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Our Sport At Its Best?

Most diehard track & field fans enjoy all forms of championship gatherings. To ask them which one is the best is a little like asking those same fans which IPA beer is the best at Eugene's iconic Wild Duck Cafe. Hey, they're all great!

But more recently, a growing legion of track & field aficionados is singing the praises of the collegiate championships, citing any number of facets to their conclusion that the college-level brand of championship athletics is their favorite. Here are some of the reasons they offer:

Team Scoring. Except for the nationalistic practice of country medal counts in global competitions, post-collegiate track & field usually lacks this exciting element of competition. The presence of team scoring at collegiate championships - also evident in a less-refined way at the prep level - adds a novel and dramatic element to the competition that just isn't there in national post-collegiate championship events. When team scoring is in the mix, everyone - the athletes, the coaches, the fans, and the media - is continually observing and reassessing the fortunes of their favorite schools as the meet progresses. The shifting sands of team scoring - constantly realigning as favorites falter and upsets occur - add excitement and newly-emerging speculation as the collegians do battle.

New Format. Last year's newly-instituted practice of dividing up the 4-day NCAA Div. I Championship into alternating days of gender-specific competitions has generally been embraced as a positive step forward. Critics note the burden the new same-sex scheduling places on individuals performing in multiple events - including the teams for whom these gifted athletes compete - as doublers have less recovery time between competitions. But the proponents of this novel style of presentation point to the singular spotlight these days of separate competition place on both the men and the women - with each getting their undistracted moments in the footlights. Alternating days of competition by gender also makes it easier and clearer to view the building drama of team competition. The media loves the more broadcast-friendly format which seems to translate into expanded TV coverage presented in a more logical sequence that is easier to follow. As one coach recently mentioned to me, "Any presentation format that gets more track & field on television, I'm for it."

Relays. Have you ever met a track & field fan who isn't enthusiastic about the relays? Me neither. Invariably, there is a discernible anticipation and a notable buzz among collegiate championship spectators as leadoff runners load into the blocks - a special excitement only rarely sensed with the individual events. Because relay lineups are not chiseled in stone, coaches can strategize in the early rounds and in the final as they have discretion with regard to the four athletes they will assemble and the order in which they run. There is a reason - more than just tradition - why the 4 x 400 meter relay is the engrained show-closer for collegiate championship - and virtually all - track & field gatherings. The dearth of relays at the post-collegiate level provides little opportunity to capture this same excitement and, may I add, does nothing to help our woeful stick-passing among the professionals.

More Surprises. With younger, less-experienced athletes and a constant influx of new, hungry talent, results at collegiate track & field championships are less predictable. Upperclass men and women stumble. Underclass men and women break through. Bungles occur as collegiate athletes act like, well, college students. The result is unanticipated drama and outcomes. Case in point: several years ago when Oregon's favored long sprinter Mike Berry - now a seasoned professional - failed to advance out of his 400m semi-final, heads were spinning as many rushed to forecast the points the Ducks had lost and the potential impact such point loss might have on their team title chances.

More Heroes. As collegiate championship meets wind down and the team scoring is tight, unsuspecting heroes often emerge. Last year, the Oregon women's squad - wrapped up in the midst of a tense battle for the team crown - looked to middle distance frosh Raevyn Rogers to grab a few key points in the 800m final to help their cause. Her unexpected victory sealed the team win for the Duck women and prompted normally-reserved Oregon coach Robert Johnson to gush to the media about his newly-emerging protégé.

The Last Vestige Of Innocence. Let's not kid ourselves. Collegiate track & field at the Division I level is serious business. At the leading track & field powers from the so-called Power 5 conferences, the programs are comprehensive and sophisticated - as the best facilities, superior coaches, and attentive support staffs are all available to help talented and dedicated athletes reach the zenith of their potential. But notwithstanding the big-time business this sport at its highest collegiate level has become, there still lingers a dwindling - but nonetheless present - innocence not detectable among the professional ranks. At these university championship gatherings special moments still occur: the barely-qualified athlete steps up to gain a spot on a lower rung of the podium to capture one or two valuable points to fuel his team's title chase; a spent superstar steps in unexpectedly to run a leg on a championship closing 4 x 400m relay to help his university capture the team crown.

Don't get me wrong: track & field is to be savored in all forms and at all levels. To paraphrase the late social commentator Will Rogers, authentic track & field fans never met a track gathering they didn't like. Yet the extraordinary, unexpected, and often selfless performances witnessed when college athletes assemble to battle for national championships seem more commonplace there than anywhere else in our sport. And that overall experience seems to have fueled a growing sentiment that championship track & field at the collegiate level just might be the best.

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Demo Reel Video

Please take a moment to view Dave's 3-minute demo-reel for samples of his announcing and interviewing work.

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

2020 Mid-American Conference Indoor Track & Field Championships

Dave HunterOn February 28-29, Dave served as the Color Analyst on the live ESPN3 broadcast of this championship gathering. Coverage of this 2-day conference championship can be viewed on the ESPN app.

Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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