For those of us who follow UB's Olympic sports, Athletics dropped some relatively big news this afternoon: UB has been selected to host the 2017 NCAA Cross Country Northeast Regional Championships.
It's the second time UB will host the event, and will come six years following the 2011 Championships, which took place at the Amherst Audobon Golf Course.
Note: All quotes in this post come from UB's official release, which you can read here.
The Championships will take place, as they do every year, in early November, but will move from Audobon to the golf course inside Delaware Park's Ring Road:
"The Historic Delaware Park will offer an excellent course for the competitors, as well as a spectator-friendly race. The men will cover a 3.5K loop twice, followed by a 3K closing loop. The women will run the 3.5K loop followed by a 2.5K loop."
This year, of course, both UB teams enjoyed spots in the regional rankings (top 15), with the men finishing at 11th in the season-ending poll. Given the increased resources being poured into Athletics, it wouldn't be a surprised to see either or both teams in the top 10 at this meet.
Logistically, it's about what you'd expect: a couple hundred runners and standard race distances, but I was surprised to find out that the Northeast Region is the largest of the NCAA's nine cross country regions:
An average of 260 runners will compete in the race. The Northeast Region has the largest number of schools of all nine regions nationally. The men cover a distance of 10 kilometers, while the women race a distance of six kilometers.
It's obviously a grand opportunity for the teams, the school, and the city, which even before Pegula had been building a reputation as a great host for sporting events of all sizes. The race location in Delaware Park will allow spectators, many of whom may be in Buffalo for the first time, easy access to whatever highlights they want to seek out in the region. Hell, it's a five-minute walk to the Zoo and just 20 to the Albright Knox.
That said, the Ring Road Golf Course doesn't exactly get me excited for the runners. There aren't many hills in western New York, but it doesn't get much flatter than there, and in my experience courses that aim for "spectator friendly" ultimately end up with boring, repetitive loops for the runners, so that onlookers can see the whole race.
It's likely, of course, that the NCAA (and really anyone with a stake in the matter) would favor "spectator friendly." After all, no runner or team is going to turn down the Regional Championships because it has a boring course. Hopefully this route treats the loops similar to McQuaid High School's course at Genesee Valley Park in Rochester, where even though you're essentially running three loops, you never run the same ground in the same direction twice.
That said, while neither Tim nor I continued running cross country after high school, we came up with a few suggestions from our memory banks. Tim ran most of his Buffalo Public Schools career at the Delaware Park Hoyt Lake course, and I ran there a good deal before the October Storm and preservationist decisions by the Park ended all races there, though before my time in the Catholic league I also ran for North Tonawanda in the Niagara Frontier League.
Hoyt Lake would not be able to hold a meet of this size, but there are plenty of other courses in the area that would be more challenging and engaging for the runners. Unfortunately, my favorite courses in the area are all likely either too far from hotels or from Buffalo itself to be appropriate for a meet of this size: UB hosts an annual meet at Beaver Island State park, I loved St. Bonaventure's course when I ran there, Akron Falls Park has great terrain that you really need to plan for.
Even the Section VI championship setting at Elma Meadows would be a bit more challenging than Ring Road. Chestnut Hill would be great, but I'm not sure there's enough safe trail (tree roots and rocks) that's not pavement or up-and-down the sled hill.
Up the 990 from campus is Bond Lake, which has a diverse course by may not be able to handle the crowds. Tim would love to see a race at Cazenovia Park (I've ran there thrice myself), but thinks it might be a little short to avoid it anyway.
The dream route, if we could have it all, with no red tape and less concern for pavement? A race that starts in Mather Park in Fort Erie, comes over the Peace Bridge, and ends in La Salle Park. But we don't even need to get into a discussion of how unlikely that is.
It's two and a half years out, but the date is set in stone. We're certainly looking forward to it.