LITTLE ROCK — Listening to the man from Track&Field News explain how either Arkansas or Florida could win the NCAA Indoor championship backed up the proverb that there is more than one way to skin a cat.
The Razorbacks’ path to the title is about piecemealing points from a number of individuals; the Gators’ route is more direct with firsts and seconds from a few athletes.
Either way, half-a-hundred might be enough for the whole enchilada on Friday and Saturday in Fayetteville.
Winning national titles became routine under John McDonnell and Razorback fans might be blase about another, but Arkansas hasn’t brought home the hardware since the 2006 Indoor and a national championship is a national championship, even if it’s tiddlywinks.
Relatively confident handicapping Razorback football and basketball, I was in over my head on track and reached out to the publication which identifies itself as "The Bible Of The Sport Since 1948." The staff put me in touch with John Auka, who has done form charts on outdoor competition for 20 years for T&FN and who has handled the P.A. for meets at the University of California for 25 years.
He mentioned how Arkansas’ team was beautifully constructed to win the the recent SEC indoor meet, but that Florida might be better on a national stage because some of the Razorbacks who picked up points at the SEC might not score this weekend.
Before we got around to specifics, he cited the difficulty in identifying surefire points in events like the 60-meter dash which is a blink-and-get-beat race. Florida State’s Marvin Bracy has the fastest time, but that his 6.54 is only eleven hundredths of a second faster than the slowest qualifier.
Eventually, Auka reviewed his material and began calculations for the Gators. Including eight points for second in the hurdles, and 10 each for first in the long jump and triple jump, Florida "looks pretty good for around 50," he said.
Moving on, he awarded Arkansas around 10 points in the running events, plus seconds in the pole vault, long jump, and triple jump. First thing you know, he had the Razorbacks right at 50.
The triple jump is one of those swing events. Arkansas’ Tarik Batchelor won the SEC title last week, beating Florida’s Omar Craddock by 1 1-2 inches. Based on consistency, Craddock is Auka’s pick to win this week. Craddock won the NCAA titles indoors and outdoors last year and just missed making the 2012 Olympic team, finishing fourth at the Trials. The SEC indoor long jump champion in 2011, Batchelor sat out the 2012 season.
Winning an event back to back against top-notch competition is difficult, Auka said. Like Batchelor, home-grown vaulter Andrew Irwin is on the spot. The 2012 NCAA indoor champion and 2013 SEC champion, he competes in an event where erratic performances are the norm.
Forced to choose a winner, Auka picked the Razorbacks.
"Arkansas has more qualifiers than anybody and I like the idea of Arkansas being at home," said Auka, a retired attorney who received his undergraduate degree from Oregon. "It is a big, big advantage having a meet at home. With the home crowd cheering them on, Oregon athletes would go out of their minds."
The championship could come down to the final event, the 4 by 400 relay where Florida and Arkansas are two of the fastest qualifiers.
Covering the 2001 NCAA Indoor for AP, I watched LSU back into the title 34-33 by winning that event.
TCU’s Anthony Amantine bumped into the back of a Baylor runner early in the second lap, lost the baton, retrieved it and finished 12th. If the Horned Frogs had finished seventh, LSU would have been mathematically eliminated. To complete the exacta, LSU’s anchor ran down Baylor’s runner.
The 2013 meet could be another one-point decision.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.