Like so many other events in these crazy times, this weekend’s Southeastern Conference indoor track and field championships are going to be like none other.
To LSU coach Dennis Shaver and many of his colleagues around the league and the country, it’s not going to be the same old, same old with the health and well-being of the athletes and coaches in mind.
While necessary steps have to be taken in that regard, it’s going to be a real challenge — especially for the coaches who have been used to the same routine year in and year out.
For starters, the SEC and NCAA indoor championship meets have added an extra day of competition to the usual two and the men and women will have separate sessions each day to reduce the chances of contracting the coronavirus.
This year’s SEC meet, which begins Thursday, is being held at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The facility will also host the NCAA championships March 11-13.
The men will compete in the afternoon session each day and the women will get the stage in the evening with the multi-events and some field events getting it started Thursday.
Fans will not be allowed at either the conference or national meet, and athletes must leave the facility in a timely manner after the conclusion of his or her event.
The extra day of competition is bigger, Shaver said, for two big reasons.
“It gives the great athletes in the heptathlon (men) and pentathlon (women) the ability to have a better chance of competing in the individual events,” he said. “It also compresses the competition’s time window each day with the one-gender sessions.”
In addition, athletes who used up their indoor eligibility last year, when the NCAA meet was canceled one day before it was to start, weren’t granted a do-over season like some other sports.
For LSU, that means hurdlers Tonea Marshall and Brittley Humphrey on the women’s side as well as sprinter Dylan Peebles and jumpers Rayvon Grey and Christian Miller on the men’s side have to wait for the outdoor season to compete.
“When it comes to high-powered points, we’re going to be missing several athletes that have scored at the big meets in the past,” Shaver said.
But his teams will give it their best, he said, despite the unusual circumstances.
“At the end of the day, we’re going to go up there and compete and try to get a little bit better than we have been this season and then go to nationals and get a little better there,” Shaver said.
“Then, we’ll be looking forward to the outdoor season.”
LSU, whose men are second and women sixth in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches’ computer-based rankings, does have some athletes with the potential to score big points in both genders.
The problem is they don’t have the depth to finish second on both sides like they did at the indoor meet a year ago, although top-five finishes would be good at one of the most competitive meets in the nation.
The SEC counts nine men’s teams in the USTFCCCA’s top 17 and nine women’s teams in the top 21 on that side.
“Wherever we finish this weekend, we can do that at the NCAA meet,” Shaver said. “But COVID impacted different teams in different ways with regard to rosters, so we’ve just been plugging away to be real honest.”