Friday, July 29, 2011

One Bowerman Award Voter Says "Sheila Reid Got Robbed"

This blog used the word "snubbed" to describe Sheila Reid's absence from the list of three Bowerman Award finalists. Someone closer to the award has gone a bit further. Jesse Squire, a voter for the Bowerman Award and the man behind The Track & Field Superfan website (linked here), thinks that Villanova's Sheila Reid should have been among the three finalists for the award -- going so far as to say that Reid "got robbed" of a spot among the finalists. Here's the story from Squire that was posted on Wednesday.

The Bowerman, and thoughts on awards

July 27, 2011

A few weeks ago the ESPYs took place. Like all awards shows, they exist primarily as annual self-promoting PR stunts, in this case for ESPN itself.

Track and field was at least nominally included. Tyson Gay won “Best Track and Field Athlete”. Hurdler Lolo Jones made a splash on the red carpet, with her usual “just little old me, can’t get a date” attitude that doesn’t in any way match her appearance.

Why was Tyson Gay the “Best Track and Field Athlete”? Oh, who knows. It’s not like they have criteria for these awards. I’m reminded of the old All-Madden Team selection shows, when Madden responded to a question about criteria for inclusion. He said “We don’t use big words like criteria…or mayonnaise. We’ve just got guys. Big guys running into each other.”

I mention this because we all understand that winning an ESPY doesn’t mean much of anything besides getting your mug on TV for a bit. You never hear the next day about this person or that person getting robbed of an award they truly deserved. It’s understood that it’s either all in good fun, or the usual ESPN hot air, or a bit of both.

You do hear about people who get robbed of other awards, be it the Heisman or the Oscars, because we actually care who wins. Arguing and controversy, by themselves, aren’t necessarily bad. Even important awards still exist primarily as PR machines, and anything that gets them in the press is a good thing. Usually.

I bring this up because about the time the ESPYs took place, the finalists were announced for the Bowerman Award, given annually to the outstanding male and female college track and/or field athletes of the year. The award was created three years ago for a few reasons. One was to recognize these outstanding young men and women, but another was to drum up some much-needed PR for college track.

What I have to say on the subject isn’t merely my usual pontificating; I’m now on the voting panel that decides who wins these things. The panel is made up of “national and regional media personnel, track & field statisticians, NCAA collegiate administrators, Presidents of affiliated organizations, and self-appointed loudmouths with blogs”. Well, I made that last part up. Apparently I fall under “media personnel”. The fans also collectively get a vote.

The men’s finalists:
Jeshua Anderson, Washington State, the NCAA 400 meter hurdles champion
Ngoni Makusha, Florida State, the NCAA indoor/outdoor long jump champion and 100 meter champion and collegiate record holder
Christian Taylor, Florida, the NCAA outdoor triple jump champion

The women’s finalists:
Jessica Beard, Texas A&M, the NCAA indoor/outdoor 400 meter champion
Kimberlyn Duncan, LSU, the NCAA indoor/outdoor 200 meter champion
Tina Šutej, Arkansas, the NCAA indoor pole vault champion and indoor/outdoor collegiate record holder

I got my ballot yesterday. Before I can even decide who to pick, I have to think about the criteria.

All the Advisory Board says is that it “is awarded each year to the top male collegiate athlete and to the top female collegiate athlete in the sport of NCAA track & field”. The only other specification is that you only consider accomplishments made during the collegiate season (i.e., at or before the NCAA Championships on June 8-11).

Obviously this gives me a lot of leeway to decide what makes someone the top athlete.

I’ve actually put a lot of thought into what that is, long before I was ever asked to be part of the voting panel. Our local high school conference, the Toledo City League, has long given out an outstanding athlete award at its championship meet, and I’ve often disagreed with the choice. (Although not lately; it used to be up to a coaches’ vote, but was handed over to “the press” a few years ago, which boils down to The Toledo Blade‘s Steve Junga coming over to me and asking who should get it.)

Too often, an “athlete of the meet” award is given out to whoever wins the most events. Don’t get me wrong, I think winning is important. But it basically rules out anyone who is a single-event specialist. I realized this when a discus specialist on our team won the league’s title in her first meet back after going through chemotherapy for lupus, and beating an all-state thrower to do it, and basically getting no MVP vote from any coach other than ours. It was the most emotional victory I’ve ever been a part of. Obviously, some wins mean more than others, and that should be taken into consideration.

The other question that often gets asked is “who broke a record?” Hey, we know that some records are tougher than others, and record-breaking should be taken with a grain of salt, especially since sometimes the weather cooperates and sometimes it doesn’t.

The Bowerman, though, is not an “athlete of the meet” award, it’s for the season as a whole. So as the college season wore on, I decided that my vote was going to go to the athlete who most dominated their competition. Going undefeated wasn’t a necessity, but I wanted someone who won a lot and won when it was most important. When times and heights and distances come into the equation, I want someone who sticks out as being one of the better athletes in their event’s history.

On the men’s side it turned out to be a no-brainer decision. Ngoni Makusha won an NCAA indoor title, three NCAA outdoor titles, every event he entered in the ACC indoor and outdoor championships, broke the collegiate record in the 100 meters, and went to #6 on the all-time collegiate list in the long jump. He joined Carl Lewis, Jesse Owens, and DeHart Hubbard as the only men to ever win the 100/long jump double, and those are three of the six or seven greatest long jumpers of all time.

On the women’s side, it’s a bit tougher of a choice. And, from my perspective, the advisory board made the wrong decision for one of the finalists.

Tina Šutej did not win her event at the NCAA outdoor championships, the single most important competition of the year. It was her only loss of 2011, and she set a lot of records, but it’s the nature of track and field to be judged by the championship meets. No Olympic silver medalist would be on the short list for Track and Field News‘ Athlete of the Year award, and likewise I think the Bowerman finalists must all must be NCAA outdoor champions.

I’ll tell you who did win a lot: Villanova’s Sheila Reid. She won the NCAA Cross Country Championships last fall. She basically won the distance medley at the NCAA Indoor Championships by herself. She narrowly lost the 3000 at the NCAA Indoors, then won the 1500/5000 double at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.

Why was she not nominated? I’m guessing, despite having only one loss on her record, it’s because her times weren’t particularly impressive. Which is the basic problem with college track. We care more about marks than about winning. Winning is what a sports fan cares about, numbers are what an accountant cares about. I think Reid’s no records and four national championships (in five tries) beats Šutej’s two collegiate records and one championship in (two tries).

Now, this doesn’t mean I was going to vote for Reid if she had been nominated. I think there was someone more impressive.

Jessica Beard swept the indoor and outdoor titles in her event and lost just once all year, which about equals Reid for winning. Her anchor of the NCAA Outdoor Championships 4×400 relay, where she took her team from third to first, was the most impressive single performance of the entire collegiate season. She split a 49.13 which, all things considered, is the greatest 400 ever run by a woman in collegiate competition. And she didn’t have to go that hard; all she had to do to seal a team victory for Texas A&M was hold onto second place and beat Oregon, but she ran for greatness.

Anyway, you’ll get to do fan voting online in the fall, and the award will be handed out at the annual coaches’ convention in December. There will be a red carpet of sorts, as the ceremony will be live at And remember to tell ‘em that Sheila Reid got robbed.

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