The national ratings index from the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) gives a glimpse at the best teams every week leading up to the Division I outdoor championships. When the first rankings are revealed each year, it brings excitement and anticipation. But how likely is it that the first rankings are a true indicator of who will win that year's championship?
We took a look at the history of the women's rankings and here's what we found.
How the first USTFCCCA rankings predict the champion
For the sake of this article LSU's 2012 title is not recognized because its participation in the championships was vacated by the NCAA Committee on infractions
The history of the rankings
To understand the correlation between the USTFCCCA rankings and the national champion, one must first understand the history of the rankings.
The USTFCCCA began its outdoor track and field season rankings in 2008. The first rankings came during the preseason for outdoor track and field, a tradition that would continue through 2019.
Then the 2020 outdoor track and field season got canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After a year's absence, the rankings returned in 2021 and for the first time, the USTFCCCA began the season with Week 1 rankings rather than preseason rankings. In 2022 and 2023, Week 1 again kicked off the season's rankings.
UNBREAKABLE: The most unbreakable — we think — records in women’s track and field
Behind the first No. 1
With each year's initial rankings comes a team ranked in the top spot. But how is the first No.1 picked?
From the rankings from 2008-19 — back when the first rankings were still in the preseason — it's concluded that the first No. 1 team in the country was determined based on the prior season's finish in the championships and returning talent.
Three times, including the latter two years of Texas A&M's three-peat from 2009-11, was the defending champion named preseason No. 1. Another three times, the preseason No. 1 was the previous year's runner-up. In fact, every preseason No. 1 finished within the top four of NCAA championship scoring in the year prior for the first 13 years of the ratings.
It wasn't until 2022's Week 1 ranking that Texas broke the mold, jumping from its seventh-place finish a year before. Then in 2023, defending champion Florida was unranked in Week 1's poll which came just 16 days after indoor championships.
|Year||First No. 1||Prior Year Finish|
THE BOWERMAN: A complete history of track and field's highest individual honor
What does it all mean?
It means that the team selected to the No. 1 spot in the first rankings of the season more often than not has a proven track record of success. The first teams to land the top spot in the rankings deserve it, but that doesn't always mean they can go wire to wire.
Where were the champions ranked to start the season?
From 2008-2021, no team won the women's outdoor track and field championship after starting the season ranked outside of the top four. In 2022, Florida became the first non-top four team to win the title after starting the season at No. 5. In seven out of the 13 eligible years through Mar. 27, 2023, the year's women's outdoor champion started the season ranked first overall.
That means 54 percent of the time the first USTFCCCA rankings will let you know who the national champion will be, simply by looking at the No. 1 team. However, the No. 2 team in the first rankings has NEVER won the national championship. Only once has the No. 3 team to start the season, 2016 Arkansas, won the title, while the No. 4 team has won the title an impressive four times since the USTFCCCA rankings began.
🏆: Here are the DI track and field teams with most NCAA championships
What happened to the No. 1s that didn't win the title?
Five times the teams ranked No. 1 in the first ranking did not win the title. The No. 1 team has not won the title in any of the last four years and all six have come in the last seven years, with Oregon's 2017 season being the lone outlier. Listed below are the preseason/first No. 1's to not win the title and where they finished at the championships.
|YEAR||First No. 1||Championship finish|
VENUE HISTORY: These historic moments all happened at Hayward Field
What does history say for the future seasons?
The history of the first USTFCCCA rankings is good news for whatever team kicks off the season with the top spot in the Week 1 rankings. If said team wins the 2023 title, the first USTFCCCA rankings will have predicted the national champion 57 percent of the time. Of course, that team could also finish like the six teams to not go wire to wire.
HOOKEM: Texas takes top spot in 2022's season-opening women's track and field rankings
The ranking's history is not so good news for the No. 2 team in the season's first national ratings index. Meanwhile, the third and fourth and fourth ranked teams should have high hopes.