For a few minutes Sunday evening, Oregon track coach Robert Johnson and Arizona’s Fred Harvey stood near one another as their 4x100 men’s relay teams raced elbow to elbow around Drachman Stadium.
As 3,000 fans stood and cheered for a race decided by .84 of a second, the wild finish was viewed with widely different perspectives.
Johnson subtly shook a fist and nodded. Harvey broke into a grin, fully aware the Wildcats came a fraction of a second from a colossal upset.
Arizona finished third in the Pac-12 men’s competition; the Wildcats have not won a Pac-12 track meet since entering the league in 1979. The Ducks easily won for the 13th consecutive year.
But it makes you wonder: who really had the better weekend, Oregon or Arizona? A nod or a smile?
The NCAA allows 12.6 scholarships for each Division I track and field team, scholarships that can be divided and parsed among 30 or 40 athletes as long as it adds to 12.6 per team.
That is the only balanced factor between Oregon, a full-blown track and field dynasty, and Arizona, a school that pays Harvey and his six assistant coaches a cumulative $470,500 per year.
Oregon pays Johnson $640,000 annually, part of a $2.6 million contract believed to be the highest ever in college track and field. He is even given membership to the Eugene Country Club.
When the Ducks unloaded from their tour bus Sunday, they were stepping into a 38-year-old facility that was essentially built from a 1984 donation of $400,000 by the late Roy Drachman.
The stadium is so dated that the UA’s old cactus-and-sunset logo is still affixed to a sun-beaten scoreboard erected decades ago. Meanwhile, the Ducks are in the process of spending about $200 million to remake Hayward Field, the most iconic track facility in America.
Arizona and Oregon live in different neighborhoods but run the same races.
That’s why the UA’s ability to finish third in men’s competition – beating resources-blessed Stanford, USC and Washington — carries so much weight. Harvey has consistently done more with less since he arrived in Tucson 32 years ago. His staying power is to be admired.
He has sustained the consistent, if not bountiful, success started by Carl Cooper in the 1950s and carried on by Dave Murray to the 2000s.
“I’ve gone through four athletic directors and four presidents,” Harvey said with a smile.
Harvey has a grand vision that might someday close the gap between Oregon and the Los Angeles track powers, but it might turn out to be more vision than reality.
He would like to see the old plot of ground that houses Drachman Stadium and soccer’s Mulcahy Stadium be reworked and combined into a single, 21st century sports facility. That would enable the UA soccer program to turn Mulcahy Stadium into a practice area, and ultimately play soccer on the infield at Drachman Stadium, which would be equipped with modern bleachers, locker rooms and offices for coaches.
As it is now, the UA track program is based in a corridor at McKale Center. Showers, locker and meeting rooms are downstairs.
In the last five years Arizona has spent more than $160 million on athletic facilities and, as you might guess, track is not a priority. The UA grounds crew and administration did a remarkably good job of dressing up Drachman Stadium, wrapping the facility with large blue and red Arizona branding, which was enough to distract fans and Pac-12 TV viewers from the lower-economic neighborhood.
You might not hear much about Pac-12 track and field, but it is constantly changing.
USC is in the middle of a $16 million renovation to Loker Stadium, an on-campus facility that will include coaches offices, an academic center and team rooms. Cal recently spent more than $3 million to combine its soccer and track facilities at Edwards Stadium.
Washington demolished its track inside Husky Stadium in 2013 and built a stand-alone track stadium nearby. Even newcomer Utah, which only sponsors women’s track, spent $2.6 million to build an on-campus track facility in 2010. Washington State renovated on-campus Mooberry Stadium in 2012.
Arizona and Colorado are the only Pac-12 schools that do not have on-campus track stadiums, which is not a good thing.
Given those elements, it’s remarkable Arizona scored 151 points in combined men’s and women’s performances over the weekend. It challenged UCLA’s total of 195 and beat Stanford’s 136 and Arizona State’s 101.
Since 2000, the Pac-12 has won a combined nine NCAA men’s and women’s outdoor track and field championships, giving those who have won – USC, Oregon, UCLA, Arizona State and Stanford — a recruiting base for the nation’s elite athletes.
As USC breezed to the women’s title Sunday at Drachman Stadium, it was notable that its five individual champions – Angie Annelus, Chanel Brissett, Anna Cockrell, Kaelin Roberts and Tee Tee Terry — were recruited from Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, Missouri and Los Angeles.
The others make it up as they go, mostly trying to get the most of the few legitimate Pac-12 prospects in the area.
On Sunday, Arizona finished second in the 4x100 relay with sprinters from Tucson, Las Vegas, Maricopa and Scottsdale. Its lone championship Sunday came from high jumper Karla Teran, who is from Nogales, Sonora.
You don’t necessarily need Oregon’s Nike money or USC’s grand history or Stanford’s resources to be successful in Pac-12 track. Fred Harvey continues to show how it’s done.
• Editor's note: This column has been updated to add Arizona State to the list of Pac-12 champions, and to specify that they were outdoor championships.