I LOVE THIS NCAA PREVIEW EDITION. It was things like cranking out NCAA formcharts as a student that really got me hooked on the sport, and while much of my work now centers around professionals and their international exploits, there’s still nothing quite like the NCAA Championships. And this issue of the magazine annually jump-starts my eagerness for early June.
The collegiate sport has changed in many ways in the decades I’ve been following it; some good, some bad. In the end, it’s all about viewing pleasure (yours as well as mine), so with that in mind, let’s talk about doubling the pleasure, doubling the fun by making the meet more watchable. We can accomplish that by having two championship meets instead of just one.
As nice as it was to see the NCAA finally embrace the women’s side of the sport, the decision to have a combined championships, to my way of thinking, has created a meet that’s just too long and too hard to follow.
Anything more than 2-3 hours for just about any sporting event and you simply lose the ordinary fans’ attention. The NCAA has a slam-bang 3-hour final day, but with both sexes competing you only get to see 7 events for each sex and only 1 for each is a field event. I don’t see that as much bang for the buck for those fans (and there are many) who only really care about one of the sexes.
What you get leading into that is three 6-hour days (9 on the first two, if you decide to take in the multis as well). That may give you a lot of bang for your buck, but it certainly doesn’t do your backside any favors.
Another benefit of splitting the sexes: it would enable the meet(s) to go back to staging field events the way they should be contested. And that’s with proper qualifying rounds, not interminable flights. As it is now, other than in the vertical jumps there is simply no sense of continuity, no drama. An endless parade of people jump and throw for hours, and the big-name people you came to see only show up sporadically. And when it gets down to the last few rounds, the winning mark may have come so much earlier that it seemed like the previous day.
I’d also make the contention that lack of going through a proper qualifying system helps explain some of the U.S.’s diminishing Olympic/World Champs fortunes in the jumps and throws. Too many of the athletes just aren’t used to a separate qualifying round a couple of days before the final.
As a big fan of team scoring, I also think that experience is diluted by the dual-sex setup. With so many events going on, it’s never easy to keep track of what’s going on in the team race, and when you double that requirement you’ve made it harder on the fan, and no sport should ever do that.
I’m sure that financial considerations will prevent a divergence of the men’s and women’s meets, but it is fun to dream. And while we’re dreaming, how about a double-nationals pairing based on a totally different criterion: team vs. individual? That’s right, one meet for a limited number of high-roller schools with big squads and another where scores aren’t kept at all, and the athletes simply duke it out for individual honors. Hey, if I’m gonna dream, I’m gonna dream big!