NCAA cancels National Track & Field Championships due to COVID-19 concerns

Ellis’ teammate holds him up after he broke four minutes in the mile, considered a huge achievement in running, at the BU David Hemery Valentine Invitational at Boston.

On March 12, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) released a statement announcing the cancellation of the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, as well as remaining winter or spring NCAA championships. They cited this decision as stemming from concerns regarding COVID-19. 

Sam Ellis, Decatur alumni and Princeton runner, was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, along with other collegiate runners. He was about to compete in the National Indoor Track & Field Championships when his assistant coach knocked on his door. Ellis was “shocked” to learn his preliminary race for the mile had been cancelled, even after discovering the Big Ten Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) had been called off. 

“I think disappointed is an understatement, most runners were devastated,” Ellis said. “I personally was frustrated, but there wasn’t much else I could do. [COVID-19 concerns] not only affected track, but the entire NCAA and the entire country outside of sports.”

Even with his devastation, Ellis believes the NCAA was “justified in calling it off considering the gravity of the situation.”

Ellis also manages to find a silver lining amid his frustration: the NCCA granted another spring season of eligibility to collegiate athletes. This eligibility means the opportunity for athletes to compete collegiately for an additional season, after their given four. He will most likely take advantage of this eligibility by seeking a fifth year at a university besides Princeton, as the Ivy League denies this eligibility. 

To qualify for the NCAA championships, runners have to achieve a time placing them in the top 16 nationally in their event. Ellis ran a time of 3:57.66 for the mile, placing him at seventh nationally and twelfth as the season closed. Approaching nationals, Ellis became the ninth seed (fastest time) when three runners elected to run other races rather than the mile. Ellis points out that the qualifying runners are all extremely similar speeds. The first seed runner, Joe Klecker of Colorado, being seeded at 3:55.13. 

“Consistent strength and base-building” training, that began in the summer and continued through the fall, is what Ellis attributes his qualification to. He was the sole athlete representing Princeton at the championships.  

For now, Ellis continues to train for potential summer meets and the Olympic Trials, scheduled for the end of June. Princeton is restricted from coaching athletes due to the NCAA’s cancellation of the collegiate season. Though the trials are scheduled, Ellis “would not be surprised if they were postponed or cancelled all together” due to the growing presence of COVID-19 in the US.