WILLIAMSTOWN, MA – On January 16 the Williams College men's and women's indoor track & field teams will board buses and head to Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut to compete in an intercollegiate track meet that is scored differently than most intercollegiate championship track meets.
A frequent refrain heard in the world of sports is that of coaches and athletes asking for a level playing field, but how about a playing field that is structured to make a track meet more competitive by limiting the depth of the top team in the meet?
In most intercollegiate championship track meets the first eight places are scored: 10, 8, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1. At the Little Three track meet each of the three teams is limited to having just two scorers per event.
So, even if Williams, Amherst, or Wesleyan went 1, 2, and 3 in the 400m that team would only get credit for first and second place. The next highest finisher between the other two teams would get third place points, the next fourth place, then 5th, and 6 th. As long as each team enters two competitors in an event and both competitors finish that team is assured of getting points for 5th and 6th place.
The scoring system for the Little Three track meet is NCAA approved and it is certainly one of the more unusual scoring systems on the collegiate landscape. Points are awarded as follows:
Individual - - - Events Relays
1st = 7 points -- 1st = 7 points
2nd = 5 points -- 2nd = 5 points
3rd = 4 points -- 3rd = 4 points
4th = 3 points
5th = 2 points
6th = 1 points
The first meeting of the Williams, Amherst, and Wesleyan men occurred on June 3, 1989 in Amherst, where Williams won with 66 points; Amherst was second with 37 and Wesleyan scored 33 points.
Most of the early years of Little Three track & field the Ephs would compete in an outdoor dual meet with Wesleyan one weekend and Amherst the next weekend to determine the Little Three championship.
In the 1970's when all three schools went co-ed the Little Three competition became a one-day tri-meet for both genders held at one of the three schools. By 1978 when the women's Little Three meet began the adjusted scoring system was in place.
Sometimes a team other than Williams will enter an athlete in an event just to secure 5th or 6th place even though that athlete has not competed in that event prior to the day of the Little Three meet. That late entrant only has to compete the event to score points.
Longtime Eph track & field head coach and now assistant coach Dick Farley stated, "I've seen distance runners walk up and put the shot three feet just to get points. This scoring system that was suggested by Wesleyan and supported by Amherst in the 70's would be like giving a top international sprinter a five-yard head start in a race with Usain Bolt."
Farley still shakes his head over the 1995 Little Three track meet where the Eph men had three All-Americans (top eight finishers in the 1995 NCAA championship meet) in the hammer throw and yet only two of the three could score at the 1995 Little Three meet.
Pete Farwell '73, an Eph assistant track & field coach and a former head track coach of the Ephs notes, "This scoring system helps smaller teams stay competitive with the team with a larger roster and the more talented team. While it was a significant change when made, it has proven suitable for the Little Three. Amherst and Wesleyan have often jousted to pull in an extra point or two to conquer each other for second, and they do hope to make use of their star athletes to get some big points and eventually win back the Little Three title."
It took the Williams women nine years to claim their first Little Three title as Wesleyan won six crowns and Amherst two. The Williams women captured the 1986 Little Three title and since then the Ephs are the proud owners of a 30-meet win streak. Sometimes a Williams' men's or women's team score has exceeded the combined score of both Amherst and Wesleyan.
With the short outdoor season and schools having different spring breaks it is now more efficient to have the Little Three meet held indoors, but that does change the event with the elimination of seven events that are contested outdoor, but not indoor.
The seven events that are not held indoor include: Javelin, Discus, Steeplechase, 5K, 400m Hurdles, 4x100m Relay and the 10K.
Last January at Wesleyan in the first women's indoor Little Three track and field competition the Ephs downed host Wesleyan by just one point, 132.5 to 131.5 and Amherst finished third with 86 points, extending the Eph win streak to 30.
All-Time Little Three women's track & field titles won:
Williams – 30
Amherst – 2
The 2015 Men's Little Three Championship track meet was also the first indoor Little Three meet held and it was hosted by Wesleyan University in conjunction with the women's meet.
The Williams men emerged victorious for the 27th consecutive year with 150 points. Amherst was second (110) and Wesleyan finished third with 73 points.
Little Three men's track titles won since 1971:
Williams – 37
Amherst – 7
Wesleyan – 1
Current Williams' women's head track and field coach Nate Hoey who arrived from Washington and Lee University three years ago was little caught off guard when he learned of the Little Three's scoring system. "When I first heard of the scoring system, I was intrigued," said Hoey. "It is the framework we have to work within and we will do our very best to put the team in a position to be successful within that framework. The team understands the tradition of this fun meet. It's a great connection for the current team members to those who have come before them."
Hoey has continued the Eph women's impressive win streak with two wins in his first two Little Three experiences, but last winter was the narrowest win in Little Three history. "Last year, Wesleyan had a very good team...we knew going in, it would be a competitive meet," noted Hoey. "Wesleyan ended up finishing third at the Division III New England Championships behind MIT (1st) and Williams in second place.
"Early in the 2015 Little Three meet we faced some adversity and Wesleyan got out to a great start and was actually leading for most of the meet," Hoey recalls. "During the last few events, we charged back to close the gap. The meet came down to the last event of the day (the 4x400 relay). We knew going into that event, whichever team won the relay would win the entire meet. It was a fun and exciting day, which came down to the wire."
This January first year Eph head coach of men's track and field Ethan Barron will have his first experience with the Little Three meet. "I'm very excited to be a part of a tradition like the Little 3," Barron stated. "It's definitely a unique meet. I've been following the meet through my time at Tufts and Middlebury. Personally, I like the scoring system. We are involved in athletics because we love competing. And nothing is better than a tight track meet that comes down to the relays at the end. The scoring at Little 3s attempts to give every team the best opportunity to compete and keep it exciting until the end."
Barron is well aware that he is inheriting a 27-meet win streak. "Admittedly, I'm not overly focused on the streak," Barron said. "Right now we're working to make Williams track and field as strong as possible and to come together as a team. If we work hard and have fun doing it, all our other goals will come to us."
With the exceptional success the Ephs have maintained over the last three decades it may be time to re-assess the scoring system for the Little Three track and field championship.
Or maybe on January 16 on the campus of Wesleyan University, Amherst or Wesleyan will end one or both of the long-running Williams' track & field Little Three win streak(s) and the current scoring system will remain.