By Robert Johnson
October 25, 2017
Would you be happy if your son or daughter went off to college and was taught, “The only thing that matters in life is yourself. Do whatever you can for yourself and don’t worry about anything or anyone else”?
I imagine the answer for nearly everyone would be, “Of course not.”
Even people with a strong conservative streak in them would likely think, “We have to worry about quality of life, safety, health, the environment, the less fortunate, etc.”
However, the message of “Take as much for yourself as you can and worry only about yourself” is one that college athletic departments have been teaching for decades.
I grew up a big Texas Longhorn fan. Congratulations, Texas. You have your own freaking television network. Yet as a result, you don’t play your #1 rival — Texas A&M — in football every year.
Congratulations, Penn State. You were so worried about your brand being tarnished that scores of boys were molested.
Congratulations, Duke. While you do it better than most, you take your basketball players out of class for 15 mid-week basketball games so they can be on TV.
When you hear the word university or college, you are supposed to think of education. Colleges are supposed to be educating the leaders of tomorrow. Sadly, the only consistent message that the college sports administrators of the Power 5 conferences (SEC, Pac-12, Big 10, Big 12, ACC) have been teaching people for decades is “Greed is good.”
We got more of that last week when it was announced that Arkansas will be hosting a meet in 2018 — on the very same weekend that the Drake and Penn Relays are held — that they are billing as the “The National Relay Championships” and say will be a “game-changer for the presentation of college track & field.” Track & Field News reports that “sixteen power programs—Arkansas, Baylor, Florida, Florida State, Kansas, Kentucky, Miami, Michigan, Minnesota, Oklahoma State, Stanford, TCU, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin—will gather for a 2-hour, televised baton-events-only clash with team scoring.”
What? How is this possibly going to be a “game-changer?” The only regular-season track meets that the public cares about currently are the Penn and Drake Relays. And guess what? They’re already on national TV in tight windows. And they also attract big crowds — roughly 150,000 spectators between the two meets. I’ll be SHOCKED if 5,000 people show up for the National Relay Championships.
When I learned of the development, I emailed the other staffers at LetsRun.com to see what they thought. Jonathan Gault wrote back exactly what I thought: “I like the idea of getting a lot of good teams together to compete against each other, but I don’t get why the sport has to cannibalize itself. We already have a ‘National Relay Champs.’ It’s Penn.”
Now there is some East Coast bias in that statement (it would have been perfect if Jon had said Penn and Drake) but Jon is largely correct. Arkansas starting this meet — which just appears to be a rebranding of a meet that was held last year called the SEC Relays — doesn’t benefit the sport. It benefits them.
Penn and Drake aren’t perfect. But trying to decimate them so Arkansas can put a two-hour event on the SEC Network is not a development I’ll be cheering.
I’m glad I’m not the only one who shares this sentiment. Last year with Arkansas skipping Penn and Drake for the SEC Relays, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Nate Allen said it was “a loss — a loss for the athletes, the ones that the NCAA allege matter most.” When the “National Relay Championships” were announced, a poster on LetsRun.com started a thread, “Arkansas to host FAKE NATIONALS.” The poster noted Houston (the NCAA 4×100 champs) and Texas A&M (the NCAA 4×400 champs) won’t be there. Just because you call something a national championship doesn’t mean it is.
But don’t just take our words on it. I think it’s best if I end this column with some words from legendary Arkansas coach John McDonnell, who took his teams to both Penn and Drake. The winningest coach in NCAA history said it best, “Penn Relays is the Super Bowl of track. If you can go there and win, it gets national and international coverage. It is a tremendous recruiting tool and we always like to do well at Penn.”
More: Arkansas To Host A New “National Relay Champs” This April Sixteen “power programs” will compete in a 2-hour, televised relay-only meet with team scoring. Events tentatively include a 4 x 100, 4 x 200, 4 x 400, 4 x 800 and DMR.
*MB: “Arkansas to host FAKE NATIONALS.”
*MB: Hogs miss out on Drake, Penn Relays