MANHATTAN, Kan. - Kansas State track and field coach Cliff Rovelto admits that his sport is broken, but collectively, the nation's coaches don't have a singular answer to fixing it.
Kansas State has a field of 18 individuals entered in the NCAA's West Regional Friday and Saturday in Austin, Texas.
It's a competition that Rovelto candidly says, "It's terrible, but the reason it's terrible has nothing to do with track and field, and has nothing to do with performances."
To the Wildcat coach, what makes the concept "terrible," is the additional cost of keeping student-athletes on campus, the cost of traveling to the meet, how it hinders students from getting summer jobs, and if an athlete makes the NCAA Championships in two weeks in Eugene, Ore., how it cuts into the possibility of summer school.
"The majority of coaches who were in favor of the Regional format a few years ago are the same ones speaking against them now," said Rovelto. "People thought I was an idiot when I said it would add costs instead of reducing costs. But we're keeping kids on campus and taking some of them to a meet where they have no chance of advancing. Just getting to a Regional meet will never be a goal in our program, but we're spending money on taking kids to a Regional meet that honestly have no chance of advancing."
The NCAA went from four Regionals in recent years to two Regionals this year. The top 48 athletes from the western half of the United States will travel to Austin with the top 12 advancing to the nationals in Eugene, Ore. on June 9-12.
"The coaches and Presidents realized we had a joke on our hands with four Regionals, but as coaches, we couldn't come up with anything better than two Regionals," said Rovelto. "I'm not sure what next year will bring, and this was only a compromise for the year, but I'm sure we'll have something different next year."
K-State is coming off the Big 12 Championships where the women placed 9th and the men 11th.
While wanting higher placings, Rovelto is realistic enough to realize that K-State will likely be a better NCAA Championship team with a few elite athletes, than a team that will place high in a 12-team conference meet.
"We're not going to have the kind of numbers you need to field one of the top two or three teams in the league," said Rovelto.
First, Rovelto said that the Big 12 is as good as any conference in the nation, which has more and more institutions emphasizing track and field.
Secondly, he says, "Kansas is a good track and field state, but it's also a state of just three million people. The reality is there are only so many Division I and Big 12 caliber athletes in the state each year. It's a geography and population issue we have no control over."
Rovelto continued by saying of the walk-on issue, "With the number of kids in Texas, those four Texas schools have a distinct advantage because of population, as do Missouri and Nebraska because they are the lone big-time Division I programs in those respective states."
With those being the facts, the Wildcats constantly have a few of the elite athletes in the nation each year, but not the depth to compete for a league title.
But as a general philosophy, Rovelto says, "I'm into teaching and trying to help kids get better. That's why I do what I do, and what motivates me to do it."
Kansas State's best chances to advance to the NCAA Championships this weekend by finishing in the top 12 include: Beverly Ramos, who ranks fifth in the nation in the 5,000; Jeffrey Julmis ranks ninth in the country in the hurdles; Sara Stoakes, who is fresh from winning the Big 12 800; and, Erik Kynard ranks third nationally in the high jump.
KSU REGIONAL QUALIFIERS
MEN (with season best)
Cory Boulanger, javelin, 219-2
Tomas Kirielius, decathlon, 6,618
Martynas Jurgilas and Jason Coniglio, 100, 10.33 and 10.55, respectively
Jack Sachse and Armando Del Valle, 800, 1:49.66 and 1:49.97, respectively
Deszo Szabo, pole vault, 16-11 1/2
Erik Kynard, high jump, 7-4 1/2
Jeffrey Julmis and Balazs Baji, hurdles, 13.62 and 13.79, respectively
Eric Thomas, discus, 181-2
Beverly Ramos, 5000, 15:51.82
Ali Pistora, javelin, 159-5
Sara Stoakes, 800, 2:06.15
Nina Kokot, long jump, 20-10 3/4
Denise Baker, hurdles, 12.16
Martina Tresch, steeplechase, 10:04.27