CHAMPAIGN – In an era when NCAA qualifying dominates the way collegiate track and field conducts business, a throwback of sorts will take place Saturday.
Gary Wieneke's Illini men will be joined by Big Ten peers Indiana and Iowa for an old-fashioned triangular meet at the Illinois Outdoor Track Stadium. Field events begin at 2 p.m., running events at 6:15. At the same time, Gary Winckler's UI women's team will square off against Indiana, the defending Big Ten indoor champ, in a dual.
And yes, team scores will be kept. Just like when Wieneke, now in his 26th year as Illinois' head coach, first got into the collegiate coaching business.
"It's hard to get anyone who says, 'OK, let's score,' because it's been so long since people had to do it other than at conference (meets)," he said. "I think they've forgotten how."
Wieneke cites two factors in the demise of the scored meet during the regular season.
One is the quest to meet NCAA qualifying standards. It has become such a priority that the concept of team performance loses much of its emphasis until the postseason.
In a bid to put individuals in the most competitive environments possible – and thus give them the best chance to qualify for nationals – teams sometimes break ranks on a given weekend. Sprinters might head to one meet while throwers and jumpers travel to another. Also, certain athletes sometimes are withheld from a meet or two as part of their structured schedule of preparation for the postseason.
Under those circumstances, team scoring becomes virtually irrelevant.
The other factor, Wieneke said, is the NCAA limitation on aid. Men's track teams are permitted no more than 12.6 scholarships, which coaches contend makes it difficult to field a team that's competitive across the board in the sport's many events. Those pockets of weakness can be particularly exposed in small scored meets like duals and triangulars.
Wieneke said that's not reason enough to abandon scoring.
"People hid behind that and said, 'We can't field a whole team,' " the Illini coach said. "I don't think that's a reason to quit scoring, but (other) people did."
Wieneke said his peers often overlook the future benefits of scoring regular season meets. Team scoring creates a competitive environment, similar to what athletes face in conference meets.
"I don't think you can just show up at a Big Ten meet and say, 'We're scoring now,' " the UI coach said. "(Team scoring) aids in bringing event-to-event competition. Everybody on your team is standing up and competing for something (points).
"And that's ultimately what you do in the Big Ten meet."
Uncertain spring weather and varying final exams schedules make scheduling outdoor meets in the Midwest difficult. For that reason, Winckler said, duals and triangulars can be a way of filling in the scheduling gaps.
"We've always tried to keep Indiana on our schedule, and I know they've tried to keep us on their schedule," he said. "It's the right kind of meet for us right now because the following week we've got a very big meet (at Drake). So this can be used as a meet where we can run people in a lot of different events and just kind of prepare them for Drake."