Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Hog Calls Commentary:
UA track takes regionals into its own hands
Arkansas coach Chris Bucknam watches during the Razorback Invitational Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- If you can't beat it, host it.
Arkansas Razorbacks' Men's Coach Chris Bucknam and Razorbacks Women's Coach Lance Harter are following that strategy as Arkansas hosts the NCAA West Preliminary Outdoor Track and Field meet Thursday through Saturday at John McDonnell Field.
The top 12 in each West Prelim event and the top 12 in each event at the East Prelim, which is being held during the same weekend in Jacksonville, Fla., determine the NCAA Men's and Women's Outdoor Championships field June 11-14 in Eugene, Ore.
So Bucknam, with 22 Arkansas men in 16 events, and Harter, with 19 Arkansas women in 13 events, have opted to host what they dislike, knowing it is the only gateway to the national championship.
"It's a critically important meet," Bucknam said. "We have to get as many to Eugene as we can. It gives us a chance to have our kids on our own track."
Harter says much the same.
Hosting doesn't mean endorsing.
The regionals were implemented in 2003 despite protests from former Arkansas men's coach John McDonnell and Harter, UA's women's coach since 1990.
Harter says he's still bothered that Arkansas' Veronica Campbell, the eventual 2004 Olympic gold medalist representing her home country of Jamaica, wasn't allowed to compete in the 2004 NCAA Women's Outdoor 100- and 200-meter dashes. The NCAA overruled Regional referee John Chaplin's judgment excusing Campbell from those sprints at Regionals because she had strained a hamstring running the 4 x 100 relay and could jeopardize her Olympic year.
So much for the NCAA's supposed "concern for the student-athlete."
Bucknam, then coaching Northern Iowa, was initially in favor of Regionals. Most coaches at mid-majors were at the time, voting in the Regionals over major conferences' objections.
Six years coaching Arkansas plus a bad Regionals experience at Northern Iowa has put Bucknam firmly in the McDonnell-Harter camp. All yearn to return to the descending order list of best performances determining the NCAA Outdoor field for its previously early June conclusion.
"It's about adding to an already long and arduous season," Bucknam said. "And it takes away from the SEC, and that's a travesty to do that."
Bucknam cited the recent May 19 SEC Outdoor meet as an example of how coaches have to think. Arkansas was locked into second place behind Texas A&M and ahead of Florida when he pulled his 1,600-meter relay team from the final race of the meet.
"If not for this week's rounds, they would have run the 4 x 400 at the SEC," Bucknam said.
Yet the Preliminary meets persist, many say, in part because the NCAA can cite huge Prelims participation for women and minorities.
Never mind the reality this extra meet puts an extra burden on the participants regardless of race, sex or national origin.
"It's not to the benefit to the health of our student-athletes," Bucknam said. "It's just not."
Sports on 05/26/2014