NCAA track and field is one of the most historic sports that this national organizing body oversees. National championships have been held in both NCAA track and NCAA field since 1921 on the men’s side and, on the women’s side, since the organization brought women’s sports under its umbrella in 1982. Many of these athletes also compete at the Olympics. In fact, 39 of the 40 American athletes who took home medals from the 2016 Games had competed in NCAA track or NCAA field. Some were even college track and field athletes at the time.
This sport is divided into indoor track and field, which takes place in the winter with national championships being held in March, and outdoor track and field, which awards national titles in June. At the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, 12 track events are held, eight field events take place, and one multi-event competition in each gender, decathlon for men and heptathlon for women, occur.
The NCAA has overseen a variety of sports since it was founded in 1906 while college sports predated its founding with the first college sports event being a rowing race between Harvard and Yale in 1852. The first national championship that the NCAA organized was that initial NCAA Track and Field Championships in 1921.
In 1973, the NCAA divided into three divisions: I, II and III. These areas remain today with Division I further subdivided in the sport of football only. A number of scholarships are awarded on an annual basis to both men’s and women’s athletes. Most schools sponsor both teams. DI college track and field teams can award up to 18 scholarships to female athletes and up to 12.6 to male athletes. Note that many offer fewer than those; in fact, some roster sizes are smaller than those figures. Conversely, other rosters are significantly larger than those scholarship limits.
The top event of the college track and field season is the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. These are also the penultimate championships of the school year with baseball being the last college sport with competitive events still to be played.
This multi-day event is widely reported on by major news outlets, ranging from those focused on the sport such as Runner’s World to other major news outlets such as ESPN. Of course, the NCAA’s official website is a quality resource for news on this event. Results are also posted by outlets such as LetsRun.com and WatchAthletics.com.
The NCAA Track and Field Championships, both indoor and outdoor, take place at predetermined sites across the country. However, it should be noted that the Division I Championships do tend to converge on just a few sites. For example, the 2011 and 2012 Outdoor Championships took place in Des Moines, Iowa, and the ones from 2013-18 were in Eugene, Ore. Those were followed by Austin, Texas, hosting in 2019 and 2020 and Eugene once again in 2021 and 2022.
The NCAA schedule in this sport is an extensive one, especially for Division I schools that also sponsor indoor teams, which is the vast majority of them. For schedules specific to a school, the best resource is that athletic department’s website.
For example, Stanford’s college track athletes started their 2019 campaign on Jan. 5 at the UW Indoor Preview in Seattle. The Cardinal’s indoor season ended with the MPSF Championships, which took place in February in Seattle, and the NCAA Track and Field Championships, which were held in March in Birmingham, Ala.
The indoor college track season quickly transitioned into the outdoor track season. Stanford started the latter campaign on March 15 at the Hornet Invitational in Sacramento, Calif. After taking part in competitions throughout the following months, the season came to an end with the Pac-12 Championships on May 11 and 12 in Tucson, Ariz., the NCAA West Prelims from May 23-25 in Sacramento and the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships from June 5-8 in Austin, Texas.
Schedules for schools in Divisions II and III are similar but slightly less extensive. The University of Chicago, a DIII institution, started its 2019 indoor season on Jan. 12 with the hosting of the Phoenix Invitational and ended it with the sending of several athletes to the NCAA DIII Indoor Championships in March in Boston. That was followed by an outdoor campaign that culminated with the NCAA DIII Outdoor Championships in May in Geneva, Ohio.
The U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) is the resource for the most respected NCAA track and field rankings. Its Track & Field Rating Index is essentially this sport’s version of the RPI, which is what the NCAA Selection Committees use to help determine which teams to select and seed in postseason play in other sports. It is designed to be an accurate predictor of future competitions and is useful for coaches, athletes, recruits and fans.
There are no longer any specific NCAA track and field standards that must be met in order to be selected for postseason competition. Now, the individuals who are selected to the NCAA Outdoor Preliminary Championships, previously known as the NCAA Track and Field Regionals, are simply amongst the top 48 in the NCAA track and field individual rankings in that event. The 24 best relay teams are selected as well. At that competition, the top 12 finishers in all of the events advance to the NCAA Championships. The only exceptions to this format are for the decathlon and heptathlon. Those multi-event competitions are only held at the NCAA Championships; the top 24 in both genders advance to the final site.
