NCAA XC Season Explained - USA Athletics Scholarships

NCAA XC Season Explained


As we begin our third year of covering collegiate track and cross country, many readers will now be familiar with how the season is structured. However, as more and more athletes are descending on or simply just following what is happening in the NCAA, we feel that it is worth going through again for some of our newer readers. For now we will concentrate solely on cross country.

The season can be broadly split into three sections:

Early season

Following a long summer of no competition, the first part of the racing season runs from the last week in August until the end of September. The 2013 season officially started over last weekend, see here for results. The early season events are typically small, localized meets, often with only a few schools present. Teams with big squads will often use these meets to allow the younger or second string athletes a chance to show what they can do or even just get the chance to compete. These meets are sometimes used as tempo or training runs, allowing the coach to test different tactics or strategies. It is rare that you would see teams racing their top athletes at full throttle during this stage of the season.


Big regular season meets

The last weekend in September is when the season really starts. Having sat out the early meets, the top athletes will now be let loose and allowed to race. Schools are now truly competing against each other, and results at these open meets have a big influence on which teams will qualify for the NCAA Championships in November. Whilst most teams do race seriously during this period, some teams will still be acting with caution and trying to keep their hand hidden, perhaps resting top athletes or avoiding the competition for the time being. All kinds of tactics and mind games are employed by coaches and athletes during the cross country season and these just add to the anticipation and excitement ahead of the championships. The ‘go to’ regular season meet for the top teams also varies from year to year. For a long time this was pre-nats, though in recent years meets like Wisconsin have gained prominence as the premier regular season meet.

Championship season

November signifies the business end of the collegiate cross country season. The regular season meets are now finished and we move into the championships. The first championship is the conference meet. The standard of the conference championships will vary significantly. Conferences such as The Pac 12, Big 12, and SEC are fiercely competitive and easily as strong as the biggest regular season meets. However, for the lesser known conferences where the depth is not as strong, the standard is softer. Following conference there is a two week gap until the NCAA Regional Championships.  The US is split into nine geographic regions for cross country and each regional meet takes place at the same time. 31 teams of 7 athletes as well as 36 individuals will survive the cut at the regional and advance to the ‘big dance’ that is the NCAA Cross Country Championship. This year the championship returns to Terre Haute, Indiana, also known as ‘Cross Country Town USA.’

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