(Note: All events in this story have been heavily dramatized, ad-libbed, retconned, rewritten and possibly fabricated by myself for comedic purposes.)
“De coniuratione cursores” – The secret history of the Northwestern Track Club, and its many mortal enemies.
Palma, Spain – July 25, 1987
The president of Northwestern University, Arnold R. Weber, sat on a folding chair on his hotel balcony and stared into the Mediterranean. He was on vacation and had just finished reading The Impact of Capitalism on Social Justice in Western Europe 1789-1871, a book that now sat on the table beside him. As he prepared to take an afternoon siesta, he suddenly remembered that he had to give the final order to eliminate the men’s and women’s track and field programs. He wandered into the lobby and asked to call Evanston to give his consent. Afterwards, he fell asleep.
Arnold Weber was brought into Northwestern because he was “fiscally responsible”. His job was to make sure the university was financially stable. Everything else, at least according to his official profile, meant little. He made sure Northwestern had proper budgets with real limits. He made sure Northwestern was in the black, no matter what. He probably ran about 7 miles in his entire life.
The Northwestern Track and Field team was unceremoniously disbanded after the 1987-88 season. As of 2011, a track and cross country program lost about $600,000 per year for an FBS school like Northwestern. By 1987 inflation standards (CPI based, for you econ nerds), that was about $300,000 per year. For Northwestern, a school with crappy athletic programs and funding difficulties, spending $300,000 on track was apparently too much. Never mind that Weber raised $21 million for new athletic facilities that same year, laying the groundwork for SPAC in the process.
From the honest opinion of your humble chronicler, Arnold Weber was a cheapskate. The money he saved from cutting track was conveniently there to dedicate an arch with his name on it, thus creating a manufactured tradition of marching each class of freshmen through a rather modest arch. That’s right, Northwestern Track was sacrificed for Weber Arch. That’s the narrative I’m going with.
Do I know if Arnold Weber was in the city of Palma in the Balearic Islands on July 25, 1987? Of course not. But that’s where rich people liked to party in the 1980s, and I think it suits him. On the other hand, the question of whether Arnold Weber gave two cents about his students can be answered with a definitive “probably not”. This dude was more corporate than Viacom takedown notices on YouTube. His job was to make Northwestern money, not provide for anybody who attended the school. I’m not sure how much has changed.
But that’s just where the story begins. In this age of conspiracies, an age where presidential candidates can garner mass swathes of popular support for incomprehensible nonsense, we were never going to preview NIRCA Regionals without uncovering a vast network of deception.
Did you think the Northwestern Track Club was just a track club? Did you think Arnold R. Weber closed down the old track teams to save himself a pittance? Did you honestly think that anything in this day and age could be simple?
I, your humble chronicler, will give you the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In the process, I will actually talk about the 2016 NIRCA Regionals meet in Ames, Iowa, but only after you understand the forces at play.
Part 1: NUTC vs. the World
Minneapolis burned through the night as the Northwestern University Track Club drove into the darkness. They were pursued by a vast conspiracy of runners, band geeks and mirages of track officials. The lights of the city, a fire in the grand emptiness of the Upper Midwest, would provide no refuge.
It was clear that the OG President had underestimated the secret political underpinnings of forming the NUTC. It was clear that, after nearly getting run off the road on Ridge Ave., a series of fake police stops and an unpleasant encounter with an M1 Abrams tank, something was amiss. Of course, none of that compared to the annoyance of getting Joyce Oakes to give the NUTC a van in the first place, but the circumstances remained strange.
The Motel 6 corporation furnished the rooms with great aplomb. Gaudy orange paint hung to the walls. The attempts of Motel 6 to redefine itself as an upscale motel had entered full effect.
Yet that night was merely a respite. Outside, the conspiracies bided their time. In the morning, as the team headed for the meet, they were led astray by their GPS systems and nearly hit a telephone pole.
The first NIRCA Regionals event for the Northwestern Track Club went smoothly. The men’s team finished seventh overall. There was a party afterwards. They were not bothered on the way back to Evanston. But they had awakened something sinister.
In 2011, NUTC did not attend any NIRCA events (this is totally true, you can look it up with your new NIRCA login that Patrick Melendez has forced you to make).
The OG President’s attempt to register NUTC for NIRCA in 2011 went poorly. The Internet was down, then the checks didn’t cash, then Joyce Oakes said she had personally crashed all the vans into Lake Michigan on the weekend of Regionals. On the way to a random meet, the NUTC was ambushed by a group of ninjas wearing split shorts and was challenged to a high-stakes game of poker over the entirety of the club’s dues. The OG President failed to draw a club on the river to hit a flush and the NUTC lost everything.
