Friday evening I attended a meet at Gately Park on the south side of Chicago, still impressed by the tremendous indoor facility which is now three years old. It has a 200m banked track with two horizontal jump pits, a large video screen to post results, and plenty of seating for fans.
There were nine collegiate teams - one school from the Atlantic 10 conference and another from the Missouri Valley, two from the Big East, the rest from around the Chicago area. You would think this should have been an exciting meet - every event area covered well by strong teams from DePaul, Loyola, and UW-Milwaukee - all leaders in their conference.
Yet I was BORED!
Most of the field events, with the exception of the TJ and Shot, were between 3pm-4:30pm, preliminary rounds in the 60m and 60H beginning at 5pm, running finals starting at 5:45pm. Despite very few races which had more than two heats, it seemed like I was there forever, the meet finally ending at 9pm.
I'll bet a $100 dollars (even more if I had it) I spent as much time watching NOTHING as I did watching competition. That each race, from the blast of the pistol until the last finisher crossed the line, encompassed only 40% of my time.
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For those of you who have ever been to the Penn or Drake Relays, you would understand one of the reasons why so many attend. At Penn, the high school 4x100 relay is a good example. There is always LESS THAN THAN THIRTY SECONDS (I'll bet anyone who doubts me) between the finish of one heat and the gun for the next one.
At Drake, in hurdle event finals (whether 100/110 or 400) the races don't start at 10:00 and 10:10 - they start at 10:03 and 10:06 - the following race ready to go at 10:09. This is one of the big reasons why these meets are so popular with fans.
Why is putting together a good time schedule so difficult?
No sprint race heat/final, from the 60 meters to the 400 meters, should take no longer than three minutes from the start of one heat to the start of the next. (I realize false starts impact this timeline.) In the 800m four minutes should be enough, in the 1500/mile seven minutes (for a HS meet maybe 1-2 minutes more), for a 3k or 5k runners should be ready to go one minute after the last finisher.
What is one of the most frustrating aspects of collegiate (or pro) basketball and football games? Time outs. Anywhere from one to three minutes of boredom whether you are attending or watching the games on TV. How exciting would it be if I told you average track meets had TWENTY-FIVE five minute timeouts?
That's over 2 hours! Yep. And that doesn't include the time between heats.
If asked who is the MOST important official needed for running quality meets, I would lean more towards the clerk, than I would the starter. Yes, starters are important. But when I've asked starters this very same question, most of them echoed my opinion. A well-prepared clerk can save half an hour in a small meet and hours in a long one.
Please don't waste my time.
With the number of USATF officials working Friday - there had to be at least ten at Gately - I guarantee I could have cut 60 minutes from the meet. Maybe more. If our goal is to get more rear ends in the stands we need to do a better job with schedules. Cut the length of meets. That way I can waste all my time stuck in Chicago traffic!