By Rod O'Donnell 

The sports world is relatively easy to understand; however, there are some practices that confuse me. Several of these mysteries have a definite impact on the sport of track and field, while others do not. Regardless, the following points present challenges as to why they occur:

- Why do colleges and universities continue to allow the NFL to use them as a free farm system, supplying athletes to the league? The cost of player development rests completely on these institutions that use tickets, merchandise sales, wealthy donors, and, in many cases, student fees, to support athletic departments. Major league baseball has apparently noticed this and recently announced a cutback in the number of teams in their farm systems, thus using the collegiate system to play a more prominent role in player development.

- Collegiate dual meets are rarely held, and scored invitationals have nearly been eliminated; therefore, many programs host no track meets, yet millions of dollars are spent on facilities and equipment, used primarily for practice purposes. It seems that it would be more practical to build four-lane practice tracks. If a program wants to host an endless, non-scored, boring event that would take even more time to complete, they could do so.

-High schools and colleges continue to run fewer cross-country meets, and many times they hold their top runners out to be ready for “the big one.” Yet some of these same schools ask their distance runners to compete several times during the indoor season on tracks that place tremendous stress on the legs of these athletes.

- There seems to be a growing obsession with times in high school cross-country. This has led to only running on flat, relatively non-challenging courses. This newest phenom is pointless when one considers the following: No two courses are the same, regardless of terrain. Cross-country was meant to present physical and mental challenges that track does not. Hills, uneven footing, and difficult weather conditions were always a part of the sport. Many courses are not measured accurately, or, if they are, competitors don’t run the exact line where the measurement was made.  Examples of two courses where time comparisons are senseless are the sites of the State Championships in Ohio: Scioto Downs, 1985-2010, and National Trail, 2011 – present. It is not only senseless; it is not fair to the great runners of the past.

- Those who pay taxes in many cities are asked to pay for new stadiums for professional teams, despite the fact that the owners of these teams are very wealthy and could find other options to construct these venues instead of putting a burden on those that already pay to keep many of these decaying cities operating.

-The majority of college track coaches refuse to score few, if any, meets. As I have stated many times, team scoring is what sports fans relate to. When this is not done, our sport continues to slip further from the American sports scene. To illustrate this, consider the following: Schools in Ohio host 5,000-6,000 athletes at their indoor facilities on many weekends. There are 28 indoor tracks in the state. Look for any information about these meets in a newspaper or any type of local media in the areas where meets are run.  You will rarely, if ever, find any results. If any other sporting event attracted representatives from 86 schools, you would be overwhelmed with results, pictures, social media, human interest stories, and feature articles. This is exactly what occurred at a very prominent university several weekends ago. Even with no team scores, there were many opportunities to showcase athletes and their excellent performances. 

-The use of the metric system continues to alienate many fans, especially in the field events. The state of Florida has adopted this measurement system, with encouragement from the NFHS. This is another step in discouraging sports fans from understanding our sport. Like it or  not, the metric system is not a factor in our everyday lives in the United States. For those who are advocate it, I ask why our favorite football analyst doesn’t say, “The ball is on the 3.3 meter line after an exciting 12.6 meter punt return.” Oh, yes, there is not final score, and only individual statistics and the number of PR’s (personal records) are passed on to the “fans.”

-The IAAF awarded the most recent world championships to a country in one of the most dangerous areas in the world, where extremely high temperatures were recorded. As a result of this decision, attendance was abysmal. When NBCSN cameras scanned the crowd, empty seats outnumbered filled ones. It was rumored that tickets were given away in an attempt to attract spectators. This is not a great way to attract sponsors or show the world that track and field is a healthy sport.

-When budgets get tight and cuts must be made in athletic departments at universities, track and field is the first sport to be discontinued. Division I schools are required to sponsor six men’s sports and eight for women. When a person considers that six of the 14 required teams (cross-country, indoor track, outdoor track for men and women) are usually coached by one staff, use the same facilities, equipment, and travel to the same meets, it is very hard to understand why more administrators do not consider the advantages of sponsoring our beloved sport. I once heard a Division I athletic director refer to intercollegiate athletics as a poor business model.  I would counter that statement with a reference to the preceding argument for maintaining a T & F program AND fulfilling NCAA requirements.

Making money is a priority in collegiate athletic departments and on the professional level, but if we could alter some of the trends presented in this month’s article, we could help improve our sport and insure its future.

Yours in Track, 

Rod O’Donnell

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