The greatest dynasty in collegiate athletic history? The Arkansas Razorbacks.
Over 150 years ago, President Andrew Johnson began the tradition of hosting athletic champions when he invited baseball’s Washington Nationals and Brooklyn Atlantics to join him in a White House ceremony.
In the age of television, we’ve made a big production out of the White House hosting Super Bowl winners, NBA champions, and the college equivalents. And they might bring in the women’s gymnastics team if they win Olympic gold.
But track and field? No, not them. Not the men and women wearing singlets, running around an oval, jumping or throwing heavy objects.
A few years ago Stadium Talk told the story of America’s greatest college sports dynasties. Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama and Notre Dame football teams all received mentions, as did the UCLA Bruins men’s basketball teams. Penn State’s men’s wrestling and women’s volleyball teams. And the Connecticut and Tennessee women’s basketball powerhouses under Gene Auriemma and Pat Summit, respectively.
How about that dynamite Minnesota women’s ice hockey dynasty that won 6 national championships? Bet you didn’t know the Trinity College Bantams men’s squash program won 17 national titles. To quote the author, Jennifer Studer Daley, “no other team on this list comes close to touching the number of titles that belong to the Iowa Hawkeyes wrestling program.” They won twenty three.
Ms. Daley is correct; no other team on her list comes close. That’s because Ms. Daley’s list does not include the greatest dynasty in American collegiate athletic history: the Arkansas Razorback Track and Field teams, which have won a collective 49 national titles in track and field and cross country, 42 under legendary coach John McDonnell.
To be fair to Ms. Daley, the iconic Sports Illustrated magazine printed a similar story, and also forgot to mention the Razorbacks.
National spotlights on track and field usually focus on Oregon, where legendary NIKE founder Phil Knight spent his running days. Oregon has won 32 national titles, which is no slouch.
It’s also no Arkansas.
The ancient Greek and Roman empires were the backdrop for the first organized athletic competitions, which evolved into track and field as we know it today. The decathlon is thought of as the supreme test of speed, skill, and endurance to test the best all-around athletes. And we celebrate the marathon today with road races around the world that give everyday all-comers a chance for glory.
The White House is not going to invite the national champion Arkansas men’s and women’s track teams for a visit. But that does not mean that Arkansans should pat our tracksters and coaches on the head and send them on their way. They deserve better.
In Arkansas, Football is king. Basketball is second. Baseball is third. No need to argue any of that. Would football or basketball recruiting be harmed if we started making a big deal over Track and Field? If the university became known as a track school? No, Track and Field prominence would diminish nothing in football or basketball. If anything, it would make the U of A look more cosmopolitan, adding to the perception that NWA is a sophisticated cultural corridor, complete with spectacular art museums, world class bicycling trails, and a modern medical school with a new way of thinking.
Hot Springs has impressed me with its presentation of offerings, which celebrate the city’s history as home to some of Major League Baseball teams’ spring training during the 1930s to early 1950s. In February, the city dedicated only the third known statue of Babe Ruth (the other two are in Baltimore and Japan). There’s a baseball trail with plaques depicting the exploits of famous major leaguers. Babe Ruth is said to have hit two of the longest home runs he ever hit during spring training in Hot Springs. The city hosts an annual event bringing in retired major league players to speak on baseball then and now. All of this over spring training from long ago.
I’m not in the PR business, but I think I know a lost opportunity when I see one. When you are the greatest in history at something, step up and tell your story. No one else is going to do your crowing for you. And in the case of Track and Field, it is not even a close call.