Here’s when you can watch the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships.
- Thursday, March 11: Live coverage begins at 11 a.m. CST on ESPN3.
- Friday, March 12: Live coverage of the men’s events begins at 1:40 p.m. CST on ESPN3, and live coverage of the women’s events begins at 6:10 p.m. CST on ESPN3.
- Saturday, March 13: Live coverage begins at 12:25 p.m. CST on ESPN3.
Here’s when you can watch the NCAA Cross-Country Championships.
- Live coverage on ESPNU and ESPN3 begins on Monday, March 15, at 11:30 CST.
Last year, the day prior to the start of the 2020 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, hundreds of track and field athletes were in the middle of their pre-race routines in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when they learned that their seasons were finished.
On Thursday, March 12, 2020, the NCAA announced all 2020 winter and spring championships—including both the indoor and outdoor track and field championships—would be canceled amid growing concerns over the rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus. The news left many athletes and coaches devastated.
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“Anytime I flashback to last year, I just remember the tears of my teammates and my friends from other teams who were on their last year and maybe had a job lined up already and [could not] come back for their fifth year. It’s definitely not a memory that I like to go back to,” Tyra Gittens, the national leader in the pentathlon, told reporters in a virtual press conference on Monday.
A year later, the Texas A&M multi-events standout and the rest of the NCAA qualifiers are looking for redemption at the 2021 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships on March 11 to 13. The meet will be hosted at the Randal Tyson Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas—one of the few indoor facilities made available for competition during the pandemic. There have already been 11 meets in Fayetteville this season.
“We’re all here to make up for what we lost last year,” Gittens said. “We’re here to show that yeah, we didn’t have a season, but we’re back and we’re better so it’s encouraging.”
Additionally, some of the nation’s top distance runners are preparing for a much busier weekend. In an unprecedented timeline, the postponed 2020 NCAA Cross-Country Championships are scheduled for Monday, March 15 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. That means a handful of athletes from the top teams will be doubling—and, in some cases, tripling—at the indoor and cross-country championships, which are a three-hours drive from each other.
For the men, that means competing in track events ranging from the mile to the 5,000 meters on Friday and Saturday, and returning on Monday to race on a 10,000-meter grass course with high elevation gains. The women will navigate a slightly shorter, 6,000-meter course in addition to the same distances on the track.
Here, we outline which teams to watch at the indoor and cross-country meet, the implications of having back-to-back NCAA championships, the safety protocols, and how to tune in for this loaded weekend of competition.
How Coaches and Athletes are Handling the Championship Overlap
When Runner’s World asked why two championships were scheduled within a five-day span, the NCAA responded with this statement:
“It was a priority of the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Track and Field and Cross Country Committee to ensure that the indoor and outdoor track and field championships run as scheduled after being canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic. The NCAA Division I Competition Oversight Committee also wanted to ensure that student-athletes, who compete in the fall, be provided every opportunity to participate in NCAA Championships in their respective sports during the spring semester of the 2020-21 academic year. Health and safety protocols as well as travel recommendations from the NCAA COVID-19 Medical Advisory Group and national experts at the time of the decision to contest both the indoor track and cross country championships, contributed to the championships being days apart.”
In Monday’s press conference, Arkansas women’s head coach Lance Harter, Arkansas men’s head coach Chris Bucknam, Oregon head coach Robert Johnson, and Texas head coach Edrick Floreal expressed gratitude for having the opportunity to compete. But they also shared their frustrations with the NCAA’s decision to host back-to-back championships, which made them prioritize one meet over the other.
“I just don’t understand why they forced us to do this,” said Bucknam, whose Arkansas men’s team is ranked No. 3 heading into both championships. “I mean, could’ve had the meet a week later. We could have had the cross-country meet in December, or you could have had it at a different time. It’s just very unfortunate, so we’re focused on Fayetteville and then we’ll deal with [the championships in Stillwater] after that.”
