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Playing The Odds: Over / Under

Look, I know it's against NCAA rules for student-athletes to wager on sports, but haven't you always been curious to know what the odds and lines would be for certain races? Even just a little bit? Don't worry, I promise you won't get in trouble for reading this article.

Outside of the Olympics, track and field has virtually no presence in the gambling world (which may be both a pro and a con depending on how you look at it). But although you may not be able to find a bookie who can find a wager for your investment on a track meet, we've decided to conjure up a few "over/under" odds for a handful of fun (and strictly theoretical) bets...

5.5: Number of men BYU will send to Nationals in the 10k

How often would you say that the top four men in a regional 10k wouldn't make it to Nationals? Not often right? Well that shouldn't change just because BYU owns the top four spots in the country for this event.

If that stat alone wasn't impressive enough, they also have eight of the top 20 spots in the West Region for 10,000 meters. That's an awfully good number to have in your favor, especially when you consider the small number of bottom-half seeds who qualify for the national meet on an annual basis (but more on that later).

The top four seeds seem like a lock, and with eight men in the top 20, it seems extremely likely that a fifth would join. But what about a sixth national qualifier? It's not totally out of the question when you have three more men in the top 20 and a ninth man sitting at #38 in the region.

I initially posed this question to TSR's group chat, but instead, I put the number at 4.5 qualifiers. There was a relatively good split, but a majority of our writers went with the over. In retrospect, 4.5 national qualifiers may have been a tad low for the general public and I'm sure the men from Provo would debate that it's still too low.

Frankly, they would have a pretty good argument.

2.5: Number of women New Mexico will send to Nationals in the 5k

Yes, I know that they have the top three seeds in the West Region along with two others in the field (Martin and Prouse), but is anyone else somewhat, maybe, sorta concerned about all of the doubling that these women will be doing? At the West Regional Championships, Kelati and Kurgat will attempt the 10k/5k double while Cohen and Prouse will attempt the steeplechase/5k double. Emily Martin will only be running the 5k.

The 10k/5k double isn't a major concern for me. It's a very reasonable double that has been done multiple times before. But the steeplechase/5k double? That's a bit more tricky, especially when you consider that Prouse is ranked #35 in the region for 5000 meters.

You also have to consider the possibility of some athletes simply "jogging" the 5000 meters if they are already qualified in another event. Obviously, this goes against the "honest effort" rule which is designed to eliminate these kind of scenarios, but it is extremely difficult to police what someone's "honest effort" is, especially after they already completed a race.

I think most people will still take the over on this one, but setting this one to 3.5 qualifiers just seemed too high. Ideally, three qualifiers is the sweet spot, but I think it's a very real scenario that only two of these women get into the national meet.

11.5: Number of bottom-half seeds in both of the men's regions that will qualify for Nationals

Last year, 11 men who were seeded at #25 or worse in their respective region were able to qualify for Nationals. In other words, that's just a little over 9% of the 120 distance qualifiers. Obviously, it would be better to count these totals up from over the past few years, but if we're being honest with each other, I don't have that kind of time.

In theory, races like the 10k and 5k offer more room for a bottom-half seed to qualify for NCAA's. There is simply more time in these longer races for the athletes to react to certain moves that are being made. Additionally, many of these races often turn tactical, which allows lesser talents to benefit from their finishing speed.

Races like the 800 meters have little room for error, so if you're not running near 1:48 low or faster, then you're likely not getting into the Big Dance.

I'm not saying this is an exact science or even that the numbers totally support my theory. But it makes a lot of sense in my head and frankly, that's the only thing I'm worried about.

So when you're making your regional picks, think about how you want to hedge your selections. There's a good chance that at least one person in a distance race who is seeded at #25 or worse will make it to the national meet. Does that mean you go for broke and try to select the one person who could possibly surprise you? Or do you pick all 12 of your athletes from the top-half of the entries because it's the safer way to go?

I just have the numbers, I don't have the answer for you.

6.5: Number of bottom-half seeds in both of the women's regions that will qualify for Nationals

The number of bottom-half seeds in both of the women's regions last year was far lower than what we saw with the men. The total wasn't even six, it was four!

There's a very good chance my eyes deceived me and that I missed a name or two when counting these totals. Still, it's extremely clear that the top women relinquish far fewer national qualifying spots than the men do.

For the longest time, I have heard the very interesting argument that women don't utilize tactical racing as much as men do. Truthfully, I've bought into that idea a good bit, but this is the first statistical comparison I've come across that (might?) support the theory.

Even so, I can't buy into the idea that only four bottom-half seeds will make it to the national meet this weekend. The East Region 1500 is stacked with a ton of top-tier names while the West Region 10k and 5k holds a handful of strong talents.

Other Fun Prop Bets

3.5: Number of barriers / water pit falls we will see in either regional for the men or the women

I have absolutely no data to support the idea that 3.5 is the perfect "over/under" number for this hypothetical. Still, it will give us something fun to keep track of while we're watching the Regional Championships.

Straight Up: A #1 seed does not qualify for Nationals

I have no idea what this number was last year (it may have been zero), but I have always been a little cautious about the men's 1500. The tactical nature of those races is extremely unnerving. He wasn't the #1 seed, but Waleed Suliman ran 3:39 in the 1500 last year and was unable to make it to the national meet. Just something to keep in mind moving forward...

Straight Up: Indiana men earn a national qualifier in each distance event

Some may think that even one team accomplishing this is nearly impossible, but have you seen who the Indiana men are fielding? Mau is a heavy favorite to qualify in the 500 meters, Michalski is a heavy favorite to qualify in the steeplechase, and Williams is a heavy favorite to qualify in the 800. Even Ben Veatch looks to be a phenomenal choice to qualify in the 10,000 meters. The 1500 is a bit less clear, but the Hoosiers have three men ranked in the top 16 for the East Region (two are in the top 10). If any team is going to pull this off, it's the Hoosiers.


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