As is normal for the sport, only individuals advance to these competitions, not entire teams. At the NCAA Championships, participating athletes will then earn points for their universities, attempting to win team national championships as well as individual ones. Historically, the University of Southern California is the powerhouse school on the men’s side, having won 26 national championships. However, it is not a current power as its most recent one was claimed in 1976. Second on that list is Arkansas; the Razorbacks have 10 titles, most recently bringing that trophy back to Fayetteville in 2003. On the women’s side, Louisiana State University has set the pace with 14 trophy wins, most recently in 2008.
Although all NCAA track and field events provide points towards team totals at competitions throughout the season and at conference and national championships, college track tends to garner more interest than college field does. At the Olympics, the 100-meter dash is especially focused on by fans, and the same goes for that event in NCAA track and field. Also, longer races such as the 10,000-meter run can be interesting too but less so simply because of the time that it takes to complete. Many enjoy relays too as they provide a team element to a mostly individual sport and generally do not last long.
The heptathlon and decathlon intrigue many people too although that also suffers from length of duration, significantly more so than the 10,000-meter race, as it takes multiple days to complete. Of the field events, some of the more popular ones are the shot put and the long jump. However, the one that arguably garners the most attention is the pole vault as fans tend to rhythmically clap as the final contestants run down the lane towards the pit.
What does it take to become an NCAA track and field athlete? Of course, having some of the best marks in the country is a must. But so are other skills such as how you handle yourself when you are not competing, how you respond to adversity and your skills and potential in the classroom. You should also provide videos that reveal your form and, for distance runners, strategy.
You also want to ensure that you get your name out there. In nearly all cases, you need to let coaches know that you are interested in running at their schools and what your times or distances are. Having that inner drive is significant, not only because it impresses coaches but also due to how competitive it is for spots on NCAA track and field teams. For example, only about 3% of high school track and field athletes make the jump to the NCAA Division I ranks.
Some guidelines should be considered when narrowing the list of schools that you consider and contact. For example, if you are a male sprinter who is looking to run at a top DIII program, your 100-meter time should be around 10.94 seconds. Conversely, if you have aspirations of competing for a top DI school, that time should be around 10.41 seconds.
Taking part in college track and field camps can also provide several recruiting-related benefits. These include learning from top coaches so that you can improve your times and distances in the future and, in some cases, working with college coaches who you may be competing for in the future. It is also useful to attend one that is being held on a campus that you are considering competing. Even though it will not be a perfect introduction, especially if it is held during the summer, it will help you get a feel for the place and its culture.
In order to be certified to compete for an NCAA DI or DII institution, you need to receive certification from the NCAA Eligibility Center. Doing so can also be helpful but is not necessary if you will be a DIII athlete. But if you are looking to make official visits to schools and ultimately sign a National Letter of Intent, this is a necessary step in the process. If you have any questions about the NCAA Eligibility Center, which is also known as the NCAA Clearinghouse, check out the NCAA’s FAQs.
The NAIA has a similar website, so make sure to browse that one if you are considering participating in college track and field at an NAIA institution.
One of the best ways to ensure that you put your best foot forward throughout the recruiting process is by taking advantage of a recruiting service such as NCSA. Being recruited and participating in college track and field is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You want to make sure that you receive the best fit possible, not only athletically but also academically and socially. Receiving assistance from those who have gone through the process can only help.
NCSA has been helping student-athletes in a variety of sports navigate this sometimes-confusing process since it was founded in 2000 by Chris Krause. The former college football linebacker had struggled with his own recruiting experience before finding his fit at Vanderbilt University. However, he wanted to ensure that others following in his footsteps would be able to better navigate the process. In the years that followed, tens of thousands of NCSA athletes have committed to a college to play sports.
The organization also wants to ensure that college track coaches find the best fits as they fill out their rosters. Having this focus on both sides of the process helps ensure that both coaches and athletes find positive fits. As a result, 35,000 coaches are in the NCSA system. These additions to the NCSA family help prospective college student-athletes access more and more coaches.
If you’d like to join NCSA, an organization that has received a Google Reviews score of 4.9 out of 5 stars, fill out your free profile today and get the process going. If you are past your freshman year of high school, it is especially urgent to start your recruiting experience now. If you have any questions, make sure to call 866 495-5172.