College track and field is a sport that is full of history. The 1921 NCAA Track and Field Championships were the first national championships that that organization conducted, predating its inaugural NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships by three years – and the first NCAA Men's Basketball Championship by 18. Numerous college track athletes over the years have gone on to participate at the Olympics, including Oregon Duck Steve Prefontaine and Allyson Felix, who competed for USC.
College track is one of the most widely offered sports as 949 men's outdoor programs and 1,017 women's outdoor programs are sponsored by four- and two-year schools across the country. Many of these institutions also serve as indoor track and field colleges and as cross country colleges, somewhat less for the former and somewhat more for the latter. Meanwhile, the roster sizes of outdoor college track teams vary tremendously as a few will include a small handful of athletes while others are filled with more than 50 talented athletes.
The college track and field outdoor season is an extensive one with meets nearly every week from March to June. Athletes who also compete at indoor track and field colleges and at cross country colleges end up being year-long competitors, participating in the latter sport from August to November and in indoor track from January to March. The travel involved is also extensive as the vast majority of meets, all in some cases, take place away from home.
The variety of events is extensive as well. NCAA track consists of about 12 while NCAA field events number approximately nine. As expected, the skill sets necessary to impress in these are quite varied as shot putters and 100-meter sprinters will bring different assets to their teams. Additionally, decathlon and heptathlon competitions provide opportunities for well-rounded athletes to test themselves.
College track and field programs
A lot goes into what makes the best college track and field programs. Of course, you should see who posts the best results, both individually and as teams, but that shouldn't be the only factor that you consider when deciding which college organization might be the best fit for you.
It's important to also consider things like the quality of the coaching – some places have outstanding coaches but not the best statistics and results for a number of reasons – and the quality and culture of the school itself. You will spend much of your time away from the track, and you will take so much more from your experience than athletics.
Perhaps most importantly, ensure that the culture fits you, not only of the college track program but also of the university and its surrounding community. Some consult the NCSA Power Rankings for men's and women's track programs. They consider the academic reputations of colleges and student-athletes' personal favorites as well as what they offer athletically.
College track divisions
Four-year college track universities generally compete in the NCAA or NAIA ranks while two-year schools make up the junior college ranks.
- NCAA Division I – 279 men's, 319 women's
- NCAA Division II – 164 men's, 175 women's
- NCAA Division III – 271 men's, 279 women's
- NAIA – 157 men's, 162 women's
- Junior College – 78 men's, 82 women's
The expectations for athletes looking to participate in either men's track and field or women's track and field vary quite a bit depending on the expectations of the individual program. However, it's important to keep some general college track and field recruiting standards in mind. For example, men looking to be 100-meter runners at Division I programs should have a time around 10.4-10.8 seconds. Conversely, women aspiring to compete in the shot put at a Division I school should have recorded distances around 42-56 feet.
NCAA track and field calendar
Those who have earned a cross country scholarship get their extensive set of seasons under way in late summer, generally competing at their first meets around Labor Day weekend. After a small handful of regular-season meets, nearly every cross country college will take part in conference and regional championships with the best heading to national championships. All of those take place in or around November.
Many of those who have been awarded a cross country scholarship plus most on outdoor college track rosters will take part in indoor campaigns, which generally start in January. Conference, regional and national championships in this variation of the sport are held in and around March.
The outdoor campaign generally starts in March, sometimes overlapping with the end of the indoor schedule. In some instances, the initial outdoor meet of the campaign will have taken place before indoor nationals have been held.
College track rankings
The best resource for college track and field rankings is the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA). This organization provides useful tools for those involved in cross country recruiting, indoor track recruiting and outdoor track recruiting. Make sure to use them to see where schools that you're considering rank amongst the best college track teams in their respective divisions. The USTFCCCA also provides a good resource for learning about upcoming and past meets and results. These pages link to its TFRRS website.
College track championships
Another useful resource for determining college track and field recruiting standards is USTFCCCA's conference and national championships central pages. This is where you can discover where the best men's track and field and the best women's track and field athletes have competed and will compete.
Individuals and relay teams must qualify for regional and national championships on their own. In order to qualify for NCAA track and field preliminary championships, athletes must be in the top 48 of the regional college track and field rankings for their event with the exception of decathletes, heptathletes and relay teams; those need to be in the top 24 of the regional college track and field rankings to qualify. The top half of the finishers at the preliminary championships qualify for nationals.
