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  • Writer's pictureJack Mullaney

Reimagining Cross Country

About a week ago, we hosted a small cross country dual meet on our campus at the University of Portland. Due to the pandemic, spectators were not allowed, and the early Sunday morning start time reflected that intention.

But as I watched our team race through the quad, a scenic area they've traversed countless times on the way to class, I couldn't help but think that what I was seeing offered an idea about how to better display our sport on the collegiate level.

This past year has shown just how volatile the longevity of a cross country program is in the NCAA, as schools like Clemson, U Conn, and Akron slashed their men's teams.

In my opinion, the sport of cross country is fascinating to those who are in it. Everyone else just doesn't see it.

Just look at an NCAA team's schedule. Most only have one or two home meets a year (some don't have any), and most of the time, they're held on a course greater than walking distance from campus. The rest of the meets are on the road, with little publicity or fanfare, largely due to the lack of free TV coverage (The subscription model can work if you already have fans. It doesn't create them).

In a way, we've created our own bubble as a sport. If we keep piling into vans to train off campus, and hop on planes to race on courses far away from any campus, it should come as no surprise that programs are being cut. You have to give people a reason to care.

Which brings me back to our race on campus. When we come out on the other side of this pandemic, I see an opportunity to reimagine how we package our sport at the collegiate level. It's about making cross country more disruptive.

Instead of renting out a golf course 20 miles away, let's race on campus. It's too much to ask a university community to drive out to a race. We have to bring the race to them.

Instead of trying to avoid football weekends, let's make the race a part of football weekends. Picture a race through campus the day before, or the morning of, a big game. The fans are already in town. This is just added entertainment for their weekend. In fact, when BYU hosted WCC's on a football weekend a couple years ago, attendance was the highest I've ever seen at a conference meet.

Instead of being strict about unattached entries, why not have an open race for the community after the collegiate race? That will bring out even more people.

Yes, this might mean that cross country morphs into more of a road racing model. But if you preserve the team scoring rules, can you imagine the atmosphere that could create? Can you imagine the scenes of two rival schools racing around the iconic landmarks of their campuses on a Homecoming Weekend?

The way I see it, our current model avoids the crowds, perpetuating a feeling of obscurity on college campuses.

We have to seek the crowds, and give them a reason to watch.

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