From The Editor — August 2011: Words fail me in trying to describe the NCAA Regionals

I KNOW, I KNOW! If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! And in the eyes of many I—what with my passion for tinkering with meet presentation and all—frequently try to fix things that ain’t broke. Is there possibly any fan on the planet, however, who would disagree with me that the NCAA Regionals need fixing? Words fail me in trying to describe what a mess that setup is.

I was an early lobbier for Regionals, reasoning that actual competition was a far better way to get into the Nationals than competition-killing mark-chasing during the regular season.

I thought the 4-part Regionals worked fairly well, making for four solid meets as a lead-in to the big dance, even if the hoped-for increase in competition during the regular season never eventuated. Then came the switch last year to the 2-part Regional (or as the NCAA, in another of its delightful euphemisms, likes to call the “Preliminary Round” of the Nationals). I recognized it for the dog it was—bloated, unhostable by all but a few institutions, unwatchable by anyone with a pulse.

Circumstances were such in ’10 that I didn’t actually go to a Regional, and as I watched it unfold electronically, I became a bit of a convert. There were some exciting races, and some surprising people—albeit virtually no stars—being knocked out. So it was a thanks-I-need-that slap in the face when I went to the West Regional this year. Words cannot describe how totally execrable I found it. Like watching the Indianapolis 500 time trials, but without the excitement of the crashes.

As a field fan, I can’t even begin to describe to you what the jumps and throws were like. For the non-verticals, 48 athletes in 3 or 4 flights with 3 attempts by each, then another 3 attempts for the top 16 overall. That’s 192 jumps/throws, spread over countless hours. This is entertainment? This teaches athletes how to prepare for a real big meet? I think not.

I’m also troubled that there are those who say that even if the Regionals have (kaff-kaff) deficiencies it’s more than made up for by leading to a better product at the Nationals, to which I say horsefeathers. We’re back to being stuck with interminable by-flight field events (instead of a proper qualifying round), but hey, many/most people don’t care about the field events.

But everybody cares about the running events and even though the IAAF does it for the 400 and 800, a 3-semis system qualifying 2+2 to the final is just inherently unfair. Particularly when you’re seeding the meet based on results from two disparate locations.

At this level of competition, advancement should be based on place, not time. Especially when you’re in venues where the vicissitudes of the weather (i.e., the wind conditions changing markedly from flight to flight) come so much into play.

I haven’t worked out all the details in my head yet, but given how exciting the Saturday session was in Des Moines (two hours tailored to fit a TV window), I’m starting to think that the best system is the 2-weekend/1-site model, with a crowded meet one weekend leading to an all-finals one the next.

So be it WD-40 or duct tape that’s needed, trot it out, and we’ll get this baby fixed.