When It’s Not a Joke to Call Arkansas a “Track School”

Sandi Morris, Arkansas track, Olympics
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

Just six weeks ahead of the Olympics, Arkansas’ track and field team continued its annual tradition of providing a summer consolation prize to weary Razorback fans.

At the NCAA Championships last weekend, the Razorback women blew away the competition and secured national titles in both the indoor and outdoor competitions. It brings the program’s all-time tally up to 39 NCAA championships – 51 if you add in the cross country team’s achievements.

Amidst disappointing regular-season results for the basketball and football teams as well as postseason shortcomings on the diamond for the Razorbacks, the track team’s killer instinct on the national stage has become a welcome anomaly for Hog fans.

Arkansas taking home the title has become almost processional and matter-of-fact because of how much the team has won. The program’s press release after the title win somewhat robotically states that the team “completed its mission” over the weekend – which kind of sells it short when you consider their historic performance.

The Razorbacks toppled multiple collegiate records, courtesy of the 4×400 meter relay team and Nickisha Pryce’s lightning-fast 400 meter time of 48.89 seconds. Pryce’s time also toppled the Jamaican national record of 49.30 seconds, set by Lorraine Fenton way back in 2002. It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see the 23-year-old represent the island country in the upcoming Olympics.

There’s a broader debate to be had about whether Arkansas has taken over the mantle as the premier program in college track, but the team’s continued dominance amidst other shortcomings within the athletic department bring back the discourse over whether the Razorbacks should truly embrace the label of being a “track school.”

Arkansas – Track School?

The debate has long been around on labeling what type of “school” Arkansas is. Kentucky? Pretty clearly a basketball school – too bad, Mark Stoops. Vanderbilt? Obviously a baseball school, simply because the Commodores stink at everything else. Alabama’s a bit more tricky because of Nate Oats turning Coleman Coliseum into the nation’s most formidable airplane hanger, but Tuscaloosa will always be a football town.

With Arkansas, the answer is a lot more confusing. Best of Arkansas Sports’ Scott Faldon went in-depth on this discourse last year, since which the athletic department has seen a couple major shifts. Here’s the current state of the debate:

Football can be crossed off the list pretty quickly, without much explanation. Even former football players like De’Jon Harris have chimed in on the matter with a vote for the track program.

While baseball has certainly been built into a perennial national powerhouse in the 21st century under Dave Van Horn, we can’t ignore the elephant in the room.

Simply put, you have to win a national title to be considered a baseball school. That’s just the way it is. It’s the only thing missing from Van Horn’s illustrious career, but it’s a big missing piece in his trophy cabinet that has been the subject of a lot of ire and heartbreak over the years.

The sour taste left behind from being bounced from the NCAA Tournament by lowly four-seed SEMO won’t do anything to help the program’s argument, for the time being. Until that elusive national title is hoisted, Arkansas can’t label itself as a baseball school.

The Razorback fan base goes absolutely wild over basketball, with the fever sure to grow under John Calipari. If the legendary coach brings the Hogs back to a Final Four, Razorback Nation will start a riot in whatever city hosts the event that year. But still, Arkansas hasn’t been to a Final Four since the turn of the century.

That leaves us with one option – Arkansas is a track school, at least for the time being. While college track and field certainly garners less notoriety than the “big three” sports, some of the stats and records coming out of the program right now are genuinely jaw-dropping – and that should be appreciated no matter what the TV ratings show.

Olympics Changes Equation on Arkansas Embracing “Track School” Label

It’s pretty indisputable at this point that Arkansas is a track school. The better question is whether or not that’s an earmark the Razorbacks should be proud of or not.

No serious high-major school wants to be relegated to perpetual “track school” status, but this particular summer happens to be an ideal time to take up that moniker.

At the end of July, the world’s attention will turn to the “City of Light” for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. While track and field is usually a sport that flies under the radar for American audiences, the Olympics put sprinters and distance runners alike on center stage.

The full list of Olympians heading to France will be finalized after the trials that take place from June 21-30 in Eugene, Ore. – but the Razorbacks are sure to feature on the team given the talent on their title-winning roster.

A quick scroll through the list of all-time Arkansas Olympians shows dozens of Razorbacks representing the United States and other countries over the years, including gold medalist track stars Mike Conley Sr. and Veronica Campbell-Brown. Nine track and field athletes with Arkansas ties made the trip to Tokyo for the last Summer Olympics, and seeing a similar number head to Paris next month would not be surprising.

The Hogs’ status as a track school is certainly something fans will want to shed eventually, especially with a highly-anticipated basketball season on the docket. But with so much focus on the Olympics this summer, the spotlight will be trained on the track – and the University of Arkansas’ brand will only benefit from that.

This summer, it’s time for Arkansas fans to temporarily embrace the track school mentality as the world turns their TVs to the Paris Games.

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Former Razorback star Veronica Campbell-Brown wins the gold medal for Jamaica in the 200 meter dash at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, repeating her top finish in Athens in 2004:

Mike Conley Sr., an Arkansas alum, brings home the gold medal for the United States in the triple jump at the 1992 Barcelona Games:

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More coverage of Arkansas athletics from BoAS:

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