August 2007
I HATE TO REPEAT MYSELF, but after seeing the NCAA Championships up close and personal (as the TV guys like to say), I've just got to rant again at how poorly scoreboards are utilized at every track meet in America.

No, make that the world, basically, but since the collegiate meet is fresh in our minds, let's make it the poster child for bad presentation.

Before I repeat myself, however, let me quote some of the fine minds who chimed in our online chat after the latest Sacramento experience. Our friend "bad hammy" had this to say about his meet presentation wish list:

"... that they would put start lists with hip numbers on the main scoreboard. But on all events from the mile up, the minute the race started they would replace the start lists with a digital clock. There were already digital clocks at the beginning and end of every straight, so the one on the scoreboard was kind of pointless. Plus there was the video board they could have added the time to.

"In any event, the effect of this was to ensure that as the race developed I usually had no idea who was leading/chasing/sucking. If the start lists were still on the board I could check the hip number on the runner with that on the scoreboard."

Frequent contributor" tandfman" responded with this: "I've seen this done before and I've never understood it. There were timing boards on the infield that displayed the running time. So why use the scoreboard for that? You're right. The start list should always be displayed during a race and not just a distance race. And a video of a race in progress adds almost nothing to the experience of the spectator. At Sacramento anyone who could see the scoreboard could also see the track. Why watch the race on a screen when you can see it live in front of you?"

The unfortunate answer to tandfman's last query, I fear, is that modern America prefers a screen to reality, but that's a road I won't even dare go down at this point.

They're both right, of course. Why waste valuable screen space by being redundant? But I have an even more elemental question. Other than at easily recognizable split points, or in the homestretch, what's the point of a running clock to begin with? I mean, is there anybody on the planet who has the vaguest idea of the value of a split at 5642 meters of a 10K?

Why are you eating up our valuable pixels with this crapola? Particularly since it's redundant! If you're truly watching the race, you see the split points from the trackside clock; you never lift your eyes to view the scoreboard. Earth calling somebody!

Of course, while I agree with the complaints about lack of runner ID on the boards (be they of the video or score variety, most major stadia now having both), my real displeasure lies with the lack of using them to cover the "other" half of the meet. You know: Field.

At a major international meet, I'm not sure anybody has ever gotten this truly right other than the great British production group Fast Track at the '01 World Championships in Edmonton. There, an auxiliary board was used to keep people apprised of real time updates in all the jumps and throws.

Can you imagine walking into any other pro sport late (or coming back from a rest break) and not knowing what was going on? And having no way to find out? That's the problem facing field event fans at virtually every meet going. No electronic display of current standings.

And with the kind of schedule one had in Sacramento, the announcers weren't able to keep you apprised in an audio sense. Half the meet's performers labored in complete obscurity.

That's not right. When's somebody going to do something about it?