With a little under two weeks to go before the Southeastern Conference championships, the LSU track and field teams will host a mini-preview of that meet in the final competition of the regular season Saturday.
A stealthy field will compete for honors in a scored meet in the LSU Invitational at Bernie Moore Stadium. Field events begin at 9 a.m. with track events starting at 11:30 a.m.
The men’s division includes the top four teams in the nation — No. 1 Texas A&M, second-ranked Florida, No. 3 LSU and No. 4 Arkansas — as well as eighth-ranked Alabama, Kentucky and Miami.
The same teams will compete on the women’s side with top-ranked Arkansas, No. 2 Kentucky, fifth-ranked Florida, No. 10 LSU, No. 12 Texas A&M, 15th-ranked Miami and Alabama going at it.
The meet will be scored on the standard NCAA scoring system with points awarded on a 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis for first through eighth place in each individual and relay event.
“Yeah, it’s going to be a great competition,” LSU coach Dennis Shaver said. “It’s going to be a high-quality meet in a lot of areas.”
While Shaver said the seven schools will mostly have full teams in the meet, Arkansas is sending some distance runners to a meet at Stanford and Florida’s relay teams will be competing in the Penn Relays.
In addition to being a mini-preview of this year’s SEC meet, which will be held May 12-14 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, it’ll be a trial run of sorts for a new meet to be held in 2017 — the SEC Relays championship.
The inaugural SEC Relays featuring all 14 schools will likely be held at LSU and televised by the SEC Network, although Shaver said The Bahamas is making a push to host.
The SEC Relays will be held in direct competition with the Penn Relays, which Shaver said has become more of a meet for pros and high school athletes, and having their own championships will help promote the league via the SEC Network.
“The coaches had a meeting at the SEC indoor meet this year and there was a lot of discussion on the concept,” Shaver said. “We took it to a vote, and while some coaches had reservations about it, in the end it was unanimous.”
The idea actually started growing legs a year ago when the inaugural LSU Invitational brought a half-dozen teams in a week after the Penn Relays, which served as a warm-up for the SEC championships.
“We, the coaches, had been trying to figure out what we could do to help promote our sport because we have so many schools that every year are near the top of the national rankings and are vying for national titles,” Shaver said.
It will mean top SEC schools like LSU, Texas A&M, Arkansas and Florida, who have been to the Penn Relays for decades and have won many relay titles, won’t be a part of it any longer.
Part of the reasoning, Shaver said, is Penn has become a USA vs. The world competition for the pros with high school athletes getting additional exposure as well.
“It’s a good thing to see the growth taking place at Penn, but the college-level athletes are getting less exposure,” Shaver noted. “That’s not to say it’s a bad thing because they’re doing what they need to do to grow the Penn Relays.
“We felt if we could get a two-hour live coverage window on the SEC Network, it would showcase our teams and our league better. When the coaches were in favor of it, the SEC office was totally behind it.”
Shaver said member schools in the other Power Five conferences are also looking into having their own competitions.
The difference between the SEC Relays, a two-day meet, and the SEC championships will be several relays which aren’t contested at the league or national levels.
“If we can put on a great meet, the SEC Relays will be good for all of us with the proximity of the meet and having conducive weather,” Shaver said. “It’ll also be a plus from a fiscal responsibility standpoint because we won’t have to travel as far.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.