Friday night, Notre Dame was ground zero for a new infectious disease. In a span of forty minutes and three races, the Distance Medley Relay virus that was once well-contained in northern Indiana somehow spread across the country. The horror, the depth, and the madness of the DMR on the final day of qualification was unprecedented.

Even though it festered in the cold region of South Bend, the virus managed to adapt to the hot Texas winter. Even Michael Crichton had some questions.

Inside the Loftus Sports Center, the men’s DMRs from around the country were absolutely destroying the previous NCAA list.

“Sorry fellas. If you can’t run fast here, you can’t run fast anywhere,” said Notre Dame’s PA announcer Dennis McNulty.

If you weren’t at Alex Wilson, you unfortunately didn’t matter. Alex Wilson is known for fast DMRs, but its not known for the only place that fast relays are run. In the three years prior, either eleven or twelve marks in the top twenty came from Notre Dame’s last chance meet.

This year, the number was eighteen.

2013
- 18
2012 - 11
2011 - 11
2010 - 12

This past weekend as much as a “last chance” as it was a “final stand.” Going into the weekend, eleven of the top twelve relays weren’t nervous about their rank, but had accepted the fact that they would not retain their position by late Friday evening

Rank Entering the Weekend Team Decision Current Rank
#1 Texas Not Race #15
#2 Indiana Race #11
#3 Stanford Race #3
#4 Oregon Race #16
#5 Arkansas Race #8
#6 Penn State Race #1
#7 Wisconsin Race #13
#8 UCLA Race #22
#9 Columbia Not Race #30
#10 Texas Tech Not Race #31
#11 California Not Race #32
#12 Minnesota Race #5
#13 Nebraska Race #14
#14 BYU Not Race #37
#15 Oklahoma Race #7


Entering the weekend, these teams either thought that they could improve on their mark (fairly easy for the majority of the teams), acquiesced and began looking towards outdoors, or decided to roll the dice and risk it.

Columbia, Texas Tech, California, and BYU decided that it was time to move on. The same cannot be said for the Texas Longhorns.

Sitting atop the NCAA list since late January, the Longhorns decided that their time of 9:31.82 may have been good enough to get them to Fayetteville. Once the Alex Wilson stream had ended, they knew they were out.

The question is, should Texas have held ‘em?

No, I’m not talking about resting on one’s laurels or hindsight is blah blah blah, but I'm talking from a purely historical perspective. Although they knew that Alex Wilson was going to be fast, 9:31.82 would have gotten them in almost any other year (more on this below).

But with the move away from auto-qualifiers and a shift towards the descending list policy, the mindset about making it to nationals had to change. At the beginning of the season, we thought that this qualification policy would decrease (or increase if you’re in the field) times across the board.

This notion finally came true Friday night.

After the DMRs ended, Texas was bumped all the way from #1 to #15. If you’re asking how this happened, it involved yet another history lesson. This lesson isn't necessarily about looking to the past, but erasing it.

Seven of teams had to set school records to make the big dance. Not a few, but seven and that's not counting everyone below the twelfth spot.

Team Time School Record
Penn State 9:26.60 Yes
Princeton 9:27.74 Yes
Stanford 9:28.25 Yes
Oklahoma State 9:28.38 Yes
Minnesota 9:29.22 Yes
Illinois 9:29.40 Yes
Oklahoma 9:29.44 Yes
Arkansas 9:30.22 No (#7 all-time)
Villanova 9:30.47 No (#9 all-time)
Virginia Tech 9:30.83 No (#2 all-time)
Indiana 9:31.11 No (#4 all-time)
Virginia 9:31.23 No (#2 all-time)
Wisconsin 9:31.43 No (#2 all-time)
Nebraska 9:31.71 Yes*
Texas 9:31.82 No (#4 all-time)
Oregon 9:31.91 No (#5 all-time)
Georgetown 9:33.40 No (#4 all-time)
Brown 9:33.53 Yes
Air Force 9:34.51 No (#2 all-time)
UCLA 9:35.36 No
New Mexico 9:36.98 No (#4 all-time)

While every school record is special, there are three all-time marks we’d like to highlight. The first belongs to the number three seed, the Stanford Cardinal.

Given Stanford’s rich middle-distance history, this record came was a bit surprising. Then we read the following press release from gostanford.com and had a good laugh.

The team of Tyler StutzmanSpencer Chase, Luke Lefebure, and Michael Atchoo ran 9:28.25 at the Alex Wilson Invitational while finishing third overall behind Penn State and Princeton.

The time broke the Stanford record of 9:28.83 set by the team of Gabe Jennings, Even Kelty, Michael Stember, and Jonathon Riley in 2000.

Jennings and Stember both made the U.S. Olympic team that year.

In the 1500m at the Trials, Jennings (3:38.96 3:35.90) and Stember (3:39.51 3:36.70) would go one-three. (Corrected, thanks),

Back in the day, 3:57 anchor legs and sub-9:30 DMRs would guarantee a top three finish. Now, at least seven teams are capable of doing that this year.

The next mark isn’t a school record, but it’s number two in school history and it regrettably belongs to the Wisconsin Badgers. Wisco’s 9:31.43 wasn’t good enough as it left them in the unlucky #13 spot.

But it got us thinking - is that the fastest time to ever stay home?

Based on some assumptions (admittedly, we didn’t have time to look up the seeds and declarations for every year) we’re going to say yes. But if the top twelve system was in place in year’s past, would they still hold the title of the fastest loser?

No.

The chart below is the 12th-fastest seed time on the NCAA declaration lists. There may have been faster teams that scratched, but we could only work with the data we had available.

Year Team Time
2004 Florida 9:34.86
2005 Virginia 9:36.21*
2006 Texas 9:37.13
2007 N/A N/A
2008 Notre Dame 9:35.33@
2009 Oklahoma 9:31.38
2010 Duke 9:34.29
2011 Villanova 9:33.50
2012 Oregon 9:31.91
* - Virginia was the 10th fastest seed in 2005.
@ - Notre Dame was the 11th fastest seed in 2008.

Many thanks to Tom Lewis over at USTFCCCA for gathering up some old NCAA sheets from yesteryear. If this qualification system had been in place in 2009, then Wisconsin would also not have made it.

While they can find some solace in that fact, the reality is that they’re still going to watch the championships from Madison.

Our last shout-out goes to Nebraska, who not only dropped their time a whole ten seconds, but set a school record (on an oversized track). While they improved quite a bit, it was inverse to their position on the list. They entered the meet as the thirteenth seed, but left in fourteenth.

Still, it wasn't as bad as the drop for Texas. Should they have stayed home? It’s hard to say. With the new system, this year was tough to predict and the Longhorns held their cards close to the vest.

It wasn’t that they were bluffed or pushed out of the pot, they just had a lower hand than everyone else.

The Longhorns do have the fastest time on a 200m banked track, but that's for another segment (again, thanks to Tom Lewis and USTFCCCA).

The DMR is definitely going to be a marque event this weekend at nationals. Who's going to win it? We're still trying to figure it out.