NCAA champs explained (for the British)

12 Jun 2015

Probably the highest level of amateur athletics competition in the world, the NCAA championships in Eugene will be broadcast live (all four days) in a new format on ESPN. Yes, that’s right, a university athletics event live on a major channel. This seems unlikely to us Brits, so here’s a short overview of the NCAAs.

How do you get there?

Just 24 athletes in each event qualify for the Division I NCAA Outdoor Championships, held at Hayward Field in Eugene. Qualifying happens in two stages. The top 48 ranked athletes in the East and West will qualify for the NCAA Preliminary Round, or “regionals”—this year they were held in Florida (East) and Texas (West).

In field events and the 10,000m, qualification from regionals to nationals is straightforward, with the top 12 athletes progressing from each.

In the rest of the track events, it’s best to think of the regionals as round one and quarterfinals, with the race continuing in Eugene as the semis and final. For races between 100m and 800m, athletes must make the top three (or be one of the three fastest losers) in each round in the regionals to make the nationals.

Who to look out for

When Michael Johnson does his bit for the BBC, he seems nonplussed about some emerging world class talent. He’s already seen them cut their teeth in the collegiate ranks (such as Sanya Richards-Ross and Kirani James). Who will be the next to make the transition college track star to global superstar?

This year’s crop of NCAA finalists include reigning 100m champion Trayvon Bromell (Baylor). A hot favourite having won his 100m and 200m semis on Thursday in 9.90 and 20.03—just over an hour apart. Competition will come from Andre De Grasse (USC), another athlete to have gone sub-10 this year.

The 800m is not too shabby either. On the women’s side, seven athletes have dipped beneath 2:02 this season alone, including Oregon freshman Raevyn Rogers and Jamaican Natoya Goule (Clemson)—both names for years to come. The men’s semi-finals saw Edward Kemboi (Iowa State) and Brandon Kidder (Penn State) both qualify for the final in 1:45; joining athletes also with IAAF World Championship qualification standards Brandon McBride of Mississippi State and Shaquille Walker of BYU.

Other key names to look out for include Edward Cheserek and Eric Jenkins (Oregon) who will look to repeat their 10,000m ‘1-2 punch’ in the 5k. Jenna Prandini (Oregon) goes in four events with the hopes of scoring big points for Oregon in the 100m, 200m, Relays and Long jump. Vernon Norwood (LSU) will battle it out with fellow sub-45 400m runners Bralon Taplin and Deon Lendore (both Texas A&M). Leah O’Connor (Michigan State) who will look to continue her unbeaten season in the 3,000m steeplechase. Finally in the pole vault, Demi Payne (SFA) beat Sandi Morris (Arkansas) in a tight battle between the two, who have been trading collegiate records throughout 2015.

The NCAA Championships is also a team championship. With athletes qualifying as individuals, team representation and chances for team success vary greatly in Eugene. This year’s men’s competition looks set to be between Oregon and Florida, with the women’s team race more open with up to six schools including Florida, Arkansas and Oregon competing for the top place. Oregon has the numerical advantage, but ultimately it comes down to quality not just quantity with points coming from positions in finals (1st: 10pts, 2nd: 8pt, 3rd: 6pts—then 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 pts for 4-8th places).

Number of entries per college (inc relays)

British interest

There is a rich tradition of British athletes in the NCAA; athletes like Hannah England, Luke Gunn, Tom Lancashire and Chris O’Hare developing into high-class international athletes during their collegiate careers.

British fans might take interest in the performance of Rhianwedd Price (Mississippi State) in the final of the 1500m, and, of course, NCAA cross country champion Kate Avery (Iona) in the 5000m.

On the men’s side, UK number one Zak Seddon (Florida State) is ranked fourth going into the steeplechase, whereas Babatunde Amosu (triple jump, Iowa), Nicholas Percy (discus, Nebraska) and Matti Mortimore (javelin, ND State), who finished 7th to receive ‘All-American Honours’, provide British representation in the field events. We do have some of “our own” to cheer for, but their achievements might be a bit muted on these shores.