Track and field, at its core, is an individual sport. If you only pay attention when the sport is front and center at the Olympics, you may think otherwise, given the relentless emphasis on medal counts. But these are not the US basketball teams, who generally train together only for big events, or the US soccer teams, who play a lot of games outside the World Cups.
The only places you’ll find teams, as in “collections of athletes under one head coach who regularly train and compete together,” are in college and high school. Even then, though, team-vs.-team competition is secondary.
Florida, which swept the men’s and women’s titles at the recent NCAA Championships, did not compete in a single dual meet this year. They split their team between two different competitions, in Raleigh and Austin, on the same weekend in late March.
As recently as 2020, track and field guru Jesse Squire compiled the few dual or triangular or quadrangular meets in collegiate competition and came up with dual-meet rankings. Go Navy, beat Army. Go Princeton, beat Navy. (Princeton is actually quite good.)
The lack of duals is sad but understandable. Track and field isn’t baseball. Athletes don’t compete four or five times a week. They have a few big events each year, and their training is geared toward that.
So we’re never going to have a knockout competition of dual meets to decide a national champion. Instead, we’ll have the unsatisfying “national championships” awarded to Florida on the basis of what a handful of athletes do. Florida’s men got 54 points in five events. Joseph Fahnbulleh accounted for 20 points (two wins) on his own by winning the 100 and 200, and he shared in eight more with the 4x100 relay. Their women (74 points) spread the wealth a bit more, but two athletes accounted for 38 points — Jasmine Moore in the long and triple jumps, Anna Hall in the heptathlon and 400 hurdles. Moore and Hall could’ve formed a two-student college and tied for sixth in the NCAA Championships with Arkansas. Arizona State cracked the top 10 with just three athletes.
But thanks to the magic of stats databases such as the Track and Field Results Reporting System (TFRRS), we can simulate a dual meet…