When Texas A&M track and field coach Pat Henry heard that the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships would be held at Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus through the year 2021, he took immediate action.
Henry, now in his 28th season of coaching, called his real estate agent.
“I wanted to make sure I had some kind of property out there,” Henry said. “Since I’m going to be there for the next eight years, I might as well invest some dollars.”
Henry was joking, of course, but it didn’t take away from his belief, one that is shared by numerous other coaches, athletes and fans, that the NCAA made the right call in awarding the NCAA Championships to TrackTown USA from 2015 to 2021.
The 2014 NCAA Championships were already slated to be held at Hayward Field.
“I’m happy for the people of Eugene,” Henry said. “I’m happy for the University of Oregon. I think it’s well deserved. It’s not something that anyone gave them. They earned it, and there’s a difference, in my opinion.
“At this time, Eugene has shown itself to be the best place to run a track meet in this country, and my hope is that it remains great. I think it was the right decision by the NCAA.”
Henry’s view from the heart of Texas was shared in Pennsylvania by Penn State track and field coach Beth Alford-Sullivan.
“It’s a very, very good move for our sport,” she said. “We need to market our sport better, grow our fan base, and get back to our status as a front-runner. Making the NCAAs stable, in an environment such as Eugene, is what it takes these days …
“Once it’s solidified, and goes to one place every year, it just gets better and better. I think this will give the rest of the country an opportunity to understand our sport better, and it will let TrackTown be TrackTown.”
Alford-Sullivan, who is also president of the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA), plans to rally as much support as possible behind the move at the organization’s annual convention in Orlando, Fla., next week.
“The coaching association needs to get behind this,” she said. “It’s a tremendous step for all that we are trying to do to gain exposure for our sport.”
Bubba Thornton, who retired as men’s track and field coach at Texas last summer, likes the fact that schools will know exactly where the NCAA Championships will be each June, and coaches will be familiar with the logistics of getting to and from the event.
“You can put it on your calendar,” Thornton said. “It happens at the same time, and coaches should know how to get there, should know the places to stay, and be able to answer all of those questions. You don’t have to rethink it every year.”
Thornton understands that some coaches might be concerned over the perceived home field advantage the UO gains by hosting the meet, but it also puts the burden of expectations on the home teams with the NCAAs in their backyard.
“I’m sure some people will say the Ducks will have an advantage, and maybe they do,” he said. “But I know this. The Ducks will have to be a very good team every year and there’s some pressure that goes with that.”
Christian Taylor, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist and 2011 world champion in the triple jump, said competing at Hayward Field for the NCAAs will be ideal training for those athletes hoping to advance to the next level as a professional.
“I think it’s brilliant,” Taylor said of the long-term NCAA agreement. “For those thinking about going to the next level, it’s great preparation. They know the Olympic Trials will be there, so they can get a feel for the atmosphere.”
Like many track and field athletes, Taylor has a special affinity for Hayward Field.
As a sophomore at the University of Florida, he won his first NCAA outdoor title at the 2010 meet in Eugene with his first 17-meter jump. He’s also produced multiple world-leading marks at the Prefontaine Classic, and qualified for world teams at the 2011 U.S. championships and 2012 Olympic Trials.
“At Hayward, it’s more of a European feel,” Taylor said. “People don’t just come to see the 100 and 200. They actually watch (the meet) as a whole. Sometimes when I’m performing there, it doesn’t even feel like I’m in the U.S. anymore.
“You go to other meets and you’re lucky to get a crowd, but in Eugene, it’s sold out and they put up additional stands. Rain or shine, the fans always come through. For me, it’s the best place to compete in the U.S.”
Alford-Sullivan echoed those sentiments.
“Having been to a lot of NCAAs over the years, the environment there just doesn’t get matched anywhere else in the U.S.,” she said. “Our student-athletes aren’t used to performing in front of large crowds, so when they get to come to Hayward Field, it’s electric, and they feel like rock stars.”
There is consensus on that point.
Not many venues in the U.S. can match the roar of the Hayward Field crowd as athletes round the Bowerman curve, and that appreciation holds true for participants from all schools, and not just those wearing the “O.”
Iowa State’s Lisa (Koll) Uhl might have said it best after she swept the 5,000- and 10,000-meter titles at the 2010 NCAA Championships.
“You feel a connection,” she said. “to something greater than yourself.”