Other teams, including Oregon and Texas, chose to prioritize indoor track based on results during the season, and will not send full squads to the cross-country championships. Jackson Mestler, who finished third in the PAC-12 cross-country championships, will be representing Oregon as an individual qualifier at the cross-country meet, but the majority of Oregon’s top distance runners are set to compete for the NCAA indoor team title in Fayetteville.
The Arkansas women’s team are the defending national champions for both indoor and cross country, so Harter chose to have the distance runners compete in both championships.
“We’ve talked throughout the indoor season that we’re going to have to make some adjustments in our training, not necessarily to sacrifice in either direction, but at least try to find a good compromise. We’re a little bit of a hybrid going into this meet,” Harter said. “[For cross country] we [are relying] on five people who also will be racing in the indoor nationals. The only people who are going to be fresh are some of our freshmen.”
What to Know About COVID Safety Protocols
According to the NCAA’s championship safety guidelines, pre-event and on-site testing will be required for all athletes competing in the indoor championships, and no spectators will be permitted to enter the facility at the University of Arkansas.
The cross-country championships in Stillwater will also require pre-event and on-site testing, but participants will be allowed to invite a limited number of guests to the championship.
For both championships, all individuals and spectators permitted to attend the event are required to wear a face mask and keep a social distance. The exception is athletes who are actively competing or training.
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In some cases, contact tracing and positive tests have prevented athletes from competing for their teams this season. For example, Sports Max reported that Texas A&M’s Charokee Young could not compete in the SEC Indoor Championships because she was exposed to someone infected with COVID-19. On social media, the 400-meter runner said she did not have COVID, but due to exposure, she had to sit out while the Aggies finished eighth in the conference.
In Tuesday’s press conference, Harter outlined the multiple tests athletes will need to complete while participating in both championships, and he expressed trepidation about the possibility of test results affecting the competitions.
“We just certainly hope that through all this habitual testing that we don’t lose anybody because that could influence the indoor championship as well as the cross-country championship. ... I understand why we have a protocol, and we definitely want to make sure that everybody arrives healthy and ready to go. ... My philosophy is we can’t get the vaccine soon enough,” he said.
Women to Watch at the Indoor Track and Field Championships
In 2019—the last calendar year NCAA student-athletes competed in all three championships—Arkansas made history by winning the NCAA cross country, indoor and outdoor track team titles. The Razorbacks’ three-season sweep is a feat that only two other programs had accomplished previously.
Arkansas returns to the indoor championships as the No. 1-ranked women’s team and the clear favorite to win the team title this year. The team boasts 25 entrants across all the events, including Katie Izzo who is ranked No. 3 in the 3,000 meters and No. 1 in the 5,000 meters. Additionally, the Razorbacks have the No. 1-ranked distance medley relay and the No. 2 4x400-meter relay.
Arkansas’s Katie Izzo finishes third at the 2019 NCAA Cross-Country Championships.
Behind Arkansas, Texas A&M has 11 entrants with three athletes and one relay squad ranked No. 1 heading into the championship. Freshman Athing Mu made headlines earlier this season when she broke the collegiate record by running 1:58.40 to win the 800 meters at the SEC Indoor Championships. However, Mu won’t be competing in the 800 meters in Fayetteville this weekend. She’s scheduled to contest the 400 meters after running 50.52—the fastest time so far this season—at the Charlie Thomas Invitational on February 6. She also anchored the 4x400-meter relay that broke the all-time collegiate record at the Tyson Invitational on February 13, and is likely to contribute to the relay team’s title chase this weekend.
Texas holds the No. 3 ranking in the team standings with 12 entrants, including a stacked sprints and hurdles contingent in Chanel Brissett (No. 1 in the 60-meter hurdles), Julien Alfred (No. 2 in the 60 meters), Kynnedy Flannel (No. 2 in the 200 meters), and Stacey-Ann Williams (No. 3 in the 400 meters). Close behind in USTFCCCA’s rating index is Georgia with a No. 4 team ranking. As usual, the Bulldogs are loaded in the field and multi events with nine entrants across those event groups.
