‘Last chance’ meet not so much anymore

Once a last chance to qualify for the NCAAs, the meet is now a tune-up for the final spots on the Big Ten track roster.

by Ben Goessling

Minnesota’s men’s and women’s track and field teams will collectively host its first meet of the outdoor season Friday – curiously named a “last chance” meet.

The meet’s title immediately begs the question: last chance for what?

With regional qualifying meets establishing the field for the NCAA championships this season, it appears the title is more of a misnomer than ever.

Previously used to give runners one final shot to qualify for the national championships before the pressure of winning a conference title took precedence over fast times, the last chance meet the Gophers will host Friday is now just a final tune-up for the Big Ten championships.

“The new national qualifying format will change things Friday,” men’s coach Phil Lundin said. “The urgency now comes for guys who are fighting for a spot on the Big Ten roster, and it reduces the stress for people looking for a qualifying mark.”

In the past, an individual had to meet a predetermined standard in his or her event to qualify for the national championships. The field for each event in the NCAA championships was selected from a list of those who met the standard.

A last chance meet, then, gave national-caliber athletes who hadn’t met the standard in previous meets one more shot to qualify.

But with the NCAA adopting a regional qualifying system, in which the field for the national championships is selected through the results of four regional meets, a last chance meet really isn’t a last chance at the national championships anymore.

Athletes must still meet qualifying standards to get into the regional meets, which will be held during the last week of May, but those standards are much lower than a national qualifying mark would be.

“It’s kind of changed the focus for this meet,” women’s coach Gary Wilson said. “Since the regional qualifying marks are lower, you can wait until the conference meet to get a couple more people in.”

Wilson and Lundin both said Friday’s meet is now a last chance of another sort – the final shot for those on the edge of missing the Big Ten championship roster to prove they belong there.

Each team gets 34 spots for the conference meet, which Minnesota will host from May 16-18. Since Friday is the last time the Gophers will run before the Big Ten championships, the coaches are treating the last chance meet as a final audition.

“We’ve got 30 people that are going to go for sure, and we’re going to see what happens Friday before we fill those last four,” Wilson said. “We don’t have to use them, but Friday will determine a lot of our plan.”

Lundin said many of his runners will not compete in their normal events, instead running shorter races to stay fresh for the conference meet.

“Most of our long sprinters, if they run at all, will probably just run the 200-meter dash,” he said. “Some of the distance kids are going shorter, too. Some people may need a competition, others may not.”

One thing is for sure, however; the relaxed atmosphere leading up to Friday’s last chance meet is brand new this season.

“In the past, you had to have the work done earlier,” Wilson said. “Now, since regional qualifying marks are easier to get, you don’t have to worry about that this weekend. We can just use this week to get kids rested and prepared for the Big Ten meet.”

Ben Goessling covers track and field and welcomes comments at [email protected]