Finally, the mysterious nature of the NUTC’s attempts to enter Regionals were solved when Pete Foote entered the team.
Part 2: The Exarchate of Distance
Forget books that take thousands of words to introduce the true nature of the conspiracy. I’m going to give it you straight.
The Northwestern Track Club is the latest iteration of an secret society from the 1940s called the Exarchate of Distance.
So now you know. The Track Club, while an effective institution in its own right, is merely a cover for the secret society, the sheepskin of believability that covers our true work. To be fair all dues and fundraising revenue actually goes to funding the cover operation of a running club because it’s so damn expensive. The cover operation sustains itself.
It all began with a great schism. Teams were torn apart. Coaches were branded as heretical and thrown out of the profession.
The parent of the Exarchate of Distance was known simply as the Society. The Society believed that, in accordance with tradition, the mile was the proper racing distance, not the 1500m or the 1600m. The mile, in its perfection, was contested throughout the United States and around the world.
But when the Olympics began in 1896, the Society began to fracture. A new breed of runners, branding themselves as the Trackmetricians, began to advocate for the 1500m to replace the mile as the international standard. And the minority sect got its wish. The Olympics have been contesting the 1500m to this day.
This all was going on in the deep background, even deeper than the obvious conspiracy theories like the Illuminati, the Build-a-Bear Club (who control the highly-influential stuffed animals in the world) and the famous “Stalin was actually controlled by an alien goldfish” hypothesis suggested by Bons Eysseric in 1942. For the average runner, the Society and the Trackmetricians basically didn’t exist. They operated through mass mind control and untraceable bribery. But as the schism grew deeper, their conflicts grew into the open sphere.
Kaiser Wilhelm II of the German Empire was a well-known defender of the Society, and his war with the Trackmetrician-dominated French (known in unenlightened circles as World War I) was merely a proxy for the debate over distance. But when the Germans lost the war in 1918, the Society ceased to function. Woodrow Wilson, in a desperate attempt to maintain the mile, proposed a secret amendment to the Treaty of Versailles that would mandate a secret subcommittee of the League of Nations, known as the Shadow League, that would attempt to moderate between the two sides. This plan failed catastrophically, but the rest of the world was too caught up in the dramatics of World War II to replace the Shadow League with a more competent organization.
And thus, until the formation of the Exarchate of Distance in 1947, track races were held haphazardly, with each runner and coach running whatever distance that had been passed down by his or her forefathers and foremothers! The Trackmetricians entered a schism of their own as some members were open to the compromise distance of 1600 meters. These members became known as the Savoyards, due to their concentration in the Savoy region of France, and will play a large role later in our story.
Finally, sensing that the chaos of the Second World War was over, an organization of ex-Shadow League members chose to create the Exarchate of Distance, a vast organization that would subdue all rival factions and encourage the tolerance of different distances. Taking their title from the old word for a Byzantine province (it sounded cool, even in 1945), the Exarchate finally came into effect after two years of planning on July 25, 1947, 40 years before Arnold Weber ordered the end of the Northwestern Track team.
The Exarchate was efficient and effective. In a series of brief skirmishes, the Trackmetricians and the Savoyards were cut down to size. Roger Bannister received headlines from breaking the 4-minute mile, not some arbitrary 1500m record.
But the Exarchate also allowed the Trackmetricians to retain control over the Olympics and many other international competitions. An equilibrium of postwar tolerance had been formed, and the Exarchate was lauded in extra-secret circles and trade magazines for its handling of the situation.
But everything changed when an extremist group of Trackmetricians overthrew the leadership of the Exarchate. Claiming that the 1500m was the only way forward, these new radicals, who dubbed themselves “The Concern“, put the Exarchate of Distance into hiding. By the year 1955, The Concern ruled supreme and the delicate balance that had held for eight years withered into nothingness. Senator Joseph McCarthy, a secret sleeper agent of The Concern, was able to root out high-ranking members of the Exarchate before he was himself ousted due to his political concerns. President Eisenhower could do little to help the beleaguered Exarchate, but did promise to house the surviving members at a prominent college campus on the shores of Lake Michigan.