And now, thanks to the new seven-year agreement with the NCAAs, an entire generation of track and field athletes will aspire to compete at Hayward Field, starting each season with the ultimate goal of reaching TrackTown USA.
History of NCAA Championships at Hayward Field
1962: The Oregon men claimed the first of four NCAA outdoor titles under Bill Bowerman. Jerry Tarr swept the 120-yard and 440-yard hurdles; Dyrol Burleson won the mile at 3:59.8; and Harry Jerome won the 220. Mel Renfro was second in the 120-yard hurdles and third in the long jump for the Ducks.
1964: The Duck men won again as Harry Jerome clocked 10.1 seconds in the 100 meters to set a meet record and tie the American and collegiate records. Oregon’s javelin crew fashioned the first 1-2-3 finish in NCAA history with Les Tipton (249-10), Gary Reddaway (246-1) and Ron Gomez (232-8).
1972: As a prelude to the Munich Olympics, Pre-mania got a boost as UO junior Steve Prefontaine won the 5,000 in 13:31.4, shattering the meet record by 25 seconds. Other notable winners were UCLA’s John Smith in the 400 (44.5), helping the Bruins win the NCAA title, and Bowling Green’s Dave Wottle in the 1,500 (3:39.7).
1978: USC’s Clancy Edwards earned athlete of the meet honors by sweeping the 100 (10.07) and 200 (20.16) and running the third leg on the Trojans’ winning 4×100 relay (39.31). UCLA’s Greg Foster set a U.S. record in the 110 hurdles (13.22) and UO sophomore Rudy Chapa won the 5,000 (13:35.3).
1984: This was the first combined men’s and women’s NCAA meet at Hayward Field. Joaquim Cruz led the Duck men to their fifth NCAA title by winning the 800 and 1,500, and Kathy Hayes set a collegiate record of 32:43.81 in just the second 10,000 of her career. UO’s Claudette Groenendaal won the 1,500 and took second in the 800.
1988: A new track and refurbished stadium led to the first sub-3:00 clocking by collegians in the 4×400 relay as UCLA ran 2:59.91 en route to winning its second straight title. It was a bittersweet win in the 3,000 steeplechase for Oregon State’s Karl Van Calcar as OSU disbanded the track program at season’s end. Oregon’s Annette (Hand) Peters won the 5,000 and took second in the 3,000, behind Villanova’s Vicki Huber in an NCAA record of 8:47.35.
1991: The LSU women claimed their fifth straight NCAA title and Tennessee edged Washington State for the men’s crown after the Cougars’ Tony Li, the favorite in the 110 hurdles, was disqualified for a lane violation. Senior Paula Berry speared the javelin title for UO, and Texas senior Carlette Guidry won the 100, 200 and anchored the 4×100 relay to victory.
1996: The LSU women made it 10 titles in a row, while the Arkansas men won their fifth straight. The Ducks failed to produce an individual champion for the first time in eight hostings of the meet. Tennessee’s Lawrence Johnson set an American record by clearing 19-7 1/2 in the pole vault and UCLA’s Ato Boldon set the meet record of 9.92 in the 100.
2001: Justin Gatlin led Tennessee to the men’s title by becoming the first freshman since Auburn’s Harvey Glance in 1976 to sweep the 100 and 200. USC earned its first women’s crown as Angela Williams became the first to win three straight 100 titles. The Ducks got wins from John Stiegeler in the javelin and Santiago Lorenzo in the decathlon.
2010: Oregon’s Andrew Wheating, A.J. Acosta and Matthew Centrowitz electrified a sold-out crowd with a 1-2-3 Duck sweep in the 1,500 meters. UO’s Keshia Baker held off Texas A&M’s Jessica Beard on the final leg of the 4×400 relay to give the Duck women their first NCAA title in that event. An NCAA record 45,847 fans attended the four-day meet.
2013: Kansas won its first NCAA women’s title in any sport with 60 points, while Florida and Texas A&M tied for the men’s title with 53 each. Collegiate records were set by Stanford’s Kori Carter in 400 hurdles (53.21) and Clemson’s Brianna Rollins in 100 hurdles (12.39). UO junior English Gardner defended her NCAA title in 100 and turned pro the next day. The UO men received NCAA titles from Mac Fleet in 1,500 and Elijah Greer in 800.