VOX POPULI: Track & Field: Stupid Rules, and Stupider Management

We have passionate readers of TheSportsExaminer.com, perhaps none more so than Ron Brumel, a 220-440-yard sprinter at Brooklyn College in New York, where he earned a Bachelor’s in Psychology in 1969, and later a Master’s in Exercise Physiology from the University of Oregon in 1975. He embarked on a life-long teaching and coaching career in 1972, with four years in Oregon and nearly 50 in Los Angeles, notably as the highly-successful distance coach of Palisades High School from 1990 to 2011. Just a rant he wanted to share:

I have been an athlete, coach, and minor official in the sport, but most of all, I’m a track & field fan and a believer. I’ve coached high school and middle school since 1970, and continue to this day as a retired teacher and head track & field and cross country coach. Currently running an after-school program at Paul Revere Middle School, along with former world-class decathlete Paul Foxson and former UCLA Bruin, Chris Brazil.

Our enrollment for cross country is at 108 athletes (boys & girls), thanks to an amazing physical education program that has multiple incentives for running and fitness, including T-shirts with “super-hero” status, high recognition in student publications and announcements following meets, and just plain enthusiasm from the P.E. staff and faculty and administration, not to mention parental support on every level.

Point being: sports which are not necessarily intrinsically rewarding, that require hard, often painful workouts, discipline, consistency and effort, can be made attractive on a participatory level, so why not on the professional level, with a potentially HUGE fan base, given that the NUMBER ONE participatory high school sport for females is T&F, and is also the NUMBER TWO for males.

Yet, when I bring up the current stars of the World Championships on TV, I get blank stares from the kids. Names like Sydney McLaughlin, Athing Mu and Jakob Ingebrigtsen are unknown, as are historically great names such as Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis and Wilma Rudolph. Possibly even worse, many – if not most – of the coaches that I work with are equally ignorant and/or are limited in their knowledge of multi-events as well as current athletics in general.

Regarding Noah Lyles: So great to have an outspoken, articulate and highly accomplished athlete at the forefront of our sport. And NOT a college graduate. An original original.

While I don’t necessarily agree with many of his promotional ideas, at least they are out there, and are attracting eyeballs and ear drums (Deion Sanders, anyone? Making Colorado football an overnight media sensation).

I’ve often thought of having a website called “If Other Sports were as Stupid as Track and Field.” For instance:

Baseball: One strike and you’re out, all uniforms the same for both teams, no numbers on uniforms, announcing fastballs in kilometers per hour.

Football: Same ideas, one down to make a first down, same uniforms, announcing yardage gains in meters, as well as kick returns and field goal distances. Penalties determined electronically, such as offsides or false starts in hundredths of seconds, instead of referee-eyeball decisions.

Soccer: Fuggetaboutit.

Basketball: Similar to above re uniforms; also, one foul and you’re out.

NOW for some radical ideas that may put eyeballs on screen, and people in seats, or NOT. Many ideas have been bandied about by the “managers” of the sport, other athletes, coaches, friends and fans, so not totally radical or original.

In no particular order, these are my ideas, going back, in many cases, to my youth, when these were common practices, and track was still alive as a popular spectator sport:

[1.] False start rule: no brainer here. Keep the one-and-done rule for all meets with multiple rounds, UNTIL the final, then apply the one on the field. The idiocy of determining false starts in thousandths of a second needs to be revised, to a visually noticed false start, then-and-only-then to be verified electronically, when, and only when, the start is more than 0.0 seconds (think of the paying spectators who missed out on Devon Allen and Usain Bolt not being able to run because of a barely-noticeable flinch). This rule – one false start on the field – should also be applied to Diamond League events, and non-Diamond League invitationals as well. Absolutely, the dumbest of the dumb rules.

[2.] Political entries: The limitation of athletes to world-class events should eliminate the citizenship of a country as an element of eligibility.

For instance, at one point, the Soviet Union, comprised of multiple large countries, was still only permitted three-per-“nation,” including Ukraine and Georgia. At the same time, Germany had six entries, because of the division into East and West prior to unification. After 1990, the country was doubled in size and lost half of their eligibles.

Simply stated, the top nine athletes in events currently run in lanes, should be eligible to run in the World Championships or Olympic Games. This would include American hurdlers (male and female), African distance runners, etc. The qualifying standard for distance events – not run in lanes – should be the same number eligible to make a World Championships final (16?).

The field for those outside the 9-16 world rankers, could then be filled in by other countries. (Still not happy about Keni Harrison being left off of 2016 U.S. Olympic Team, only to break the world record later that season).

[3.] Alternate distances based on common sense.

Currently, all distances in world-class events are measured metrically, even though historically based on the English measurement system. Consider: 100 yards, 220 yards (furlong, still common in horse racing) 440 yards (quarter mile) 880 yards (half mile), mile, and two-mile. So 100 m, 200 m,400 m, 800 m, and the worst of all, the 1,500 m. Seriously, you would rather watch a 1,500 m than a mile? Or 1,600 m? The four-minute mile is still the most well known (by non-track fans), but the 3:40 1,500 m barrier? Who cares? Not me. (By the way, that’s probably about a 3:57 mile, but who cares?)

BRING BACK THE MILE, and 2, 3 and 6 miles. And while you’re at it, how about 100 yards as an attraction – size of an American Football field would attract much interest – vs. 100 meters (how long is that?). For that matter, why not go back to English/American distances for USA champs, even in Olympic years?


COMPLETELY REVAMP all current races to be metric-centric based on fractions of a KILOMETER rather than fractions of a mile. This idea alone would increase interest throughout the non-English world (uhh, USA?), giving us the 100 meters, 250 m, 500 m, 1000 m, 2000 m, 5000 m and 10,000 m as the World Championships and Olympic distances.

If you’re wondering about history, why not think about whatever happened to the standing long/triple/high jumps, or left and right shot putting distances. Every sport undergoes radical revisions at one time or another. Now both major leagues use the designated hitter, pitch clock, and a runner-on-second starting in extra innings. And they actually pay their athletes as well. A major league bench warmer makes more than World or Olympic champions in track & field. Think radically.

[4.] Events in lanes: eliminate them.

Other than the hurdles, and the 100 and 200 m, lanes should be eliminated. Think about indoor track, where the 400 m is in lanes only until the second curve, then, let the elbows fly. Why not the 400 m off of a curved start, or possibly a one-turn stagger? No more guessing who’s really in the lead until the final curve.

Hey, if thoroughbreds can come off a common start, and quickly accelerate to 40 mph, how about bipeds off a common line, accelerating up to 20 mph? Repeat: Let the elbows fly (helmets are optional)!

I’m gonna stop here, feel free to criticize, even though you know that I’m RIGHT.

Comments on Ron’s comment are welcome here.

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