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FAQ: Why don't 300m track times count for records indoors?

Fair question, and it's going to come more now that Michigan has two such facilities (GVSU & SVSU) and the SPIRE track in Ohio is doing big business.

IAAF Rule 260.21(b) "[For World Indoor Records] For races of 200m and over, the oval track may not have a nominal length of more than 201.2m (220 yards)."

IAAF governs worldwide track & field. USATF governs USA track, and must adhere to the IAAF rules, so no big track marks count as American records. The NCAA doesn't recognize official collegiate records, so that role has always fallen to Track & Field News, which keeps the same policy for the sake of consistency and sanity. High school national records are kept by Track & Field News high school editors, and they follow the same policy. Michigan high school state records are kept by, and we also follow that policy.

But why have that rule?

Fairness. Oversized tracks are easier to run fast times on. It's physics. Gentler turns, and fewer of them over the course of a race, means faster times (consider this analogy: you'd get more touchdowns if you make your football field 95 yards). Records need to be fair, which means comparing apples to apples wherever possible. That's why downhill 100m dashes don't count, wind-aided long jumps, 11lb shot puts, etc. Most indoor tracks in the world are 200m ovals, and most meets are not held on oversized tracks (and World, USA, NCAA Division I and National Scholastic championship meets never are).

A few other points to consider (or argue over):

*Tradition. Indoor track at the world class level has been about banked tracks. They used to mostly be smaller than 200m, but that trend started changing in the 1980s, when the 200m banked oval became standard. Not until 1987 did the IAAF start recognizing World Indoor Records, the same year as the first World Indoor Championships in Indianapolis. The 200m flat track was more common in the United States, because that worked for college fieldhouses, where the track had to circle a basketball court.

*The boom in 300m tracks in the U.S. is really just an American thing. I don't know of any other country having any oversized track at this point (years ago the East Germans had one). Why are they big in the U.S.? The NCAA. Colleges control most quality track & field facilities in our country. Football drives most college athletic spending decisions in one way or another. It makes sense to a lot of colleges to build indoor training facilities that are huge and can accommodate football and a variety of other sports. No longer is winter just about basketball. So a 300m track fits well around a huge indoor training facility.

*NCAA qualifying is the other part of the equation, and here's where it gets controversial. The formula the NCAA uses is skewed, and even though the indexing is supposed to provide a level playing field for qualification, it actually favors oversized tracks. Why else are college teams flocking to oversized tracks for qualifying times?

Track & Field News published two articles explaining why the study was flawed: link 1 - link 2 - link 3

Hepstrack covered the controversy:

The actual NCAA report:

*"What about banked tracks?" That's an objection you'll hear from those who love the oversized tracks. Yes, banked tracks provide an advantage also. The same as oversized tracks? Who knows—the data I've seen is sketchy and incomplete. But this I know is true: banked tracks count for records, and they always will. That's the tradition of our sport. Oversized tracks don't, and probably never will.

By no means is this a slam against the good people at Grand Valley and Saginaw Valley. They have great facilities and great programs. And nothing is wrong with running fast there. We are seeing some truly amazing performances on their tracks. They're just not comparable with marks set on 200m tracks, and we think that high school athletes and coaches should be aware of that distinction.

What you do with your school records, your club records, and your personal records is up to you. But unless you have a lot of pull with the IAAF Council, the rule isn't going to change. And it shouldn't, out of fairness.

On our all-time lists, oversized track marks are always listed by themselves. If we mixed them in with the main lists, it would be unfair to the generations of Michigan runners who built our state's great history running on standard-sized tracks.

PS—The University of Michigan has plans to build our state's first 200m banked track. It will be a truly world-class facility. I just pray that high schoolers get plenty of chances to race on it!