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Wisconsin’s place in Men’s Indoor Track & Field

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How have the Badgers fared in conference and national indoor track meets?

2019 NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Indoor Track and Field Championship Photo by Steve Nowland/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Wisconsin Badgers have competed in 30 different varsity sports, winning 198 Big 10 Conference titles (good for 4th behind Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State) and 25 NCAA championships, good for 22nd. Let’s take a sport-by-sport look and see where the Badgers have had success in the conference, and if the Big 10 can be considered a major player on the national landscape. First up, men’s indoor track and field.

The first Big 10 Championship was held in 1911 at Northwestern’s campus, had six teams compete, and was won by Chicago. Instead of directly comparing that event to 2019, let’s break that timeline up into chunks to help digest what’s happened.

Big 10 Indoor Track and Field Summary, 1911-1963

Team Avg Place Years Competing Titles
Team Avg Place Years Competing Titles
Michigan 2.2 46 21
Illinois 2.87 53 16
Michigan State 4.23 13 0
Wisconsin 4.55 53 4
Indiana 4.71 41 4
Ohio State 4.83 46 4
Iowa 5.83 47 3
Chicago 5.83 36 3
Purdue 6.69 51 0
Northwestern 6.73 52 0
Minnesota 6.8 49 0

In these 53 years, Michigan and Illinois combined for 37 Big 10 Titles. Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio State tied for third with four. One of the very early patterns I noticed is that schools would dominate for long stretches, and this time frame had the Wolverines and Hoosiers switching dynasty runs. Neither fell off during the other’s runs, as their “average” finish in the contests were below a third place. If there is such a thing as track rivalries, it was between those two schools.

Dynasties of B1G Men’s Indoor Track

School Start End Titles
School Start End Titles
Indiana 1920 1928 5
Michigan 1931 1945 11
Indiana 1946 1954 6
Michigan 1955 1963 6
Wisconsin 1965 1971 6
Indiana 1973 1985 8
Illinois 1987 1989 3
Indiana 1990 1993 4
Wisconsin 1995 2008 11
Minnesota 2009 2011 3
Nebraska 2015 2019 3

Wisconsin has a dynasty starting in 1965! Does that mean we’re going to be at the top of the next chart?

Big 10 Indoor Track and Field Summary, 1964-1989

Team Avg Place Years Competing Titles
Team Avg Place Years Competing Titles
Wisconsin 2.85 26 7
Indiana 3.19 26 8
Michigan 3.23 26 4
Illinois 4.08 26 5
Michigan State 4.58 26 2
Purdue 6 26 0
Ohio State 6.85 26 0
Minnesota 7.23 26 0
Iowa 7.77 26 0
Northwestern 8.68 25 0

Absolutely! Wisconsin establishes themselves as a conference power during the 60’s, taking the Wolverines places as the Hoosiers main rival throughout that time frame.

Careful eyes may notices why I used 1989 as my end point. In addition to the Illini finishing a three-year title run, Northwestern dropped the sport entirely in 1988. In fact, the Wildcats do not currently compete in indoor or outdoor men’s or women’s track. That is bonkers to me.

Big 10 Indoor Track and Field Summary, 1990-2019

Team Avg Place Years Competing Titles
Team Avg Place Years Competing Titles
Nebraska 2.25 8 3
Wisconsin 2.79 29 13
Minnesota 3.83 29 4
Ohio State 4.66 29 2
Indiana 4.93 29 6
Illinois 5.17 29
Michigan 6.1 29 1
Penn State 6.44 27
Purdue 6.79 29
Iowa 7.48 29
Michigan State 8.72 29 1
Rutgers 10.8 5

Nebraska has entered the chat with authority. In their short time in the Big 10, they’ve already taken three titles and never finished below fourth. Wisconsin pulls off the most impressive conference title run since World War 2, winning 11 titles in 14 years. Minnesota finally gets to the top of the podium after 87 attempts.

Now that we have a sense of what’s happened in the history of Big 10 Indoor Track and Field, it’s power ranking time! I’ve grouped the schools into tiers and ranked them from worst to first. That means we’re starting with

Rutgers

How do you compare a team that’s only had five competitions to ones that have been around for over a century? You noticed they’ve never finished above ninth and have as many 12th place finishes as the rest of the conference. Rutgers gets its own tier of bad.

The Doormats

Purdue, Penn State and Northwestern have also never won the indoor conference title, but they have more history and have shown signs of life. Northwestern has a total of 31 ninth and 10th place finishes in 77 tries, so they’re next. Penn State’s run [Editor’s note: pun intended?] is slightly worse than Purdue overall, so this tier’s order is Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue.

The Spoilers

Ohio State, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan State and Chicago all have between three and six titles. Iowa looks to be the worst, as they have routinely finished at the bottom half more often than any other squad in this grouping. Chicago gets next, as they decided to drop the sport like their suburban neighbors, but at least had the decency to do it earlier and after winning. Minnesota has one more title than Michigan State, but that’s in an extra 36 years of competition and has more lower-spot finishes. That makes this tier Iowa, Chicago, Minnesota, Michigan State, Ohio State.

Nebraska

Cornhuskers, you’re still largely TBD, but you’ve started off strong. Three titles in limited action gets you your own tier. Sorry that you and Rutgers have your own tier, I don’t want to invite that comparison but there it is.

The Top Of The Charts

Indiana’s 17 titles are the least in this tier, making them fourth overall, and following that same logic Illinois 21 titles are next. Now, Michigan has 26 titles to the Badgers 24, but a full 21 of them were before 1963. What have you done for me lately? Not nearly as much as the Wisconsin Badgers. These authentic historical power rankings put the Wisconsin Badgers as the most impressive Big 10 Indoor Track and Field Team.

But, what does that mean nationally? Here’s how the Big 10 has fared in the NCAA’s competition, which started in 1965.

The Big 10 In The National Landscape

School Team Titles 2nd Places 3rd Places Individual Titles Appearances
School Team Titles 2nd Places 3rd Places Individual Titles Appearances
Nebraska 0 1 1 16 49
Michigan 0 0 0 13 44
Indiana 0 0 1 12 43
Wisconsin 1 0 3 16 42
Michigan State 0 1 0 5 40
Illinois 0 1 0 8 40
Ohio State 0 0 0 4 33
Penn State 0 0 0 3 32
Minnesota 0 0 0 4 31
Purdue 0 0 0 1 25
Iowa 0 0 0 1 23
Maryland 0 0 0 5 18
Rutgers 0 0 0 1 12
Northwestern 0 0 0 0 5
Conference Totals 1 3 5 89 437
Pretty awful!

One. Team. Title. Thankfully, it’s your favorite squad and mine. I don’t know how to feel about 89 individual championships, but given how there were 17 events held last year it’s roughly not great to bad.

Who are the dominate players on the landscape? Arkansas’s stretch between 1984 and 2006 resulted in 19 of their 20 NCAA titles in the sport. UTEP and Kansas also had long stretches with multiple titles. The most decade have Florida (five) and Oregon (four) going back-and-forth, with Texas A&M and Arkansas with second-place showings. Clearly, the SEC’s expansion has been planning around dominance in indoor track and field.

In summary, the Wisconsin Badgers are stellar at indoor track and field in the Big 10, but not much of a national power.