The Big Ten Conference Administrators Council recently approved seven rule changes intended to reduce the risk of injury in the sport of men's and women's pole vaulting. The rule changes, which are effective immediately, are in addition to those adjustments already recommended by the NCAA Track and Field Committee to the NCAA Championships and Competition cabinet last June. Representatives of Pennsylvania State University worked closely with the Conference office in the development of these standards.
"In researching the important issue of pole vault safety, we saw the need for additional measures designed to protect our student-athletes as they seek to excel in the sport," said Big Ten Commissioner James E. Delany. "By adopting these new standards, along with the changes forwarded by the NCAA Track and Field Committee, we have helped to improve the safety of the pole vault facilities on Big Ten campuses. The welfare of our student-athletes is our primary concern and we believe that these new regulations will help prevent the kind of tragedies that can affect families, universities and communities across the country."
The NCAA Track and Field Committee proposed several rules changes to the Championships/Competition Cabinet on June 20. These adjustments include increasing the size of the pole-vault landing pad, extending the front portion of the pad to the same length as the back portion, requiring padding around standards and prohibiting the practice of "tapping" or assisting the competitor at takeoff.
"I feel the action taken is very admirable, Indiana head mens coach Marshall Goss said. Coaches and athletes do have to take precautions. Anytime you enforce education, that's nothing but a positive."
In addition to those proposed rules changes, the Big Ten will adopt the following changes:
1. The landing pad shall have an 8x10 target zone called the "preferred landing zone" sewn or painted with 2-4" wide stripes on the top pad. This rectangle shall begin 36" behind the zero line when the landing pad is set in its proper position. The purpose of the "preferred landing zone" is to offer coaches and vaulters a guide for safe, efficient landings.
2. Big Ten pole vaulting coaches and vaulters must attend an annual on-campus pole vault safety clinic. This session will be conducted via television satellite and administered by the Big Ten office. Coaches and vaulters must certify in writing that they attended this session to be eligible to coach or compete in this event.
3. Each Big Ten school that sponsors track and field will conduct an annual pole vaulting clinic for high school and junior high school track and field coaches. This does not apply for states that do not sponsor pole vaulting.
4. The home event management staff will designate a coaches area next to the pole vault event. This area should be marked in an appropriate way to designate this coaching area. The coaches area will permit one coach per institution to have access to vaulters for coaching activity.
5. All Big Ten student-athletes participating in the pole vault event will annually review and sign a document outlining the pros and cons of wearing a helmet for this activity.
6. The runway should be marked along its edges not to extend further than 3" from its sides in foot markings measured from the back of the planting box (back of the stop board) in the following manner: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100, 110, 120. These markings may be permanently painted or scribed to the sides of the runway. Furthermore, competitors should be encouraged to mark their stops and mid-marks along the sides of the runway (not to extend into the runway more than 3") with chalk or tape.
7. Prior to warm-up, the field referee, head field judge, event judge or assigned inspector of implements shall inspect the event venue (to include landing system and planting box). Upon determining the event venue does not meet the criteria set forth in the rules, the referee must declare the event will not be contested, awarding all points to the visiting school. If unsafe due to weather or environmental conditions, no points shall be awarded to either school.
Along with the seven rules changes listed above, Penn State has taken the lead in developing additional standards to improve the safety of pole vaulting. In conjunction with the American Society for Testing and Measurements (ASTM) and various equipment manufacturers, the University is seeking to establish limits on the maximum grips/hand holds and pole stiffness/body weight while also improving the planting box. In addition, Penn State engineers are working with various groups on the research, design and development of a helmet to be used specifically for pole vaulting.