At the college track and field championships 2019 for men, Texas Tech prevailed over a tough field to bring the national championship trophy back to Lubbock for the first time. Meanwhile, at the college track and field championships 2019 for women, Arkansas outlasted a field of the best college track teams and brought its fourth trophy to its campus in Fayetteville.
NCAA track and field news
Once you have narrowed your list of college track and field programs to a manageable number or already have a few that have started to rise to the surface, do everything that you can to learn more about those programs. This will not only help you make a better decision when the time comes, but being able to speak intelligently about how that team's season is going, especially as it relates to your event(s), the better you can impress the cross country or track coach there.
Some of the best resources are news outlets local to the school as well as its own athletics department's website. Those reporting for these sources are most apt to be especially knowledgeable about those teams. The conference's website is also a valuable resource while the NCAA's web pages for men's track and field and women's track and field provide good information as well.
College track broadcasts
For NCAA Track and Field Championships, ESPN and NCAA.com provide extensive coverage with the former focused on Division I Championships and the latter on Division II and III Championships. Conversely, for the NCAA Cross Country Championships, FloSports is the sole broadcaster.
Conference championships will be carried by a variety of outlets with some of them handled by the host conference or school while regular-season meets are sometimes streamed by host schools.
College track and cross country camps
Cross country camps and track camps provide outstanding opportunities to combine impressing in the cross country recruiting process and in the track recruiting process with learning skills and training methods. These camps can also provide opportunities to experience what the college organization methods are for that school and to get a feel for that university as a whole.
Several types of college cross country and college track and field camps exist. Prospect camps are focused more on providing a way for that track coach that you have on your list to evaluate you. Conversely, general track and field camps are focused more on college track training with roughly a quarter of the focus there involving evaluations of your skills and demeanor.
When choosing which ones to attend, consider the quality of the coaching, the proximity to where you live and how highly it is on the list of schools that you're considering.
College track recruiting
It can be overwhelming to narrow the list of options that you're considering, but engaging in some research will make the job easier. One of the ways to narrow your focus is to initially take a look at your closest cross country college and your closest track and field college, which will oftentimes but not always be the same school and see what they have to offer. Then expand that out to within 50-100 miles of you. Also talk to those you trust and see which schools further away they would recommend for you.
You also want to develop your recruiting game plan and do things like undergo third-party evaluations, post your resume online, create a highlights video and contact college track coaches. The best way to get a cross country coach or a track coach to notice you is to not only contact them but also join their camps and post impressive numbers at your meets and in the classroom.
As you navigate the recruiting process, take note of the three main terms that will be used to describe you. Prospects are ones who are eligible to join a college track program; the likelihood of that happening is irrelevant. Recruits are those who are actively being recruited by coaches. Commits are athletes who have come to an agreement with a school.
Also keep in mind the recruiting timelines for men's track and women's track. The most important things to take from those is that you should start this process your freshman year and that you can generally contact a coach at any time, but they're limited as far as when they can contact you and in what ways.
The use of a college athlete recruiting network can often be what pushes an aspiring high school student-athlete into competing in NCAA cross country, NCAA track or NCAA field. Next College Student Athlete (NCSA) has been an industry leader since it was founded in 2000 by Chris Krause, who had first-hand experience in the athletic recruiting process. In the 1980s, the football player was struggling through his, and, although he found his fit at Vanderbilt University, the challenging experience resonated with him. He wanted to ensure that others who followed in his footsteps wouldn't need to be as confused as he was.
One of the best resources that this college organization offers is the opportunity to join a network that includes 35,000 college coaches in a wide variety of sports. Additionally, NCSA provides educational resources to ease the process of transitioning from being a high school athlete to being one at a track and field college. As a result of everything that it offers, NCSA has received several accolades, averaging 4.9 out of 5 stars on Google Reviews, and has overseen more than 150,000 student-athletes commit to a college team since the organization's founding, 24,000 of those within the past year.
If you're looking to join an NAIA or NCAA track and field program and would like to take advantage of what NCSA has to offer as you make your way along this journey, fill out your free profile today. If you have any questions about it or about what NCSA can do for you, call 866 495-5172.