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Stan Becton | | June 12, 2023

How the first USTFCCCA rankings predict the women's champion

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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.

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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
2008 LSU Runner-up
2009 Texas A&M Third
2010 Texas A&M Champion
2011 Texas A&M Champion
2013 Kansas Fourth
2014 Texas A&M Runner-up
2015 Texas A&M Third
2016 LSU Fourth
2017 Oregon Runner-up
2018 Arkansas Third
2019 Southern California Champion
2021 LSU N/A
2022 Texas Seventh
2023 LSU Fourth

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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 2023, Texas became the first team from outside of the top-25 (No. 80) to win the title.

In seven out of the 14 eligible years through 2023, the year's women's outdoor champion started the season ranked first overall.

That means 50 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.

Year Champion Initial Ranking
2008 LSU 1
2009 Texas A&M 1
2010 Texas A&M 1
2011 Texas A&M 1
2013 Kansas 1
2014 Texas A&M 1
2015 Oregon 4
2016 Arkansas 3
2017 Oregon 1
2018 Southern California 4
2019 Arkansas 4
2021 Southern California 4
2022 Florida 5
2023 Texas 80

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What happened to the No. 1s that didn't win the title?

Six 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 five years and all seven have come in the last eight 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
2015 Texas A&M Third
2016 LSU Sixth
2018 Arkansas Eleventh
2019 Southern California Runner-up
2021 LSU Sixth
2022 Texas Runner-up
2023 LSU Seventh

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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. Said team will have 50-50 shot at the title.

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.

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