COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Some coaches at this week’s NCAA Indoor track and field championships see the event almost as an anticlimax to their highly competitive conference meets.
And that, they say, is not good for their sport.
Big 12 men’s champion Texas A&M, Southeastern Conference men’s champion Florida and defending women’s champion Oregon headline the field for this weekend’s NCAA meet at College Station.
A&M, hosting the event for the second time in three years, said tickets for the two-day meet were nearly sold out. But some coaches think the format of the event needs to be changed toward a goal of making the event more team-oriented and attractive to television audiences.
Many of the athletes at the meet have qualified individually, while only a handful of schools even have enough male and female athletes to vie for the overall team titles.
Arkansas coach Chris Bucknam believes that fewer Division I schools should be competing for the top prize. He suggested that his sport ponder a setup similar to college football, with a lower Bowl Championship Subdivision for smaller schools and a Bowl Championship Series, of sorts, for the elite programs.
“I think football has the right model,” Bucknam said. “They have a BCS, a I-A and a I-AA (championship). I think that’s something that needs to be thought about, because we so reflect football in a lot of different ways. One of them is the strength of our conferences, and you just can’t try to put 300-plus teams into one shoe.
“It’s not working for us,” he said. “That’s a concept that needs to be considered.”
Texas A&M coach Pat Henry thinks track and field is too often misperceived as an individual sport, and also believes the focus needs to lean more toward team success.
“Every other sport is ‘Red beats Blue,'” Henry said. “Somebody walks away as a team champion every time. I think we have to get to that point to where, there are maybe eight schools here and there’s an attachment. Like the Final Four, people are attached to those teams. We have to try to get to that, in my opinion.”
As in football, the SEC boasts depth.
Florida edged Arkansas at the SEC Indoor meet two weeks ago, snapping the Razorbacks’ six-year reign as conference champions. The Gators are the favorites to win the men’s title this weekend, with 11 athletes competing in 13 events.
The Gators could earn 24 points alone in the triple jump, in which they finished 1-2-3 at the SEC meet. Junior Christian Taylor is the two-time defending champion, and junior Will Claye and sophomore Omar Craddock also automatically qualified for this weekend’s competition.
“Our team is very similar to last year,” Florida coach Mike Holloway said. “We’re a little stronger in the triple jump and the long jump, but we’re still the same kind of team we were last year.”
Oregon men’s and women’s coach Vin Lananna, who missed last year’s NCAA meet due to blood-pressure issues, is healthy again and here with his team. But Lananna said Thursday that runner Alex Kosinski, a lead contender in the 3,000- and 5,000-meter races, withdrew due to a back injury.
The Ducks still have a strong contingent on the women’s side, led by junior Brianne Theisen, the defending pentathlon champion.
“We’ll continue to play to our strengths,” Lananna said. “Our goal is to continue to build in every single event, and our women are a good representation of that.”
The A&M men finished second last year in Arkansas, and the women were the runner-ups in 2009, the only other time the NCAA meet was held in College Station.
Henry isn’t sure how much competing at home will help the Aggies this weekend.
“Any time you’re in your own back yard, you’ve got to feel pretty good about yourself, in front of your own people,” Henry said. “But from a facilities standpoint, there’s no advantage. The track doesn’t dictate, the runners dictate it.”