Men to Watch at the Indoor Track and Field Championships
The Oregon Ducks come into the championship ranked No. 1 in the men’s team race. Cooper Teare and Cole Hocker both broke the NCAA mile record by running 3:50.39 and 3:50.55, respectively, at the Tyson Invitational on February 12. Hocker is entered in the mile and 3,000 meters this weekend while Teare opted to run the 3,000 meters.
The Ducks’ distance medley relay also made history by shattering the collegiate record and setting an all-time world best at the Razorback Invitational on January 29. The team that included Hocker, Luis Peralta, Charlie Hunter, and Teare ran 9:19.42, improving on the previous collegiate record of 9:24.52 set by the Ducks at the same meet last year. Hunter is entered in the 800 meters after running 1:45.59, the fastest time in the NCAA this year. The Ducks also have a national leader in Micah Williams who ran 6.53 in the 60 meters at the Air Force Team Challenge on February 25.
The men’s mile at the 2019 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championship.
With 12 entrants across event groups, the LSU Tigers are relying on strong performances from a talented sprint and field events contingent. Terrance Laird is the national leader in the 200 meters after running 20.28 at the SEC Indoor Championships. And JuVaughn Harrison is ranked No. 1 in both the high jump and the long jump after breakthrough performances earlier this season.
The No. 3 Arkansas Razorbacks are leaning into a group of distance runners and two standout field event athletes for points this weekend. Amon Kemboi (No. 5), Gilbert Boit (No. 7), Jacob McLeod (No. 9), and Matt Young (No. 12) are entered in the 5,000 meters while Boit is also scheduled to run the 3,000 meters. Markus Ballengee (No. 3) is projected to finish high in the heptathlon after scoring 5,898 points at the SEC Indoor Championships, and Ryan Brown comes into the meet ranked No. 4 in the long jump.
The race for fourth place is projected to be a tight battle between in-state rivals Florida State and Florida. The Seminoles are ranked No. 4 with three men entered in the 60 meters, two entrants in the 200 meters, and two long jumpers. The team also has two national leaders in Trey Cunningham who ran 7.55 in the 60-meter hurdles and Isaac Grimes who cleared 8.33m in the long jump this season. The Gators will bring a crew of sprinters entered in the 60, 200, and 400 meters in addition to the No. 1-ranked weight thrower, Thomas Mardal.
Who to Watch at the NCAA Cross-Country Championships
On Monday, March 15, the NCAA’s best cross-country runners will meet for the first time on a new championship course designed by Oklahoma State head coach Dave Smith.
According to the USTFCCCA national coaches’ poll, defending champion BYU is No. 1 in the men’s team rankings. Behind the Cougars are Northern Arizona, Arkansas, and Stanford, all of which are projected to finish within the top four.
The rivalry between BYU and Northern Arizona prevailed as both teams were given clearance to travel and compete at COVID-adjusted meets in the fall and winter seasons. At the Oklahoma State Invitational on October 17, 2020, NAU beat Oklahoma State and BYU. But on February 1, 2021, BYU beat NAU by five points at the Silver State Collegiate Challenge in Las Vegas, Nevada.
As BYU head coach Ed Eyestone said in Tuesday’s press conference, the focus for his men’s distance runners will be to repeat as cross-country champions this weekend instead of competing indoors.
“Had we loaded up and had the guys double, I think we had a chance to be on the podium, but one thing I found by our team winning in 2019 is I think a win probably is better for the program in some ways than getting two seconds or a second and a third or a fourth [place on the track],” Eyestone said.
Runners at the 2019 NCAA Cross Country Championships.
On the women’s side, Arkansas is the national leader and BYU is ranked No. 2 after winning the West Coast Conference Championships on February 24 with 28 points. New Mexico lands at No. 3 after claiming the team title at the Mountain West Championships over Boise State. And Stanford earned the No. 4 ranking after defeating Colorado by putting all five scorers within the top 12 at the Pac-12 Cross Country Championships.
