UA outdoor meet called controversial by some

Larry Donald of Arkansas runs in the third heat of the men's 110 meter hurdles Friday, April 27, 2018, during the National Relay Championships at John McDonnell Field in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — If NCAA Division I track and field functioned as it should and once did, these National Relays that the University of Arkansas Razorbacks host this weekend in Fayetteville would be one and done or, more than likely, never conceived at all.

For this is the weekend of America’s grandest relays carnivals — the Penn Relays, operating since 1895 in Philadelphia, and the Drake Relays, operating since 1910 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Traditionally, the men’s and women’s teams of Arkansas, Baylor, Florida, Florida State, Kansas, Kentucky, Miami, Michigan, Oklahoma State, Stanford, TCU, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin, and the Minnesota men competed at Penn or Drake this weekend.

Now here they are in Fayetteville competing in tonight’s finale of the two-day collegiate outdoor meet at John McDonnell Field while the show has gone on since midweek at Penn and Drake.

“It’s become very controversial because it’s going head-to-head with the Penn Relays and the Drake Relays,” Arkansas women’s coach Lance Harter said of these National Relays he co-hosts with Arkansas men’s coach Chris Bucknam. “So there’s a lot of negative about why would you start your own meet?”

Ridiculous though it seems appearing to disagree on matters track and field with Arkansas’ women’s coach of two national championships and 32 SEC championships since 1991, and Bucknam, the winner of a national championship and 21 SEC championships since his 2008-2009 Arkansas arrival upon John McDonnell’s retirement, the controversy doesn’t stem from this meet but from an NCAA vote taken shortly after the century’s turn.

That was the vote, supported mostly by mid-major schools with help from some Power Five schools, hoping any change in routine might somehow impair McDonnell routinely winning his 42 men’s national championships for Arkansas. It added over the Memorial Day weekend NCAA Regional meets as a qualifying prerequisite for the NCAA Outdoor Championships hence delayed closer to mid-June.

McDonnell and Harter predicted correctly back then, with Bucknam later joining their chorus, that adding the unnecessary “give ’em all a ribbon for trying” qualifying meet would disrupt training schedules to reduce collegiate participation at Penn and Drake.

Success at Drake, and especially Penn, were key in building and sustaining Arkansas’ success. More importantly, they marked the one weekend that track collegians could relish competing in football stadiums filled like a football game.

A gradual but increasing goodbye to that.

Some leagues soon held their conference championships on the Penn/Drake weekend to be fresh for the Regionals.

Accordingly, Penn and Drake devoted more of their high school, professional and collegiate umbrella to the high schools and pros while college coaches griped their athletes often were relegated to competing hours before noon.

So they come here for an efficient all-collegiate production on John McDonnell Field’s world-class fast track competing in prime time on the SEC Network.

Sad for traditional collegiate track sans Penn and Drake, but understandable and commendable for Arkansas, so long among track and field’s best, to make the best of it.