If the story of the first half of the coronavirus-induced shutdown was colleges cutting their track & field programs, the story of the second half (assuming we're approaching the end) may be USA Track & Field defaulting on the one job they exist to do.
USA Track & Field giveth a little to a few, USA Track & Field taketh away a lot from many more. One day after announcing the Journey to Gold - Tokyo meet series for Olympic hopefuls, USATF pulled the rug out from under a few hundred of America’s most promising developmental athletes.
After refusing to field a Team USA for the World Half-Marathon Championships last fall and cancelling USA Indoor National Championships and USA Youth Indoor National Championships this year, the national governing body cancelled the U20 National Championships, which would have served as the qualifying meet for the 2021 Junior Pan-Am Championships.
The USATF U20 National Championships were scheduled to be held in Miramar, FL. Florida has had athletes and fans in outdoor stadiums for most of the last year, from youth sports up to the Super Bowl. Major League Baseball spring training is currently underway in Florida, in preparation for a full 152-game season. If Florida is undesirable for some reason, many other states have been holding professional, college and youth sports events over the last few months - indoor and outdoor - with fan attendance ranging from 0-30% of capacity. And let’s not forget Iowa, which held its entire high school baseball and softball playoff tournament last July, when no one thought any such thing was possible.
For once, it’s not a track & field thing. Indoor - indoor! - track has been taking place the last few weeks in Arkansas, Staten Island, Virginia Beach and across the collegiate landscape. Division I and Division II indoor national championships start lists are out, and Wartburg College is hosting an alterna-championship after Division III pulled a USATF and cancelled the official championship meet.
No, this is a USA Track & Field thing.
By and large, we don’t care too much what USATF do. They are neither our concern nor interest. We’re only interested in seeing how the affected athletes and coaches react.
The athletes who are most affected by this decision - like the ones who care most about indoors, like the ones who go to Division III schools - are those who are 1-2 steps down the pyramid from that tiny tippity-top of the pyramid that gets all the minimal attention in the sport. Some of them may develop into that top level and make an Olympic or World Championship team in the next 4-8 years, but most of them will not. They will leave the sport with the evidence-based perception that the sport really didn’t care about them and didn’t do anything for them.
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The questions, then, as always, are: For how long will they continue to entrust their ambitions and careers to the institutions that are failing them on the reg? Will they and their coaches cry that USATF needs to do more to (ahem) support post-collegiate athletes, the T&F version of “thank you, sir, may I have another?” At what point will athletes and coaches realize that any alternative is worth exploring simply on potential, since we know how disappointing and dismal the actual is?
USA Track & Field is showing themselves to be unwilling or incapable of doing one of their very few actual jobs, while hoovering up the kudos for a barely meaningful endeavor outside of their mandate.
Technically, USATF could point out that their mandate is to field national teams, and that the manner of selection is wholly at their discretion.
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To that end, we’ll leave you with this. In their cancellation announcement, USA Track & Field said that selection for the 2021 Junior Pan-Ams will be based on performance rank order from January 1 to June 13.
Anyone else remember what happened the last time USATF said they would use performance lists to select the Team USA for a Pan-Am Championship, one coincidentally also held in South America?
Photo credit: The Royal Canadian Legion Dominion Command / Flickr, under CC BY 2.0.