A Vote for the Mile Shows Male Bias

A Vote for the Mile Shows Male Bias

Call me un-American. But I do not think changing the 1500m to the mile at the NCAA Outdoor Championships will grow the sport of track and field. Yesterday,

Dec 19, 2015 by Taylor Dutch
A Vote for the Mile Shows Male Bias
Call me un-American. But I do not think changing the 1500m to the mile at the NCAA Outdoor Championships will grow the sport of track and field. 

Yesterday, the USTFCCCA coaches voted in favor of the proposal to run the mile at the NCAA Division 1 Outdoor Championships with a 221-169 vote. The proposal is still subject to NCAA approval, but even the potential for a change in the event makes me question their awareness of the effects of such change. 

As Southern Utah Head Coach Eric Houle noted in his proposal to the association, he believes that “a decline in interest in track and field over the last 30-40 years” is the primary reason to make the change. The 1500m has stood in place at the NCAA Championship for the last 40 years, which as Houle and USTFCCCA CEO Sam Seemes pointed out, has a lack of marketability to a mainstream audience. 

“Americans ‘get’ the mile not the 1500m,” according to the Bring Back The Mile campaign

I understand that our countryÂ’s history of distance running has a soft spot for the mile, but I believe that a bigger issue lies in the implications for each gender, should this proposal pass. 

Yes, Americans speak in terms of miles. We run it in gym class as kids. We get it. A mile for men has marketability through the elusive sub-four minute barrier that Americans understand. But a mile for women does not hold the same recognizable barrier and would in no way produce a more well-known event for the gender.

DonÂ’t get me wrong. I love the mile and have seen firsthand what running a sub-four minute mile can do to an athleteÂ’s confidence. Running at Cal I got to watch several sub-four minute miles go down at the Brutus Hamilton Invitational where the premiere event, the Don Bowden Mile, produces sub-four performances almost every year. 

Bowden became the first American to break four minutes in the mile when he ran 3:58.7 in June 1957. He returns to his alma mater every year to watch the next crop of Cal runners attempt the sub-four feat. And it hardly ever disappoints. 

In 2010, my teammate Steve Sodaro broke four minutes for the first time at the Don Bowden Mile. It was a turning point in his career that eventually led him to win a Pac-10 steeplechase title and finish sixth at the NCAA Championships. Prior to the mile, Steve held a PR of 4:06 and had never qualified for the NCAA Championships. 

The historical significance of the race and the few men who broke four minutes before Steve made that day extra special. Watching that race was witnessing someone transform into a next-level runner. 
Bowden, Roger Bannister, Jim Ryun, Alan Webb, those names and then some have paved a great history of the event for the male distance runner population. Shattering the elusive four-minute mile barrier is following in the footsteps of great runners on a short list. 

Yes, this history is an exciting, important part of American running culture, but if the proposal were to pass it would only benefit the marketability of the male gender, and leave the female gender in a distance that will at this point be only compared to the menÂ’s standard. The reason for this is simple: female college athletes didnÂ’t even begin to set standards for middle distance events until the late 1970s when college teams finally began to form in the NCAA, nearly 30 years after Bannister set the sub-four minute menÂ’s standard. This delay has also caused a glaring bias for the menÂ’s events in track and field. 

With the long-standing menÂ’s sub-four history and no similarly resonating female athlete moment, the womenÂ’s mile standards have been in a perpetual state of comparison to the menÂ’s mark, leaving female athletes with no marketable standard of their own in the mile. 

Yes non-track fans understand a sub-four minute menÂ’s mile, but do they have the same appreciation for a 4:25 womenÂ’s mile? No they don't. 

However, female athletes have been working tirelessly for years to set their own standards in the 1500m, and have been very successful. Just this last summer in Monaco, Genzebe Dibaba broke a world record that was thought to be untouchable given the doping cloud that surrounded the previous mark. But Dibaba did the impossible and ran 3:50.07, the fastest 1500m ever run in history by a woman. American Shannon Rowbury also ran an American record in that race with a 3:56.29. These women are rewriting the history of womenÂ’s distance running with a standard that they are creating. 

I would like to see more womenÂ’s miles at the professional level because I think itÂ’s a fun event and there should be consistency between the male and female events. But at the NCAA level, the only interest I see in changing it from 1500m to mile lies in male gender marketability, not female. What I want is consistency between genders and for women to create their own standards, and the 1500m has provided that to them. 

More importantly, in the grand scheme of growing the sport, will 109 extra meters really inspire more non-track fans to watch college track? You tell me.