Reading through the news a couple days ago, I came across this article referencing UCLA’s return to a dual/triangular meet schedule as opposed to running primarily in “invitational” meets. I am hoping that this is successful for UCLA and it’s track program, and that the result will see other prominent programs follow.
I’m excited because if large college programs would get back to conference dual/triangulars, as well as hosting multi school meets from outside – SEC v Pac12 quadrangular for example – it would be a major marketing coup for the sport. Why? Because it will bring high level track and field back to the community!
Nearly every densely populated area has at least one major college within a relatively short drive – to me that means a couple hours or less. Many more major colleges within an area than you would fine professional sporting teams – NFL, NBA and MLB – many many more. As a matter of fact major colleges inhabit areas that professional sports do not, such as the Universities of Oregon, Florida, and Arizona.
College football and basketball programs have long tapped into this base of fanatical sports fans. Look no further than the hoopla that is “March Madness” that is about to begin! Collegiate track and field once had as fervent a following. UCLA v USC was once as big a meet as the Welklasse in Zurich – and the results were just as good! Ditto Auburn v Alabama, and Arizona v Arizona State.
When colleges started spending more time at invitational meets – such as the Florida Relays, Texas Relays, Penn Relays et al – the support of college track and field took a nose dive. Back in the day schools used to send athletes to these kind of meets when they had individuals that were in need of qualifying marks for nationals. Rather than leave it to chance that the marks would come at the conference meet, they sent these athletes to invitationals where there was certain to be the kind of competition that could spur them to such results.
But what started as a necessary augmentation to the schedule in time morphed into THE schedule, as it became easier to go from invitational to invitational than to set up and schedule duals, triangulars and other meets. As a result the college track became a place to train, and not the place to invite the community to come watch a track meet. Hopefully this is about to change.
With a return to high level track to college campuses, we could bring athletes like those on the Bowerman Watch List – athletes of national and even Olympic caliber to neighborhoods near you! Athletes that John Q Public can become familiar with and budding youngsters in middle and high school can go out and watch – and go home and emulate. Bringing these athletes to local college campuses is perhaps the greatest source of marketing available to the sport!
Some of my best early memories of the sport are of watching various meets in Northern California at UC Berkeley, San Jose State, and Stanford. I waited with baited breath annually for the “Double Dual” with UCLA, USC, Stanford and Cal – which at it’s peak boasted athletes like Greg Foster, James Sanford, Clancy Edwards, Tony Campbell, Millard Hampton, James Owens, Willie Banks, Don Quarrie, and Mike Tully.
So here’s hoping that UCLA’s return to this type of schedule is successful! For the revival of UCLA and for the sport in general.