The NCAA is giving serious consideration to a plan that would redefine
the nature of a collegiate meet, but the ramifications wouldn't stop there

April 10, 2014—For the past 5 years collegiate coaches have engaged in soul-searching discussion of a strategic plan to make collegiate track & field more relevant and understandable—and frankly to position the sport so it's not perennially a candidate for athletic department chopping blocks.

This June the NCAA may move forward with major—opponents would argue Draconian—rule changes to strictly define what counts as a college meet.

Post-collegians and organizers of meets in which pros and preps compete alongside NCAA athletes could end up squeezed out of the picture.

For simplicity's sake at this point, let's just address the outdoor scenarios.

Under the proposed changes there are will be two classes of meets from which athletes can qualify for the Regionals (and hence, the Nationals).

Category 1: Scored Meets

A meet in the "scored" category has to meet 4 tests:

•1. Contest all "non-optional" events, which means all 21 events contested at the Nationals, except the 10K and multis. There is a mandated order of events on the track.

•2. Be scored competitions between 2 or more teams.

•3. Include from each school a squad of specified minimum size. T&FN’s understanding is this would mean 14 athletes of each sex (assuming a school fields both men’s and women’s teams).

•4. Include only NCAA-eligible athletes.

Additional events for non-eligibles (like pros and high schoolers) could be added to the meet, but they need to be scheduled outside the window of the scored-meet proper.

Category 2: Non-Scored Meets

There are 4 tests in this category as well:

•1. The meet must stage all the the events required in a scored meet (meaning all the Nationals events), plus another 6 relays (4x2, 4x8, 4x15, SpMed, DisMed, shuttle hurdles).

•2. The meet requires 40 or more NCAA member institutions for each sex.

•3. Each relay event must have a minimum of 4 NCAA teams.

•4. Each individual event must have a minimum of 6 eligible NCAA athletes.

Under those rules, it's amazing how many current major meets—ones that would fall under the non-scored rubric—are not in compliance and would have to revamp their programs by adding events, which isn't a simple as it sounds if you don't have the luxury of running a 3-4 day meet.

Over the course of the last two weeks, for example, the Texas Relays, Florida Relays and Stanford Invitational would not be up to snuff.

The NCAA Men’s and Women’s Track and Field/Cross Country Rules Committee will vote on the proposal in June. Individual coaches will not be polled but may express their views through conference representatives by May 1.

The motivation behind the proposed rule changes, as spelled out in an ’09 mission statement of the USTFCCCA Div. I coaches, is "to showcase this sport through entertaining, action-packed, fast-moving, and relevant meets that are valuable to the general public and media outlets… and standardize what constitutes an entertaining track & field presentation and market the events for public consumption."

It is hard to argue that the collegiate sport isn't crying out for radical remodeling, but opponents of this particular proposal see it as throwing the baby out with the bath water.

"It would kill sub-elite racing and field events," says one concerned club coach. "It would greatly hamper elite post-collegiate racing and field events."

Another coach told T&FN, "Club teams, especially East Coast, survive on college meets letting them race. Some meets use post-collegiates as rabbits. The club teams don't have the money to travel everyone to the big meets and there are less and less local open meets.

"I know they are going for a team atmosphere and trying to define what a college meet is. It is hard to explain to spectators that no team won the meet if it is not scored.

"We as a track community need to find a way to engage the fans without limiting opportunities for development at all levels."

Expect a spirited exchange of views ahead.