Vanderbilt Latest To Earn Track Upgrades

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Hosting the Southeastern Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships is usually the only way schools will justify the expense of upgrading their facilities.

Vanderbilt just had to wait a little longer than most.

The university is hosting the SEC Championships for the first time since 1936 -- a 69-year absence -- and is happy to show off the $1.7 million in improvements at Commodore Track.

The eight-lane surface -- smaller than the standard nine lanes -- was redone in Mondo in August of 2002.

The Mondo surface is one of the most preferred in track and field, serving as the surface at the last four Olympics, making Vanderbilt one of only two schools in the SEC with a Mondo track.

"The track itself is first class," said Vanderbilt women's coach Lori Shepard. "We could hold an Olympics here, but the problem has always been, 'Where would we put the people?'"

Vandy, which only has a women's track team, added bleachers to seat 2,000 spectators and a nice video board facing the final turn.

Last year, Ole Miss barely completed a multi-million dollar renovation of its own before hosting the SEC Outdoor and had problems with drainage during heavy downpours with the first turn ankle deep in water and runoff grates overflowing

Schools like LSU and Tennessee, which last hosted in 2000 and 2003, respectively, already have first-class facilities with no major upgrades needed.

Mississippi State hosted in 2002 and didn't bother to improve on the $350,000 facelift it gave the track in 1992 (the last time it hosted SECs), leaving the small patches of blacktop for the high jump pits and forcing athletes to start their run-up in the grass infield.

Prior to Vanderbilt's reinsertion into the rotation to include all 12 teams, Arkansas was originally slated to host the SEC Championships this season after last doing so in 1994 and will now do so in 2006.

Arkansas coach John McDonnell is hoping that will force some renovations at McDonnell Field in Fayetteville.

McDonnell, who will be seeking his 76th conference and 41st NCAA titles this season, has big plans for the track with ideas to expand seating to more than 10,000 all under a covered horseshoe design with a large video scoreboard and an expanded press box.

McDonnell wants to host an international meet in the summer for professionals as well as bid for the national junior college championships, not to mention showing off yet another top-notch facility to the rest of the league.

The project will likely cost $6-8 million and McDonnell is responsible for raising half the budget from private donors. Construction would have to begin this summer to be completed in time for the Championships next May.

When McDonnell secures funding, the athletic department will match the other half, just as it did when it equaled the $3 million gift from the Tyson family to construct the Randal Tyson Track Center, now widely recognized as the best indoor facility in the nation and among the top few in the world.

McDonnell hopes to be able to say the same about the outdoor track that bears his name but none of his greatness.

TOTAL DOMINATION
So just how dominant has Arkansas been at the SEC level since joining the league in 1992?

Some numbers are easy to figure, like 11 out of 13 outdoor titles, 12 of 14 indoor titles and 14 out of 14 cross country titles, a .902 winning percentage.

The Razorbacks have won 76 individual SEC titles since 1992 out of 273 awards. That's 27.8 percent going to one school out of 11 (Vanderbilt doesn't have a men's team) or a winner in 1 of every 3.6 events.

LSU is next at 42 winners (15.3 percent) and Tennessee is third (37, 13.5 percent).

Arkansas has won the 10,000 in 12 of 13 years, the 1,500 in 11 of 13 and the steeplechase and 5,000 in 8 of 13.

Last year, Arkansas added its first winners in the 100 (Tyson Gay), the 4x100 and the pole vault (Jeremy Scott).

Eric Brown will be a favorite to take Arkansas' first javelin title and if he's successful, Arkansas will have only failed to field a winner in the discus, hammer, 400 and decathlon.

Arkansas' biggest victim?

Tennessee.

The Vols won 22 of the previous 28 SEC Outdoor crowns before Arkansas joined the league.

Tennessee has won just two SEC outdoor titles since 1992 (in 2001, 02) while finishing second to Arkansas five times, including at its home track in 2003.

NEW TO NASHVILLE
Arkansas has picked up SEC championship track trophies in every city but Nashville and Columbia, S.C.

The Razorbacks were third in 2001 at South Carolina and have won an SEC title in Nashville in cross country in 1999, just as they did at Columbia in 1997.

Unlike a one-day cross country meet, McDonnell's team will get to take in a bustling metropolitan area similar to their usual relay haunts in Austin, Texas, and Philadelphia.

"We've never been there and Nashville is a nice town, so the guys will enjoy it," McDonnell said.

Shepard had to beat around the bush a little while touting Nashville as a host site.

"Nashville has a lot to offer," she said. "Not to downplay the other 11 schools, but their cities aren't Meccas for vacationers or tourists."

When it comes to recent alternatives like Starkville (2002) and Oxford (2004) we couldn't agree more.

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