In 2014-15, the Rutgers Men's Track & Field team came in 12th at the Big Ten Indoor Championships. Twelfth.... out of 12 teams. The team scored two points. It was 35 points behind 11th place Purdue. Thirty-five points!
Fast forward to last weekend. The 2015-16 version of RU's men's team finished in ninth place, scoring 40 points. The team was ten points behind eighth place Iowa and two points ahead of Illinois. There were two individual champions as Corey Crawford won gold in the long jump and Izaiah Brown won the 400 meter in school record time.
At face value, that's pretty good progress. Moving up the scoreboard several places, scoring a lot more points, and bringing home two gold medals. Add to that the multiple awards that were earned by freshman Izaiah Brown from the Big Ten after his performances, and it is a cherry on top of the cake.
On the women's side, the story is similar.
In 2014-15, the Women's Track & Field team came in 12th of 13 teams. There were 24 points scored, ten behind Indiana, two ahead of 11th place Iowa.
There was progress in 2015-16. The team finished tied for 10th with Indiana, scoring 25 points. It was a 1/2 point ahead of MSU, three behind Maryland. Gabrielle Farquharson brought home gold in the 200m for the second straight season repeating as the Big Ten champion in addition to earning bronze in the long jump and 60m at the 2016 Big Ten Indoor Track & Field Championship. Her gold in 2014-15 was the only title for Rutgers.
This "winter", the three athletes named above will be competing in the NCAA Championships. Crawford has already been an All American. But before him, when was the last RU All American in track & field? How many have there been? [Note: I can't find that info; the Rutgers "record book" doesn't include a list of All Americans)
Is that progress from 2015 to 2016 good enough? Does track & field generate interest, sizzle, a spark in the hearts and minds of fans?
Coaching vs Facilities
Do we really want to explore facilities again? 'Fraid so.
Track doesn't get the publicity or the attention of a lot of sports. Maybe any other. And perhaps even more than basketball, track and field, at least in my opinion, has been neglected. Want to see what passes for Rutgers track and field facility, the Bauer Track & Field Complex? Take a look.
That's not as good as some high school facilities. I'd show you the indoor track facility but, uhh....we don't have one. Want more?
Seriously, those are the only "rest rooms" available at the track. Despite the three athletes going to the NCAA Indoor Championships, how do you recruit top athletes to Rutgers when this is what you show them? And that's outdoors. Indoors, the only facility we have to run in is the bubble, which was built for football...of course...and used by everyone, from football to soccer to lacrosse to the band. Oh, yeah. And track.
Want to see the competition? Sorry, you're going to see it anyway. I'll spare you Ohio State because....well, because. But I will show you Indiana (top) and Minnesota (bottom).
In terms of coaching, it isn't like no one is helping our athletes. In fact, there's a lot of experience - and success - on the Rutgers staff.
But is it enough?
All Americans in Track & Field
Mike Mulqueen has been head track coach at Rutgers for 37 years. That's longer than a lot of you reading this have been alive. He's coached 23 NCAA All Americans. In 37 years. Compare that to Seton Hall.
Seton Hall doesn't even sponsor men's or women's track and field any more, a decision made by some guy named Hobbs. The Pirates have had 49 student-athletes combine to garner 118 NCAA All-America citations while winning eight individual national championships. And they haven't competed since 2010.
Let's also look at one of our new brethren. Wisconsin, with which we are lately comparing ourselves, has won 24 Big Ten Men's Indoor team titles, including ten of the last 17. They've also won 19 outdoor titles, including nine of the last 16. Under legendary coach Ed Nuttycombe's direction for 30 years, the Badgers earned 187 All-America honors. The Wisconsin women have won seven of the 35 indoor Big Ten titles awarded and eight of the 35 outdoor titles. And, yes, they have a dedicated indoor facility, The Camp Randall Memorial Sports Center.
Or we could look at a former foe, Villanova, which just won the Men's Big East Indoor Championship, its third in a row. They must have an indoor facility, right? Nope. I know, I just undermined my argument, which I still believe in. 'Nova has eight New Jerseyans on its Track & Field Roster. And before you say it, only one went to a Catholic high school. In fact only 11 of the fifty members of the team attended Catholic high schools (from what we can determine on the roster). But they produce - and have consistently produced - champions. Try 247 indoor All Americans. Plus 146 outdoor.
So, is it coaching? Is it facilities? Is it both?
Or, as with basketball, is it a matter of commitment?
I suppose one way to determine if a sport is being supported, if there is a commitment to it, is to look at its budget. How much is spent in support of the program? In 2014-15, Rutgers Track & Field/Cross Country "Total Operating Expenses" was $906,169 for the men's program. Wisconsin spent $2,345,162. It was similar for the women's program: RU spent $1,052,124 while Wisconsin put out $2,452,995. Money may not buy happiness, but apparently it can get you a pretty successful track program.
Suffice it to say, Rutgers has achieved some success, with limited support and limited facilities. But others have done more, some with less and some with a lot more. What's an athletic director to do?
You set priorities. Is a new track facility - not even looking at an indoor facility - high on your list of things to do? Probably not. Although I think it should be higher than most would place it. How about scholarships? Does Rutgers fully fund Track, which also includes Cross Country in its count? Not quite. In 2014-15, the most recent year for full data, Rutgers offered 11.52 FTE scholarships spread among 30 male athletes. The NCAA maximum is 12.6. We're missing out on more than a full scholarship, and that's only about $32,000 more. So, if we're going to keep moving forward, in any sport, we need to at the very least fully fund the scholarships.
And to fund whatever else is needed to gain success. Break out the check books, folks. Again.