Thursday, February 5, 2009

Track and Field could use a League of its own

During the recent Armory Meet in New York, USATF's new CEO, Doug Logan gave an interview on various topics concerning Track and Field. During this interview Logan touched on issues such as "Drugs in the Sport", the performance of the US Team at last year's Beijing Olympic Games, and "The marketing of the sport here in the United States".

While I have an interest in all of the areas he discussed, I found his words on the marketing of the sport most interesting, as he mentioned a topic that I myself have looked at - the idea of creating an actual League for the sport of Track and Field.

Now the idea of a "League" for the sport is not entirely new. "Back in the day" during the 1970's there was an attempt to create a professional track league called the "International Track Association" or "ITA". It was able to pull some of the top "amateurs" of the day - Ben Jipcho, Brian Oldfield, and John Smith among others - and had them competing on a professional "circuit".

Unfortunately this idea never really caught on in spite of having a television contract, and implementing gimmicks such as pacer lights around the track to aid its distance runners. It failed in large part, I believe, because as Logan mentioned in his interview, sports fans here in the US have become accustomed to identifying with "Teams", checking "Standings" and watching "Playoffs and Championships"! In short, the model of sports such as the NBA, NFL, and MLB have jaded the thinking of fans here in the United States as to the format that "professional" sports should follow.

In its current form Track and Field on the professional level is still a fairly individual sport. It's very much man against man (or woman against woman) and based on the individual and his/ her own performances. Only during an Olympics or World Championships does the idea of "team" vaguely raise its head - and then it is really more about Nationalism than Team.

So, how does track and field fit its "Individual" format into something more palatable to the American public? We know, for example, that a team concept in the sport can be very popular by the attention and fan fervor that is generated at the High School and Collegiate levels. In their build up to becoming professionals, track and field athletes spend a lot of time competing for teams. And if you've ever been to a Regional or State competition on either the High School or Collegiate level you know what kind of "team" followings they have.

So with that in mind, I've been talking with a former coach the past couple years about a way to implement the idea of "Teams" into professional track and field as a means of creating more competitive opportunities for athletes, and placing the sport on a stage that would be more palatable to the average American fan - an American Track and Field League (ATFL).

This league would be made up of Regional teams that during the course of the season would compete in a series of quadrangular meets. This would create a "season" with team standings that fans could rally around. The season would conclude with a "Playoff", "Championship", and "All Star" competitions, and is designed NOT to interfere with the current National Championships to determine individual champions and National teams.

So, Mr. Logan if you are reading this, I have a full Concept Paper prepared for the league and would be happy to share it with USA Track and Field.

Logan Interview can be found at:

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