Today it is rare to see a track athlete featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, the premier sports magazine in the U. S. Articles about our sport are just as infrequent. This was not always true. As an example, in August of 1983, the great sprinter, Carl Lewis, graced the cover, and a 12-page article was written about the World Championship in Helsinki. Four months later, distance great, Mary Decker, was named Sportswoman of the Year and was featured on the magazine’s cover. It was not unusual for track and field athletes to be featured and stories written about our sport in this publication several times each year. Today, however, it is rare to see this type of coverage. Other national publications like USA Today rarely cover track, unlike the days when track write Dave Patrick was a regular contributor.
So why does the sport continue to be increasingly ignored by the mainstream media, especially on the collegiate and post-collegiate levels? There are a number of reasons.
According to Jeff Schemmel of College Sports Solutions, a firm hired by the United State Track and Cross-Country Coaches’ Association to assess the sport on the college level, it must become more relevant to those that determine its support and very existence, such as fans, college presidents, and athletic directors. As a result, the USTFCCC formulated a resolution on what to do to achieve this. The key points of the plan, according to an article in the February 2015 Quarterly Techniques, were:
- Substantial and proactive changes must occur within our sports in order to preserve and maintain our relevancy to our campuses.
- Membership must identify key values that make cross-country and track & field relevant over other sports.
- Develop specific steps that will elevate our sports.
- Work together while facing the upcoming obstacles.
- Establish who we are, what we do and why we matter.
- Create a list of talking points on the strengths and value of our sport to be utilized in conversation within our institutions, with our administrators, sponsors, community members and other stakeholders.
As can be seen, the central theme of this resolution was what to do to make our sport more relevant. In other words, what can be done to 1) save the sport from extinction; 2) keep it from being passed in terms of support and attention by emerging sports such as lacrosse; 3) prevent it from falling farther behind football, basketball, and baseball in the relevance and support from within athletic departments.
Track and field must change if it is to survive on the collegiate level. If this is not done, all levels from high school to the Olympic Games will be damaged beyond repair. Instead of not only looking at new and novel ideas to change, going back to the ways that were used in the sport’s glory days, could be the answer.
In order to make our sport more relevant, we need to look at what the public wants.
1) KEEP SCORE – The average sports fan wants to know who won and who lost. Today the majority of university programs rarely score the meets in which they compete, other than the conference and NCAA championships. At a recent major invitational, the meet director recommended scoring the meet, but not publishing the scores. Several prominent Division I coaches reacted by stating that if they lost to certain teams, that they could lose their jobs. This type of thinking is preposterous. Imagine a football or basketball coach having that mindset. Not keeping score in any athletic contest completely alienates the public and sends a message to athletic administrators that we are closer to club sport status than the varsity level. Track coaches must be held accountable as regularly as their coaching counterparts in other sports if they are here to receive the support that they seek.
2) Conduct dual meets, build rivalries, and base part of a conference championship on these results. For years, duals were the heart and soul of every schedule. According to Track and Field News, the Arkansas program was named collegiate dual meet champion, with a record of 1-0. The top 25 teams averaged three such meets, and many of these were multi-team meets scored as duals. Is this confusing, when we are used to a winner and a loser in a contest featuring two teams?
3) Use the English system of measurement, not the metric. When measuring field event heights and distances, ask yourself which generates more interest among the majority of Americans – 2.40 meters or 7-10 1/2 , when noting the American record in the high jump.
4) Bring back two key races – the 100 yard dash (the length of a football field) and the mile (the distance on your car’s odometer from your house to the post office.)
5) Conduct meets on your campus and keep score (see point #1.) Many schools host NO home contests. It is hard to justify spending millions of dollars on the construction and upkeep of a facility if it is used primarily for practice only. A solution to this dilemma would be to schedule home and home dual meets and at least one invitational. Not only does that give a reason to have and maintain a venue, but it brings revenue to the area and gives exposure on your campus to the sport.
Imagine what the reaction would be if one never competed at home in football, basketball, or baseball, didn’t keep score, and recorded all marks in meters. The answer: they too would not be relevant in a very short period of time.
Yes, track needs to become more relevant. There are many ways that this can be accomplished. In light of changes that are going to take place in the near future in Division I sports, lack of relevance may mean the disappearance of track and field on the collegiate level. This will undoubtedly lead to irreparable damage on all levels, including high schools. Let us hope that he song and movie from the 1970’s, “The Way We Were,” does not represent the theme of our wonderful sport in the years to come.
Yours in track,
Read more of Rod O’Donnell’s Keeping Track articles on - www.runohio.com
KEEPING TRACK - Football and Track Athletes - http://runohio.com/index.php/features/893-keeping-track-football-and-track-athletes
The Ohio High School Athletic Association State Cross-Country Championships -
Cross Country - http://runohio.com/index.php/features/839-keeping-track
Track Faces Challenges that could have adverse effects thus causing severe damage - http://runohio.com/index.php/features/823-keeping-track
Marketing Track & Field - http://runohio.com/index.php/features/774-keeping-track
Student Athlete’s Questions - http://runohio.com/index.php/features/750-keeping-track-student-athletes-questions
The Need to Speak Up - http://runohio.com/index.php/features/714-keeping-track-
A new book by John McDonnell - http://runohio.com/index.php/features/701-keeping-track
KEEPING TRACK - From September-October 2013 print RUNOHIO - http://runohio.com/index.php/features/659-keeping-track-from-september-october-print-runohio
Random Thoughts - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/features/536-keeping-track
Another Division I institution has dropped its men’s track program - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/features/498-keeping-track
Ohio University Athletic Department's Worst Decision - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/features/497-keeping-track-ohio-university-athletic-departments-worst-decision
Life Lessons from Cross Country - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/features/140-life-lessons-from-cross-country
Ten Pledges for Cross Country Coaches - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/features/108-ten-pledges-for-cross-country-coaches
London Olympics - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/news/419-keeping-track
Improving as a Coach – http://www.runohio.com/index.php/features/322-keeping-track-1
You Only Go Around Once - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/features/3-keeping-track
Dear Jesse Owens – http://www.runohio.com/index.php/news/215-keeping-track
West Virginia State Cross Country Championship – http://www.runohio.com/index.php/features/472-keeping-track
SPIRE Institute - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/features/160-keeping-track
Why is the OHSAA Treating Cross Country Different than All of the Other Sponsored Sports? http://runohio.com/index.php/features/838-why-is-the-ohsaa-treating-cross-country-different-than-all-of-the-other-sponsored-sports