NCAA Track & Field Championships

The 2019 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships gets underway this afternoon in Austin, Texas.

Over 24,000 track and field athletes compete in Division I, which includes the NCAA’s largest schools.  Division I features 329 women’s and 278 men’s teams.  The NCAA expanded to two divisions in track and field in 1963, then three in 1974.  This year’s DII and DIII championships were held May 23-25, in Kingsville, Texas, and Geneva, Ohio, respectively.

This week marks the 97th edition of the Men’s collegiate national championship.  The inaugural event, contested in 1921, was held at Stagg Field at the University of Chicago.  It was won by the University of Illinois, which captured the first of five outdoor track titles in school history.  The Illini amassed 20.25 team points – the lowest in D1 Championship history — to beat second-place Notre Dame.

Chicago played host to the first dozen NCAA Championship meets between 1921 and 1933 [the event was not held in 1924].  The event has visited California 17 times, including Palo Alto, Sacramento, Los Angeles and Berkeley.  The sport’s premier championship has been held at its most iconic venue – Oregon’s Hayward Field — 16 times.  The University of Oregon first hosted the D1 Outdoor Track & Field Championships in 1962 and historic Hayward has been the site of the past six meets [Austin hosts the event this year and next, then the Championships return to Oregon in 2021 and 2022].

Athletes who will forever hold NCAA Championship records include Dave Wottle [mile], Steve Prefontaine [3 mile] and Tommie Smith and John Carlos [220-yard dash], as those events are no longer contested.

Since 1982, NCAA women have held their event at the same time and in the same location as the men.  The competition is spread over four days.  Men’s events are scheduled for Wednesday and Friday, while the women compete on Thursday and Saturday.  The same school has captured both the Men’s and Women’s team titles in the same year seven times.  LSU did it three times between 1988 and 1990, then Texas A&M won three straight from 2009 to 2011.  Oregon was the last to win both, in 2015.  The University of Georgia nearly pulled of the double in 2018.  Last year, the UGA men beat Florida by ten points, but the Lady Bulldogs were edged by USC 53-52.

UCLA won the inaugural women’s title with a whopping 153 points, the most in the 37-year history of the event.  LSU has won the most women’s team championships, with 14.  In 1993, the Lady Tigers trounced second place Wisconsin 93-44, the most lopsided score in Women’s track history.

The University of Southern California is the most dominant program in the history of Men’s track and field.  USC has appeared in a record 85 NCAA Championship meets, winning 25 official team titles while finishing runner-up eight times.  Trojans have earned 121 individual NCAA Men’s track and field titles, outpacing Oregon, which is next on the list with 72 individual champions.  USC owns the longest consecutive team title win streak, having reeled off nine straight between 1935 and 1943.  Arkansas, which owns the second-longest streak, won eight straight from 1992 to 1999.

Oregon holds the record for most points in the Men’s Championships, amassing 113 in 1984.  The largest margin of victory in the Men’s bracket came in 1987, when UCLA thrashed Texas 81 to 28.  Four times the Men’s team champion won by a single point, and twice the meet ended in a tie.  In 1965, Oregon and USC tied at 32.  In 2013, Florida and Texas earned 53 points each to share the banner.

Jesse Owens won a record eight NCAA track & field titles in his brilliant two-year career at Ohio State.

Athletes qualify for the Championships based upon their performance in the Preliminary Round competition.  Twelve competitors from each individual event and twelve teams from each relay event advance from each of two Preliminary Round sites; one in the East and one in the West.  Both prelim meets took place May 23-25.  The East Preliminary was held at Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida, while Hornet Stadium in Sacramento, California, played host to the prelim for the West.

The top 48 athletes in each individual event compete in the Preliminary Round, as do the top 24 relay teams.  Twelve competitors from each individual event and twelve teams from each relay event advance from each Preliminary Round site.  The Championships include 24 athletes competing in each individual event as well as 24 teams for each of two relays.

NCAA track & field includes two combined events; one for men, one for women.  Men compete in Decathlon, a competition comprised of ten disciplines, while Women compete in the seven-discipline Heptathlon event.  Combined events are not contested at the Preliminary Round sites.  Based on their position on the national descending-order list, the top 24 student-athletes in both Decathlon and Pentathlon advance directly to Austin.

The track portion of the NCAA Championships consists of a dozen events.  The docket includes three sprints: 100, 200 and 400 meters.  The meet features five distance races, ranging from 800 to 10,000 meters, and hurdling events of 110 and 400 meters.  The track competition also includes 4 x 100 meter and 4 x 400 meter relay events.  With the exception of the 10,000 meter run, which is a full-field single event, the track competition is spread over two days.  The Men’s semifinal races are held on Day 1 [today], with finals slated for Day 2 [Friday].  The NCAA Women follow the same format, with semifinal competitions on Day 1 [Thursday] and finals Day 2 [Saturday].

At the 2010 NCAA Championships, Oregon’s Ashton Eaton won the Decathlon with a record 8,457 points.  Two years later, Brianne Theisen set the record in Pentathlon, with  6,440.  Ashton and Brianne married in July 2013.  Both records still stand.

The Men’s and Women’s field events consist of eight disciplines: hammer throw, pole vault, javelin, long jump, shot put, high jump, discus, and triple jump.  Five of the eight – hammer, pole vault, javelin, long jump and shot put — go straight to finals on Day 1 of the respective Men’s and Women’s competitions.  High jump, discus, and triple jump contest semifinals on Day 1 and finals on Day 2.

The 2019 Outdoor Championships will be held at Mike A. Myers Stadium, a 20,000-seat venue on the University of Texas campus in Austin.  Home to the Longhorns’ track and field as well as soccer teams, the $13 million facility opened in March 1999.  The historic arena is named for Mike Myers, a UT graduate who donated $3 million to finance construction.  While this week marks the seventh time Austin has hosted the D1 Track and Field Championships, it is only the meet’s second visit to Myers Stadium, which first hosted the event in 2004.

All-session reserved seat tickets to this weekend’s NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships cost $135, while adult general admission tickets sell for $75.  Youth/Student/Senior [62 & up] tickets go for $35.  The meet opens today with the Men’s competition.  The first event is the 100 meters of the Decathlon at 2:30 p.m. [CT]. The first field event commences at 4:00 p.m. with Hammer Throw final.  The Women’s championship begins tomorrow with the Hammer Throw final, slated for 4:30 p.m.  The Men’s meet closes Friday night with the 4 x 400 meter relay final, scheduled to start at 9:51 p.m.  The Women conclude this year’s competition on Saturday night with the final event of the Heptathlon —  the 800 meter run – which gets underway at 7:13 p.m.