by Chris Mateer, Front Rush
In 2010, the foundations of college track and field and cross-country shifted. There was no massive legislation that was passed by the NCAA, there was no major scandal, and tracks remained 400 meters long. The change was brought on by a website with a pretty boring name and a very bare-bones layout. The site is known as the Track and Field Race Reporting System, or TFRRS for short. TFRRS is a simple website with a simple layout. It simply lists race results and filters these into various leaderboards and team rosters.
What has made TFRRS so revolutionary, however, is the centralization of data and the linking that occurs. Race results are listed chronologically and sorted by season. Every athlete has their own profile which lists their history of performances. Athletes are then listed on a team roster, where you can see that team’s performance list for every event. Each team is then part of a conference that contains its own leaderboard for each event. And finally, every conference filters into its own respective division and the division funnels in a national leaderboard. Everything is clean, centralized, hyperlinked, and completely objective. Soon, the NCAA ruled that in order to be eligible for championship qualification purposes, a race had to be listed on TFRRS.
The shifts that have followed have never directly pointed to TFRRS as the result, but the connections are hard to ignore. In the past, many conference and nationals meets set qualifying times or distances. If you hit the mark, you were allowed to compete. Provisional marks were in place and used to fill in fields on years when automatic qualifying performances were scarce. Now, nearly every meet goes off of performance lists, which absolutely requires a database like TFRRS to function.
It has been fascinating watching these subtle shifts affect the ways teams and athletes train and race. In the past, athletes and coaches would shoot for single, objective marks. Once they hit the times, they could scale back the competing and focus wholly on training and peaking for the conference and national championships. Now, there is always one eye on the leaderboard, making sure you are not being pushed too close to the cut off for qualification.
One of the most fascinating developments has been the emergence of “Last Chance” meets. These meets are on the very last week of the season where athletes take their last chance at qualifying for nationals. In the past, these meets were always important, but rarely ran the risk of knocking someone else out. Now, one well timed Last Chance Meet can completely change a field at the national championships. If you’re on the cusp of qualifying, you better keep an eye on where everyone else is traveling to. If you’re not there, your season may be coming to an end.
On an individual level for an athlete not looking to qualify, much has changed too. You know at any given moment where you stack up on your team and in your conference at the click of a button. There is no longer any disputing who ran what time and where they ran it. With the NCAA contract in place now, if the race happened it’s now on TFRRS. Although these words were written by John L. Parker in his cult classic Once a Runner almost 40 years ago in 1978, the words never rang more true:
“Never mind, the point is that we know not only whether we’re good, bad, or mediocre, but whether we’re first, third, or a hundred and ninety seventh at any given point. Track and Field News tell us whether we want to know or not.”