Terre Haute and Indiana State University have had four NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships to convince the collegiate cross country cognoscenti that the Wabash Valley was the place where the tournament could lay down roots.

Its turned out to be an easy sell.

ISU announced Wednesday that the NCAA Championships will continue at the LaVern Gibson Course in eastern Vigo County in 2008. The 2007 meet was the last one ISU was guaranteed to host and conventional wisdom was that the NCAA would take a break from Terre Haute in 2008 and move the meet elsewhere.

But according to ISU men’s cross country coach John McNichols — who along with women’s coach John Gartland, the Terre Haute Visitor and Convention Bureau, and the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center — has been spearheading ISU’s effort since the meet first visited in 2002, the tournament has been such as success that many coaches took the if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it approach as far as the tournament site.

“I’ve been hearing rumors ever since the [December 2006] coaches’ convention that we’d get it back. The fact is a lot of places are reluctant to put bids in. I think the decision came down to this for coaches and the [NCAA] committee, why would we not put our national championship in the best possible facility? That in itself spoke well for our future,” McNichols said.

McNichols said the only other schools he was aware of that bought in bids were Indiana and Missouri State.

There was a desire on the part of the committee to possibly move it to the west coast (where many NCAA powers are), but no school bidded for it.

McNichols — who wasn’t sure how to officially characterize his long-time role as ISU’s impresario for the meet, calling himself an “advisor” — cited ISU administrative and community support for the success of the meet. He also noted that facility enhancements uncommon for a cross country course — such as extensive fencing, restroom facilities and a press box — made the Gibson Course attractive to the NCAA.

But it really comes down to the course itself.

“It’s a very fair race course. We designed it to have the long straightaway on purpose,” said McNichols, who was one of the course designers. “Many courses only have a quarter of a mile before the turn, which is impossible given the amount of competitors. I’ve witnessed runners at other sites running into tress, going into ditches, things that make the courses unfair.

“Our straightaway is 1,000 meters and the field has time to thin out before first turn. There’s no other facility like that.”

ISU’s stranglehold on the meet isn’t unprecedented, but its been 43 years since a school hosted it as often as ISU has. From 1938-1964, Michigan State hosted the meet, but from 1965-2001, the meet had a vagabond existence as 21 different schools hosted — none for more than two consecutive years. Indiana hosted the meet four times in that period, more than any other school.

McNichols admitted that the thought of the NCAA making a permanent championship home at Gibson Course has crossed his mind. And he’s not the only one.

“A number of coaches express that to me when we talk about it. Maybe over half the coaches think that way,” McNichols said. “On the other hand, there’s a respect for places that want to host the meet, the feeling being that if they want to do it, we ought to give them a chance.

“But for right now, there’s nothing that rivals it. Until someone can, why not just have it here? We’re going to host it until other sites prove they can put on a meet like we do.”

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