Oregon State cuts the ribbon, but this race is far from over

Oregon State has a new track and field complex, but there is much more to be done before the Beavers are back in the race.


CORVALLIS — The ribbon has been ceremoniously cut on Oregon State’s new Whyte Track and Field Complex, the latest achievement in the somewhat improbable return of the Beavers’ track and field program. I’ve been thinking aobut what I saw there and how to put OSU’s commitment to track into perspective.

Honestly, it felt a lot like the groundbreaking in June of 2011. The tent was the same, the lineup of speakers was nearly the same. But the size of the crowd is growing, and the enthusiam of former Beaver track alums and supporters is snowballing. 

But then, as now, it felt like a pulse-check. This endeavor is far from complete. There is a first class workout facility in place right now, but there is no way to hold a meet yet. There are no athletes yet — except for the women’s distance group. There are no scholarships yet for men.

And so, to complete this mission of truly bringing Oregon State track and field back — to swinging all the way back to a successful program — a lot more money is needed. Fortunately, there is an administration in place with the commitment to make this happen and a growing number of investors who believe that it’s worthwhile.

An additional $4 million or so to complete the facility — berm, facade, seating, ammenties, detailing. Then there is a need to raise $5 million to endow the program.

Oregon State has basically said it would accept a track and field program as long as football doesn’t have to pay for it. In this day and age, that’s no small thing. It has to be funded by the BASF and other donors. And I’m OK with that. The passion of alums and other contributors probably should fuel this project. That’s how you create a population of stakeholders. But it does also raise the question of how much support is the athletic department willing to give. Does EVERYTHING about this program have to come from Jim Whyte and other benefactors?

Athletic director Bob DeCarolis and football coach Mike Riley both deserve to be lauded for their support of track and field in Corvallis. I still feel like the culture of track and field needs to be built out so that momentum doesn’t falter if/when those two leaders leave.

I was fortunate to have a private tour of the facility with Kelly Sullivan on Sept. 8 prior to the Wisconsin game. I admire all of the hard work he has put in — much of it in the realm of fund-raising and politicking — in order to build a first-class facility. His energy lives in the 40 ambassadors he has on the women’s cross country team, and all of that is vitally important. Audrey Botti’s speech at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, along with Dick Fosbury’s, was the highlight of the event.

I believe theirt enthusiasm has enough critical mass behind it to complete the second phase and fund the scholarships. And I hope that the community that supports track and field in Eugene embraces it, too.

The sport has to grow in order for what happens in Eugene to be relevant to more people. A new sprout in Corvallis is progress, but it has to be nurtured. I think it’s important to the future success of college track and field in the U.S. that the program’s re-birth at Oregon State goes well.

We are not returning to the 1970s. When Hailu Ebba and Steve Prefontaine waged one of the most famous of Civil War races, track and field, in general, was more popular than it is today.

Theoretically, Oregon State should be able to re-populate a track program again with local Northwest talent. We have throwers here. We have runners. We uncover decathletes and give them a place to polish and sparkle.

The average OSU fan probably doesn’t quite connect all of that yet. Beaver Nation has forgotten why track and field is necessary, save for the possibility that it could help Riley land a couple of fast recruits. The enthusiasm has to continue to spread, and in Corvallis I think it can.

This will never be easy. Perpetual momentum is next to impossible.

Oregon State track and field as good as Washington State? No disrespect to the Cougars but I don’t think that’s going to be good enough.

As good as Washington, or California, or UCLA (or any other Pac-12 track team that you don’t know very much about)? Not good enough. Oregon State needs to build a community of support beyond what exists in those other places, and I believe that it will.

In this state, it only matters how you’re doing in comparison with Oregon. And that’s the kind of bar that even a jumper like Fosbury might have trouble getting over.

The thing that cinches success for Oregon State is earning its way back into a rivalry with Oregon. A track and field Civil War. A dual meet that captures imaginations and sparks the interest of casual fans. Right now, that’s a far-fetched proposition.

But when it happens, then we’ll know this race is complete.

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