FROM THE EDITOR — Why Does WA Undervalue NCAA Competition?

WHEN SEB COE WAS CAMPAIGNING for the IAAF presidency back in 2015, an important part of his pitch to the electorate was calendar reform. That’s something I lauded in my August issue column at the time, because I couldn’t have agreed more.

Coe said, in part, “I believe that the creation of a truly harmonized calendar is key to the global promotion of track & field. Listening to the federations and our broadcasters, sponsors and athletes, it’s clear that we need new competitive structures for the future. We must look at how the format and presentation of competitions like the Diamond League fit within the overall calendar and how we can help boost the quality of these competitions to make each meeting and the overall season more compelling.”

Over the course of the 5 years since then the situation has indeed improved. And it is in the process of improving by a quantum amount this year with — as detailed elsewhere in this issue — a significant boost in the number of Continental Tour meets. And with a healthy U.S. presence for the first time part of the whole setup.

This will make it easier for top Americans to achieve crucial WA world ranking points (not to be confused with the T&FN World Rankings, which get capital letters because we were in the business a half-century earlier).

I find plenty not to like about WA’s rankings in general (like treating all events within a given meet as being of equal quality), but that’s a story for another day. What stands out for me at the moment is that I think Monaco’s number-crunchers undervalue the NCAA Championships, both indoors and out.

There’s no doubt that the NCAA meets are about as international as you can get. At this year’s Indoor, analyzing individual events only, not the relays, no fewer than 43 foreign nations were represented by 114 different athletes.

The tally, alphabetically: Algeria 1, Antigua 1, Australia 5, Bahamas 3, Barbados 1, Brazil 1, British Virgin Islands 2, Bulgaria 1, Canada 8, Cayman Islands 1, Costa Rica 1, Denmark 1, Dominican Republic 1, Estonia 4, Germany 6, Ghana 1, Great Britain 10, Greece 2, Grenada 1, Guyana 3, Iceland 2, India 1, Israel 2, Italy 1, Jamaica 20, Japan 1, Kenya 5, Latvia 2, Moldova 1, Nigeria 5, New Zealand 1, Netherlands 1, Norway 2, Peru 1, Poland 1, Puerto Rico 1, Qatar 1, South Africa 4, Spain 2, Sweden 1, Switzerland 1, Trinidad 3, Tunisia 1.

And there’s no doubt that the quality in Fayetteville was good. For a simple example, let’s compare the NCAA winning marks with those from the European Indoor, held the week before. By that metric, the Euro meet was a bit better, having the superior performance in 16 of the 26 comparable events. The men (7–6) were narrowly better, the women (9–4) markedly so (* = superior mark):

Event NCAA Men Euro Men NCAA Women Euro Women Event
60 6.49 6.47* 7.05 7.03* 60
400 44.71* 46.22 50.84 50.63* 400
800 1:45.90* 1:46.81 2:00.69* 2:03.88 800
1500 3:36.40+* 3:37.56 4:10.54+* 4:18.44 1500
3000 7:46.15* 7:48.20 9:01.47 8:46.43* 3000
60 Hurdles 7.51 7.42* 7.92 7.77* 60 Hurdles
4 x 400 3:03.16* 3:06.06 3:26.68* 3:27.15 4 x 400
High Jump 2.30 2.37* 1.90 2.00* High Jump
Pole Vault 5.93 6.05* 4.56 4.75* Pole Vault
Long Jump 8.45* 8.35 6.93* 6.92 Long Jump
Triple Jump 17.26 17.30* 14.27 14.53* Triple Jump
Shot 21.36 21.62* 18.12 19.34* Shot
Heptathlon 6264 6392* 4746 4904* Pentathlon

The problem, as I see it, is that the NCAA doesn’t get a fair shake from WA when it comes to assigning value points to a meet. The WA system divides meets into 10 levels, with descending points for the win: OW (350), DF (240), GW (200), GL (170), A (140), B (100), C (60), D (40), E (25), F (15). There are detailed lists of which meets go in which categories. OW, of course is the Olympics and World Champs, DF is Diamond League Finals, and so on.

The European Indoor is an A-level meet, so a win there was worth 140. Would you care to guess what level the NCAA Indoor is slotted into? Would you believe E? That’s right, a 25-pointer, worth about 18% as much. It shares a slot with, for example, the European Youth (U18) Championships. Does that pass your sniff test?

How about outdoors, you ask? The NCAA is a C-grader (60-pointer) there. Among its roommates in that level are the Mediterranean Games and World Military Games. And the World Junior (U20) Championships.

Why the disconnect, you ask? I think it comes down to politics, pure and simple. People who have WA votes need to be catered to, and the NCAA never has been (nor will it ever be) an entity that’s recognized by the international federation in any way.

And to be fair, the reverse is also true, with the NCAA being very much an entity that ferociously builds a firewall around its properties and employees (aka “student athletes”) and certainly doesn’t reach out to other governing bodies, be they national or international.

Now I certainly don’t think that my creation of one little chart is remotely a smoking gun that seals the case, but I think that anyone who follows the sport’s numbers can’t help but share my feelings that year in and year out the NCAA meets are better than WA is giving them credit for. ◻︎

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