Track and field is one of the oldest and most popular sports in the world, with a rich history of competition dating back to the ancient Olympic Games. In the United States, track and field has a robust presence in the college system, where thousands of athletes compete each year in both indoor and outdoor events. From sprinters to distance runners, jumpers to throwers, college track and field programs offer athletes the opportunity to develop their skills, test their limits, and compete at the highest levels of the sport. In this article, we’ll explore the world of track and field in the American college system, its structure, benefits, and the various ways to navigate it as a track and field athlete. 

Seasons and Divisions

The track and field season in the American college system is divided into two main parts: indoor and outdoor. The indoor season commonly takes place during the winter months, which run from December until the indoor championships in early March and include events such as the 60-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, the 800-meter run, and the 5,000-meter run. The indoor events are typically hosted in arenas or just indoor tracks, and they tend to be smaller than the outdoor tracks, meaning that athletes are required to navigate tighter turns. The outdoor season, which takes place during spring and the early summer months, runs from March until the outdoor championships in June and consists of the 100-meter dash, the 110-meter hurdles, the 400-meter dash, the 1,500-meter run, and the 10,000-meter run. In addition, the outdoor events are held on larger tracks than the indoors, as outdoor tracks typically have 8 lanes, whereas the indoor tracks only have 6. 

NCAA track and field is split up into three separate divisions, Division I, II, and III. In addition to the NCAA, the NAIA and NJCAA also oversee a number of programs, and both organisations only have two divisions that they manage. There are also conferences within the divisions in the NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA. Conferences are used to group schools that are close to each other geographically and have similar levels of competitiveness. Conferences allow college programs to compete against each other on a regular basis while also creating a framework for the standards and guidelines in championship events. NCAA Division I has over 30 conferences, Division II has 24, and Division III oversees 30. Additionally, the NAIA has 20 conferences, and NJCAA has 24. 

Choosing the Right College Program

When deciding which colleges to consider, multiple things must be taken into account to ensure that you attend the university that best fits you! Regarding the colleges themselves, it’s essential to compare and contrast various programs and better understand how they rank among each other in each division and conference. The coaching staff is an incredibly important track and field, and the entirety of the college system, the coaches at these colleges are likely to all be top-notch, but what’s more important is whether or not their coaching style matches your’s and if their guidance will help you flourish as an athlete. If you have the desire to compete at the highest possible level after college, verify that the coaching staff at your selected college will be able to get you there. Another crucial aspect of choosing which college to attend is the location. Many students can tell you firsthand that they would instead participate in a Division II school over Division I if it meant they could live in a nicer part of the country. It is of course, crucial to try to get into the most competitive schools in the country but still, it must also be taken into account that a large sum of money is being spent on an athlete’s college experience dependent upon their scholarship and an athlete’s preference of location should always be taken into account. 

Image: Athleticademix


In the United States, there are currently approximately 1,200 college track and field programs spanning all three NCAA divisions, the NAIA and NJCAA. For further information on the rules and regulations surrounding scholarships for track and field in the United States, please see the tables below:

Success Stories

Track and field is a sport that can offer many pathways after university graduation, such as becoming a professional track and field athlete, competing in post-collegiate club teams, and coaching, to name a few! Here are some examples of two college track and field athletes creating their pathways after their respective professional careers! Bob Larsen competed in track and field at San Jose State University during the 1950s as a distance runner. With an impressive college career being part of San Jose State’s team that won the NCAA championship in 1958 and winning individual conference titles in the two-mile and the steeplechase, after college Larsen continued his career in track and field and competed in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. After Larsen ended his professional career in the late 60’s, he became a college track and field coach and went on to coach some of the best track teams in college history at UCLA, but he is most recognised for his coaching of the American marathon runner, Meb Keflezighi who won both the Boston Marathon and the New York Marathon, as well as, a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics during his career. 

Right: Bob Larsen, left: Meb Keflezighi, Image: Dulce Joachin.

Another example is the incredible Allyson Felix, who competed at the University of Southern California, where she became a six-time NCAA champion, set the NCAA records in the 200-meters and 4×400-meter relay and won the Honda Sports Award for track and field in 2007 and 2008 which recognises the top collegiate female athlete in each sport. Her immense success as a college athlete catapulted her into an even more successful professional career where she won 11 Olympic medals, 19 world championship medals and has set numerous American records. Felix is also very well known for her philanthropic work. She recently launched a childcare initiative for athlete mothers with her sponsor, Athleta and the nonprofit group &Mother to provide free childcare for coaches, athletes, and staff at the U.S. Track and Field Championships. 

Image: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

Track and field in the American college system offers something for everyone, regardless of their skill level. Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or just starting out, the college system provides opportunities to develop your skills and compete at a higher level. If you’re interested in pursuing track and field in college and want to know your chances of earning a scholarship, don’t hesitate to book a free consultation with us. We’ll evaluate your academic and athletic potential to provide you with valuable information on the scholarships you may be eligible for. So fill out our free consultation form to get started on your American college journey!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *