don’t tell me there’s not enough scholarship money-that’s a red herring. Last year, every major-conference men’s track team but two (Oklahoma State and Alabama) had at least 32 athletes, which is usually the entry limit for a dual meet. Teams have the numbers.