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How Will Former Pac-12 T&F Programs Fare in Big Ten? 

Steve Ritchie analyzes the past and potential future performances of UO, UCLA, USC, and UW

Posted on May 31, 2024

  By Steve Ritchie, SuperWest Sports

The Conference of Champions is no more.

Elite track and field programs at Oregon, Washington, USC, and UCLA, formerly the dominant teams in Pac-12 track, will now compete in the Big Ten Conference.

How will they fare?

Historically, the Big Ten compares unfavorably to the dominant Pac-12 track and field programs (as well as those of the SEC) unless you go all the way back to the 1920s.

The first 11 Men’s NCAA Track & Field Championships were all won by the Pacific Coast Conference (precursor of the Pac-8, Pac-10, Pac-12) schools or Big Ten schools. The former took six titles while the latter won five.

ncaa track & field logoBut after that auspicious start, the West Coast schools dominated, winning 46 NCAA men’s team championships in track and field, while the Big Ten won just four after 1932 with the most recent being Minnesota’s win in 1948.

In the 1930s through the 1960s, USC was the unchallenged national power in the sport, winning 24 NCAA team titles.

USC’s dynasty concluded with the 1968 title, their last championship, as Oregon and UCLA surpassed the Trojans.

Oregon Ducks Logo Pac-12Bill Bowerman’s Oregon teams took three national titles in the 1960s and the Ducks went on to garner a total of seven men’s championships. UCLA has won eight. The most recent Pac-12 team to win a NCAA men’s title was Oregon in 2015.

The first NCAA national meet for women was held in 1982, and, in the next 41 years, teams from the Pac-12 and its predecessors finished first or second nationally 28 times.

By contrast, the Big Ten has never had a women’s national champion in track and field, and Wisconsin in 1993 was the conference’s only runner-up at NCAAs.

usc logoNine of the 10 NCAA women’s national championships garnered by Pac-12 schools were won by three of the four new Big 10 schools, Oregon, USC, and UCLA, all with three titles.

It would seem from this historical data that the four Western schools should have no trouble taking over in their new conference, right?

Not necessarily.

The NCAA Preliminary Rounds, known to most track fans as the East and West NCAA Regionals, concluded last weekend and qualifying athletes will move on to the Championships next week at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon.

On the men’s side, the 14 schools of the current Big Ten qualified 47 athletes for nationals, while the 10 schools of the Pac-12 (Utah and Oregon State do not field men’s track and field teams) qualified 50.

Slight edge to the Pac-12.

USC had 12 male individuals and relay teams qualify, the most of any school in either conference. Washington qualified seven, and UCLA, Oregon, Arizona, and California all are sending five men and/or relays to Eugene.

The Big Ten was led by Nebraska with seven, Purdue with six, and Illinois and Michigan with five each.

Not surprisingly, the Pac-12 schools are sending twice as many sprinters and hurdlers to Eugene as the Big Ten.

Field event qualifiers are virtually a tie as are distance events, except in the 1500 meters. Oregon and Washington each qualified three athletes in the metric mile, while there are just two coming out of the Big Ten.

USC’s men’s program looks to be on the rise, and, on paper, would likely be the favorite in next season’s Big Ten conference meet. Washington has won the last two men’s Pac-12 titles and looks strong in the near future as well.

Washington football pac-12The Oregon men’s team, after winning 15 consecutive Pac-12 titles, has taken a big step back since not renewing the contract of previous head man Robert Johnson two years ago. UCLA is improving but is not close to challenging USC or UW yet.

Nebraska is easily the cream of the crop in the Big Ten on the men’s side, taking the conference meet title by a massive margin of 50 points over Iowa. The Huskers are again loaded in several field events but also have some quality on the track side as well.

The women of Nebraska are also elite and will send 12 athletes to the championship finals. The Husker women finished second at the Big Ten meet, trailing Minnesota by 15 points.

The champion Golden Gophers will send seven individuals and a 4 x 100 team to Eugene, and both teams could rack up significant points in the field events.

At least in 2024, though, the USC and Oregon women look superior to Nebraska, Minnesota, Ohio State, and the rest of the B1G.

USC has great quality and depth in the sprints and hurdles, qualifying 10 individuals and their 4 x 400 team. Oregon also qualified 10 individuals (two of whom will double at nationals), and both relays.

The Ducks are fairly balanced between track events and field events, with top sprinter Jayden Mays and collegiate record holder in the shot put, Jaida Ross.

Team races at the NCAA Championships will be dominated by the SEC, but the comparative success—or lack thereof—of the four soon-to-be B1G schools and the current B1G schools will be an interesting side plot in Eugene.

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