During the period between 1960-1980, the battle between the Concern and the Exarchate devolved into a slugfest. But after 10 years of chaos, many parts of the country finally decided to adopt the Savoyard principle of the 1600m, leading to the trifurcated system we live with today. The Concern consolidated its hold over women’s track and mandated the 1500m. The Exarchate of Distance, realizing its differences with the Savoyards were literally only 9 meters long, allied with the new minority and standardized men’s track as the bastion of the 1600m and the mile. Of course, neither the Concern or the Exarchate discriminated by gender, as men and women were drafted onto both sides depending on their preferences.
Of course, none of this was set in stone. On the ground, the battle between the Concern and the Exarchate was decided by individual coaches and individual meet directors. The only “governing” body was the Exarchate headquarters established by Eisenhower in 1955 in Evanston, Ill.
Famous Examples of the Exarchate/Concern Divide in History:
- Steve Prefontaine, a noted defender of the Mile and a card-carrying Exarchatian, was not drunk when he crashed his car, but actually sabotaged by The Concern.
- The Cuban Missile Crisis was not fought over nuclear weapons stationed in Communist Cuba, but Fidel Castro’s devotion to the metric mile. Back then, the United States government was heavily Exarchatian (as evidenced by Eisenhower), and they couldn’t let a nation so close to its border suffer the indignity of 1500 meters.
- Richard M. Nixon was not actually trying to spy on the Democrats (he was going to dominate the election against George McGovern regardless). He was trying to sabotage the Concern’s offices in the Watergate Hotel.
- The Olympic boycotts in the 1980s were entirely due to the rivalry between the Exarchate and the Concern.
- Lee Harvey Oswald’s mile PR was 5:06
Arnold Weber, despite his lack of track credentials, liked money very much, as we have established. When the Concern offered a huge bribe to remove the Northwestern Track team (and thus much of the Exarchate’s available human resources), Weber couldn’t say no. He had arches to build and tuitions to charge. Accepting a bribe that would also save Northwestern money in the long-term was a no-brainer.
Northwestern would bring back women’s cross-country in 1998. But of course, cross-country has no distinction between the mile, 1660m and 1500m, so the move was unopposed by either side. Up until recently, Northwestern didn’t even get funding for a track season. The long arm of the Concern, so to speak.
On a macro scale, detente between the Concern and the Exarchate began in 1987. Without a central headquarters, the fight became less winnable, and compromises were made. The two groups nearly dissolved into one, but the USATF, in their infinite wisdom, blocked the move fearing that someone would decide to not take money from Nike. All was quiet through the Clinton years. The United States invaded Afghanistan and Iraq (twice). Barack Obama was elected president. The global financial system nearly collapsed.
And then someone decided to bring back the Northwestern Track Club.
The Concern, mistakenly thinking that this was a restoration of Northwestern Track and the beginning of an Exarchate power move, could not let this occur, and immediately began to sabotage any attempts at restoring dominance. The Exarchate immediately reacted and restarted the long-dormant conflict. As of now, there are secret battles being waged around the world because our club exists. Good job everyone.
Part 3: Reginonals past and present (if you are still reading)
The cross-country course at Ames, Iowa is fully dedicated to cross-country meets. No golf courses are involved. The course, as per usual for the Midwest, looks mostly flat. The last time the NIRCA Great Plains Regional was hosted on this site was in 2012.
I have never been to this course and yet I’m already very impressed. There is a small section in a wooded area and you also pass by the track. I do take issue with Iowa State advertising itself as “one of the few colleges that has its own fully dedicated cross-country course”. Sure, that may be true for colleges (although I’m sure “few” is a vast overstatement), but plenty of random high schools have their own cross-country courses as well. Both the middle school and high school I attended had their own dedicated courses. Stop trying to say you’re special Iowa State, you’re not! It’s Iowa!
Today I realized all my recollections of Iowa State are deeply connected with Fred Hoiberg disappointing me in some way.
Anyhow, the NIRCA Regionals meet is usually a place for great cheer. People run in strange costumes and are generally not as serious as dour Division III runners. Also, everyone there is a club runner, which means that the competition is both better and worse at the same time. There will be a great deal of slower people, but also a great deal of faster people! If you can’t find someone to run your pace out of the field of around 200, than you probably should run with me because that means we’re both pace-deaf!
In previous years, the men’s team has finished 7th, Did Not Enter, 5th, 5th, 3rd and 5th. Judging by these results, we will probably finish 5th.
The women’s team has never fielded a scoring team. So, by default, the women’s team is now going to win, obviously.
Good luck. And watch out for odd occurrences and misfortunes, as well as help from completely random strangers.