June 15, 2010 11:39:00 AM
David Miller -
STARKVILLE -- For the past three years, the Carl Maddox Track facility at Mississippi State has been dormant.
Aside from practice, the Bulldogs haven''t hosted the Jace Lacoste Invitational and Bulldog Invitational. Their facility needed a facelift to attract teams, and with Mississippi State''s $3.2 million renovation the Bulldogs will host three spring meets in 2011.
Home meets were anticipated once ground broke two months ago, and Monday the program announced the start of the SEC/Big Ten Track and Field Challenge, which will be held at MSU on March 26.
The meet, which will be the first on Mississippi State''s new nine-lane, resurfaced track, pits MSU, Kentucky, Florida and Ole Miss against Indiana, Michigan, Purdue and Ohio State.
Mississippi State coach Al Schmidt came up with the concept in December, hoping to bring an exciting meet to MSU that kept alive the true nature of team competition.
Most meets outside of NCAA regionals and championships don''t keep team scores, instead awarding individual medals.
The SEC/Big Ten Challenge will score the best four finishers from each event after seeding the top four times from each conference.
Schmidt picked the current field of teams to maximize the strengths of each school in an effort to have a complete meet. He hopes the solid jumpers from Ole Miss and half-milers from Kentucky can combine with the sprint powers of Florida and MSU to top the Big Ten''s strongest programs.
"I think it''s going to produce some great times and great competitions," Schmidt said. "Indiana is a top 20 team and Ohio State was second in the conference this year. All of those schools are phenomenal, and we will have every event covered.
"This is going to be a world-class facility."
Mississippi State''s new surface will be identical to the tracks at Oregon, where the national championships were held last week, and Auburn. The Beynon surface, which Schmidt said will be the best poured surface in the country, is International Association of Athletics Federations certified. The top-of-the-line surface gives MSU a facility that could host international meets, adding more luster to Schmidt''s new recruiting tool.
Mississippi State''s men, with the misfortune of Kendall May''s hamstring strain in the 4x400-meter relay at nationals, ended the season with a 17th-place finish in Eugene. With last year''s standout recruiting coups Tavaris Tate and Daundre Barnaby, and 2008 class signees Justin Christian and D''Angelo Cherry, Schmidt is ready to add to firepower by hosting recruits at the new venue.
He praised the recruiting efforts of his staff and the work of the team''s athletes for preventing a dip in talent as State''s administration worked to get a new track.
"Recruits will see that we''re the real deal," Schmidt said. "The events we''re good in are exciting races -- the 4x400, the 400, the 100 etc. -- so to have recruits on campus, official or unofficial, will be great for kids who haven''t yet signed."
While the SEC/Big Ten Challenge will be the highlight event of next track season, MSU will revive the Jace Lacoste Invitational on April 15-16 and the Bulldog Invitational on April 1.
The Bulldog Invitational will host area high school teams on Day 1 and college events on Day 2, though Schmidt is tinkering with the idea of mixing prep and college races to enhance the excitement. The veteran coach has been in contact with Florida, sprint foe Texas A&M, North Carolina and Notre Dame about filling out the Jace Lacoste field.
Schmidt hopes to have the SEC/Big Ten Challenge televised by ESPN or Comcast.
Also in the works is sponsoring Mississippi High School Activities Association North Half track meets, though Schmidt admits those plans have a long way to go.
"Having three college meets will be a plus," Schmidt said. "I''m pretty excited, and so are the other schools. This will be a world-class facility, and I can''t say enough about our administration and how this has come together. Next year will be exciting for our athletes and our university."