For the men’s and women’s teams, there are a number of athletes who are eligible to compete in both the NCAA indoor and cross-country championships. As Dyestat outlined, more than 40 runners have the potential to compete at both, although it’s unclear how many will opt to do so.
For example, Bethany Hasz of the University of Minnesota is scheduled to run the indoor 5,000 meters and compete for the Gophers in cross country after winning the individual title and leading her team to a runner-up finish at the Big Ten Cross Country Championships on January 30.
“It’s going to be a big weekend, but I think it’ll be fun,” Hasz told reporters in Tuesday’s press conference. “To prepare for it, we kind of tried to pull back a little bit earlier in the season. At the Big Ten [indoor] meet, I ended up only running the 3K instead of the 3K and the 5K, just to save the legs a little bit for this weekend. I’m excited to see what happens.”
How to Watch
The NCAA Indoor Championships will be aired live on ESPN3 starting at 11 a.m. CST on Thursday, March 11.
The first day of the meet will feature the heptathlon and pentathlon. On Friday, the men’s and women’s semifinals and the finals of the 5,000 meters, distance medley relay, high jump, heptathlon, long jump, shot put, and women’s pole vault will be contested. The meet concludes on Saturday, and the remaining finals will determine NCAA team champions. On Friday and Saturday, the men’s events begin at 2 p.m. CST. The women’s events begin at 7 p.m. CST on Friday and 6 p.m. CST on Saturday.
The NCAA Cross-Country Championships will be televised live on ESPNU and aired on ESPN3 starting at 11:30 a.m. CST on Monday, March 15. The women’s race starts at 11:50 a.m. CST, and the men’s race begins at 12:40 p.m. CST.
Taylor Dutch is a writer and editor living in Austin, Texas, and a former NCAA track athlete who specializes in fitness, wellness, and endurance sports coverage. Her work has appeared in Runner’s World, SELF, Bicycling, Outside, and Podium Runner.
I'm an enthusiast and expert in the field of collegiate track and field, particularly the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships. My knowledge is based on extensive research and personal interest, and I can provide valuable insights into the schedule, participants, and key storylines of this prestigious event.
The NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships are scheduled to take place from March 11 to 13, with live coverage provided by ESPN3. The Randal Tyson Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas, will host the meet, serving as one of the few indoor facilities available for competition during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year, the championships were abruptly canceled due to the pandemic, leaving many athletes and coaches devastated. This year, the athletes are seeking redemption, with the Texas A&M multi-events standout Tyra Gittens expressing the collective sentiment of making up for the lost season.
One noteworthy aspect of this year's championships is the overlap with the NCAA Cross-Country Championships, which are scheduled for March 15 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Some athletes, particularly distance runners, will face the unique challenge of participating in both events, given the close proximity and tight schedule.
The decision to host both championships within a five-day span has sparked some controversy, with coaches expressing frustration over the scheduling. The NCAA justified this decision by emphasizing the importance of resuming championships after the cancellations in 2020 and following health and safety protocols.
In terms of safety, stringent COVID-19 protocols are in place for both indoor track and cross-country championships. Athletes will undergo pre-event and on-site testing, and spectators are not permitted at the indoor championships, while a limited number of guests are allowed at the cross-country championships.
The article also highlights key teams and athletes to watch in both men's and women's divisions. Arkansas women's team, ranked No. 1, is the clear favorite with 25 entrants across various events. On the men's side, the Oregon Ducks, ranked No. 1, boast impressive performances, including breaking the NCAA mile record.
The conclusion of the article provides details on how to watch the championships, with live coverage on ESPN3 for the indoor championships and ESPNU for the cross-country championships.
In summary, the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships promise an exciting and challenging competition, with athletes eager to make up for the lost season and deliver outstanding performances.