The NCAA is instituting a new policy for qualifying to its indoor national championships. Rather than the old procedure where an automatic qualifying mark did just that – qualify the athlete for nationals – meet officials have opted for a new system where the 16 top marks in each event go to NCAA’s.
As a result, a miler who just squeaks under the auto standard at an early season meet – say this weekend’s UW Indoor Preview – won’t be able to rest on their laurels until nationals in March. Instead, they’ll have to pray they remain in the top 16 by the end of last chance weekend or race more frequently in hopes of improving their mark.
The new top 16 system makes the urgency to sharpen up for indoor races even greater by forcing athletes and coaches emphasize running fast in relation to the competition. To do that, they’ll likely run more sharpening workouts than they normally would this time of year to be ready for big indoor meets like the Husky Classic and Meyo Invitational.
These factors generally lead to poorer performances outdoors. The hectic collegiate racing season makes it nearly impossible to be at peak condition in both March and June while also requiring athletes to race most weekends in between the championships. We’ve seen time after time athletes who do well in a particular indoor season don’t necessarily translate that success outdoors. Lawi Lalang in 2012 is a prime example.
What’s the solution?
Get rid of the NCAA Indoor Championships.
I know it sounds crazy. Maybe it’s because I’m a Californian who’s never run an indoor race. Maybe I’m tired of seeing people flame out by outdoor NCAA’s because they’ve been racing hard since January.
I’m not advocating for the complete abolition of indoor track. Indoor meets, particularly conference championships, can still go on but will serve the purpose of breaking up the grind of winter training, much like it does for professional athletes.
But when athletes and coaches always claim the ultimate focus is on June, why conduct a meaningless championship meet when everyone admits the bigger prize lies three months away?