For many years, the NCAA men's outdoor track and field title was virtually the exclusive property of West Coast schools. From 1949 to 1973, only Kansas (twice) and Villanova (once) interrupted a stream of Far Western champions.
Just as the Pacific-10 has slid downhill in basketball, however, so it has found rough sledding on the track. Of the last seven NCAA titles, six have gone to the Southwest, with Oregon in 1984 the lone upholder of Western tradition.
The 65th championships, opening here Wednesday, promise more of the same. Only Washington State figures to present a challenge to the powerful Southwest Conference trio of defending champion Arkansas, Southern Methodist and Texas.
For further evidence of how the strength in the sport is shifting sections, Texas is the favorite in the women's division, won by West Coast teams in three of the four years it has been contested.
Only two Eastern schools, Navy in 1945 and Villanova in 1957, ever have won NCAA track titles and this year the East appears to be No. 1 only in injuries.
Hit especially hard is George Mason, with two-time decathlon champion Rob Muzzio rendered inactive by a torn calf muscle; Abdi Bile, who won the 1,500 last year, forced out by a recurring hamstring problem, and promising decathlete Keith Young also idled by a hamstring.
Ray Humphrey of Georgetown, runner-up to Mike Conley in the long jump last year, tore ligaments in his right knee during the indoor NCAA meet. An Achilles' tendon problem has knocked out Hoya runner Miles Irish.
The Washington-area athletes with the best credentials who will be in action are Maryland hurdler William Skinner, George Mason 800 runner Ibrahim Okash and Howard long jumper Brenda Bailey. Skinner, a converted high jumper, set a meet record of 13.53 seconds in the IC4A 110-meter hurdles.
Okash, a sophomore from Somalia, was fifth in the 800 last year and, of the four who beat him, only Freddie Williams of Abilene Christian is back.
Bailey placed sixth in the women's long jump in 1985, less than an inch away from 21 feet. Also competing for the Bison women are long jumper Teresa Allen, 400 runners Janice Kelly and Tisa Robinson and the 4x400 relay team of Connie Hitchcock, Kelly, Robinson and Cindy Ford. Howard's men are represented by the 4x400 quartet of Neil Madison, Anton Skerritt, Donald Battle and Curtis Chappell.
Navy's lone entry is Michael Greene, the Heptagonal 400 champion in 46.16. Georgetown also is down to one, Patrick Mann in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles.
Besides Okash, George Mason has sent high hurdler Harold Morton, triple jumper Nena Gage and Terri Dendy, who will attempt a difficult 200-400 double. Steeplechaser Dan Foley will join Skinner to form a two-man Maryland team.