Where Your Dreams Become Reality

Main Front Page

What's Let's Run.com?


Training Advice

World Famous:
Message Board

Turn Back The Clock!
Today's Top Runners Talk About Their High School Careers

Miler Scott Anderson's Journal

Wejo Speaks

Rojo Speaks

JK Speaks

Wejo Speaks
Rojo Speaks
JK Speaks


June 3, 2004

John McDonell - Pure Genius at Work

The collegiate track and field community (well at least the distance fans) is abuzz about the fact that Arkansas distance stud Alistair Cragg didn't run in the 5k at the NCAA regional meet last weekend and therefore may not be allowed to run the 5k at the NCAA championships next week.  A slew of visitors to our website have been asking us, "What the heck is going on here?"

Well, here's my interpretation.

When I first heard Cragg didn't run at the regionals, I'll admit that I was totally shocked - but only for about 5 seconds.  After finding out on LetsRun.com's message boards that Cragg most likely wasn't seriously injured, I quickly came to the following conclusion (with a little help from one of my friends as we were talking about it together). Arkansas coaching legend John McDonnell is up to something.

Given the fact that McDonnell has won an amazing 36 national championships at Arkansas and his whole year is focused on winning NCAAs, we quickly came to the conclusion that McDonnell had either determined his team would definitely win the NCAA meet without having Cragg run the 5k or there was absolutely no way they'd win the meet even if he did run the 5k.   I mean John McDonnell without a doubt is the greatest coach in NCAA history.  There is no way in heck he is going to blow a national championship with a huge rules interpretation mix-up involving his star runner.

I mean the NCAA manual is pretty darn clear on the issue. You don't run the regionals in a particular event - you don't run the race.  On page 14 of the NCAA technical manual for the regional championships, it says quite clearly, "Individuals (and relay teams) can advance to the national championship meet as an automatic or as an at-large entrant only if and only in the events in which they compete at the regional meet." They tried to make this point specifically clear this year because last year Arkansas and a few other schools took a very liberal interpretation of the "honest effort" rule and scratched guys from the finals at the regionals. They practically could have named the new additions to the rule book that said one must run both the prelims and finals "The Arkansas Rules."

Now, I'll admit that the rule book is poorly written at places. Thus one might claim that the rule isn't spelled 100% clearly and this is exactly what John McDonnell is doing in this case.

John McDonnell was never a fan of NCAA regional system which only began last year and I do understand why McDonnell isn't in favor of it. I mean if I'd won more than 20 national championships in track without a regional qualification system, I guess I wouldn't want anything to change either. That being said, let it be stated for the record that personally I'm in favor of the system but would like to see them go to a 100% regional qualification system (top 7 in each region and you're in)).

Thus McDonnell's not a fan of the regional system. Last year, he tried to push his luck and they rewrote the rule-book a bit to make his guys make more of an honest effort. This year he's doing the same thing once again. He just wants to see if the NCAA is serious about this regional thing or not. If they don't enforce the rules and make everyone run it, then the regional system is a joke and would have to be scrapped. That's probably what he's hoping for in this case.

But whether Cragg runs the 5k or not doesn't really effect McDonnell. Just take a look at the latest Track and Field News NCAA form chart. Arkansas has another national championship in the bag whether Cragg runs or not. This whole episode is just another example of John McDonell being the master that he is.  He's trying to see how far he can push things for the years to come. Pure genius.

Thus it really doesn't matter from his standpoint whether Cragg gets in or not.

Now from the fans standpoint it does. I mean the Dathan Ritzenhein vs. Cragg matchup at 5,000 has the potential to be one of the all-time classics in collegiate history.

My bet is that Cragg will be allowed to run.  Clearly the rules say he shouldn't be allowed to, and in future years, I don't think people in similar situations will be allowed in. However, McDonnell makes a very good point when he points out that that the head referee at the MidEast Regionals said he could run at NCAAs.

Thus it has basically come down to this.  Everyone is basically now admitting that the head-referee at the MidEast Regional totally misread the rule book. But what McDonnell told theArkansas Democrate Gazette is 100% correct:. "Like I said to the guy from the NCAA, when a referee makes a call in a basketball game or a football game, the call stands. That’s it. The next day [the referee] may be suspended if it was a bad call, but you don’t penalize the athletes."

Cragg likely won't be penalized as a result.

Comments? Send them to Robert at robertjohnson@letsrun.com or post them on our Message Board.

Click here to read Robert's other columns.
here to return to the LetsRun.com homepage

Editor's Note: Robert Johnson, a.k.a. "Rojo", is best known for being the co-founder of LetsRrun.com as well as the men's distance coach at Cornell University.  Robert has been running all of his life, but only competing seriously since the Fall of 1997 as a series of injuries curtailed his high school career and prevented him from running in college.  Since returning to competitive running, Robert progressed quickly and just missed out on qualifying for the 2000 US Men's Olympic Marathon Trials by running a 2:23:11 marathon at the 2000 Las Vegas Marathon.  A former high school math teacher, Robert has covered track and field for The Washington Post.

Tell a friend about this article. 

Tell a friend about this article
(Dont worry we won't email your friend(s) again. We send them a 1 time email)
Enter their email address(es), separated by a comma.
Enter your name:

Don't Worry: We
Back to Main Front Page
Questions, comments or suggestions?Please email the LetsRun.com staff at suggestions@LetsRun.com.

Save on Running Shoes

Cross Country Spikes 10% off

Train Smarter!!!

Lower Body Pain Relief 120x240

Running & Track and Field Posters

Unbelievable interest
ING Orange Savings Account

Sponsor of the NYC Marathon
ING Orange
5 Minute Process to Open an Account
No Minimum Deposit

Search the Web
or LetsRun.com