HOG CALLS :

UA goes beyond call of duty as track host

By: Nate Allen
Published: Monday, June 2, 2014
A pack of runners round the first turn in the women's 1500 meter run Thursday during the NCAA Division 1 Track & Field West Preliminary track meet at John McDonnell Field in Fayetteville.
Photo by Michael Woods
A pack of runners round the first turn in the women's 1500 meter run Thursday during the NCAA Division 1 Track & Field West Preliminary track meet at John McDonnell Field in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- If anyone can do a great job hosting a bad track meet, the University of Arkansas achieved it this past week at the NCAA Men's and NCAA Women's West Outdoor Preliminary meets.

Regular readers of this column likely know my low opinion of NCAA Outdoor regionals, recently divided into West and East Outdoor Preliminary meets.

For athletes coming off tough conference championships and formerly qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Championships on the descending order list of peak performances throughout the season, advancing to the NCAA Outdoor Championships only through the Prelim meets is a mostly redundant exercise and unnecessary physical risk prolonging into mid June what for distance runners began last August with cross country.

But until the big five power conferences (the SEC, Pac 12, Big 10, Big 12 and ACC) tell the NCAA to shove it for a variety of reasons, of which track nears last, these Outdoor regionals voted in shortly after the century's turn mostly by the majority bloc of mid-majors will continue however unnecessarily as a necessary evil.

This West Preliminary was Arkansas' best opportunity to showcase John McDonnell Field and its incredibly fast resurfaced track with the NCAA Outdoor Championships locked into Oregon for the next seven years.

So Arkansas hosted the meet that Razorbacks men's Coach Chris Bucknam and Razorbacks women's Coach Lance Harter dread to the max, while still underlying what was most important.

"Twelfth place is as good as first place at this meet," Bucknam said, noting the top dozen in each event advance to Eugene.

First-place is the only place describing the UA's hosting. In 40 years covering track and field no meet comes to mind conducted any more efficiently and less officiously.

In these corporate athletic times, that combination is spotted more rarely than ivory-billed woodpeckers.

Arkansas' volunteer track officials, always superb, performed with admirable common sense. So did everyone from Arkansas event staff to the caterers. It showed. Never was heard a discouraging word.

"Get a gathering of track coaches you always are going to have complaining, but I didn't hear a single complaint," Harter said.

Not even from media. Bucknam and Harter have sufficient confidence in their athletes to do and say the right thing not to require UA staff chaperoning interviews. Their athletes handled triumphs and pitfalls appropriately and admirably.

Like Harter, Bucknam was as proud of the entire UA effort as of his athletes.

"Everybody from our facilities staff to our event staff to our coaching staff answered the call," Bucknam said.

The call, Bucknam said, came from the scoreboard, which bears the name of the retired Arkansas men's coach with whom Bucknam conversed with often over the meet's three days. John McDonnell coached 40 national championships and 84 conference championships in cross country, indoor and outdoor track

"The way I look at it, John McDonnell's name is on that scoreboard," Bucknam said. "It's his field and you have no choice but to raise the bar and put on a great meet. That's why we answered the call."

Sports on 06/02/2014

Discussion

Submit