It really is about time that the authorities, who are involved in the Nike Team Nationals, do something a bit differently.   Let us start with the simple recognition of the fact that cross country, probably more than any other sport, needs to have head to head competition to evaluate the relative merits of individual runners as well as teams.     Even assuming the accuracy of a 5K distance, courses can very so much due to terrain & altitude, not to mention weather, that times can be rather moot.    Saying that two courses have hills means little even, if one had to ascend the same altitude, for how steep the gradient is can make a big change.   For example a hill with a long gentle up-grade can have a beneficial effect upon time, if the downhill portion is shorter & steeper.    Like track just the number & the quality of competitors makes times less dependable.    It is unfair to expect anyone, no matter how knowledgeable & well-meaning, to evaluate the merits of a team.    It is therefore imperative that the runners be allowed to have some control over their fate.

      Rankings have been around for a good deal of time.   Prior to last year that was points of conjecture, which could arouse interest & discussion.    But in the end the Harrier type of rankings meant little because they had no real impact.   With the creation of the Team Nationals ranking has taken on a completely different meaning & importance.   As it stands now   the rankings made by individuals, who may not have seen many of those teams being evaluated, determine who has a chance to run for a national title.    This is categorically unfair even with the assumption of a lack of bias.

          To that point let me suggest that the Foot Locker regionals, which have been used for many years to be the individual qualifiers to the National Meet in San Diego, also act as a team qualifier for Nike.   In this day and age it would be quite easy to run both races & separate the results, but, when all is said & done, it would be fairer.   Overall, how many coaches would not opt for a competition between aspirants, as opposed to allowing any group, however well intended, to select the entrants?    The decision would be easy.  

        Let some group invite teams according to whatever rankings, but let all coaches have the option to throw their hats into the ring.   Just, there are no pre-anointed slots slots for our Olympic track team or Cross Country team for World, the option to compete will be there for anyone.    It is after all the American way!   You have to prove your worthiness. 

       I realize that some adherents for a selection committee will argue about affordability but with four regionals the cost will not be all that exorbitant.   Individuals after all have been doing the same thing for years.    As a former coach I am only too well aware that some schools are cheap and under-budgeted or simply geared to football.   Such is life but let?s not punish kids for refusing to allow open competition.   Personally, when I had individuals capable of national competition, I made sure they had a chance to compete & it is assumed many current coaches will do the same today.  

      In making such a decision we ought to look at the selection committee itself.   How is it that this group has such an inordinate say in determining the fate of runners who have logged hundreds of miles & put in thousands of hours?   Let us take for example the fate of the girls from Gig Harbor, WA.  Last year.    They were an outstanding team that had a very solid front-runner and also had great depth.   In the State championship they tied with Bellarmine?s, only to lose on the 6th runner tie-breaker displacement.    This was the same Bellarmine?s team that won the Jim Danner meet but was ranked behind a team that it defeated handily.  Due to the rankings Bellarmine had to   get in by an at-large bid which came only after other teams declined to go to the meet.   Bellarmine?s, of course, placed fourth in the National meet while the team ranked ahead of it in the West placed 16th.     Why Gig Harbor was not included especially when the wild-card option was still available.   Nike will have to answer for that but last year I E-Mailed in their behalf & later spoke in person with some who had the decision-making power.    Gig Harbor would have beaten the team chosen ahead of it in a dual meet, small invitational or large invitational.     In my mind the lowest that they would have placed was tenth in the nation.   Yet they were forced to stay home.

       Now we have yet another year & are the rankings any better?    Hardly:  one boy?s team does not even make the first page of results in an invitational yet they are ranked one of the top ten.   West Valley of Fairbanks, Alaska came to town recently to win the Adidas meet handily.   In spite of that, when the regional editor for Dyestat, the rankings that followed on Monday had West Valley way down on the list & ranked behind teams that they just defeated.   The rankings are a farce.  

       Then again how many teams that are being ranked by individuals have actually been seen by them?    In some case the answer is not at all.     I?ve seen 8 of the top 10 teams and there are still areas of debate for me but I still have seen   numerous teams go head - to -head more than once.   In   my rankings that have been with the aid of others all of the teams have been witnessed by someone involved in the rankings.    Still it is not really right to evaluate those who might contend for a championship.    The runners are owed an open shot at it.  

       Let us get everyone together in one race - no excuses either - show & do it or shut up.   Let the kids, who have put almost all of the effort in cross country have their say.    If Shakespeare were writing today, he?d still probably say    ?kill the lawyers? but he?d probably add   ?kill the rankers.?   Let?s have a real national championship & not one selected by a chosen few.     Combining the meets would also cancel out the inherent advantage that California has always had.   Cal runners go to state, regional &, if good enough, to nationals.     Most runners have their state meet the first week of  October, wait 3 weeks for the regional & then two more weeks  for nationals.    Anyone knowledgeable with the dynamics of peaking knows the problem so enough   should have been said.   Have all the regional meets on the same day and you have greater equity already. 

      It should also be added that by combining the two qualifying meets you eliminate the problem faced by a talented individual.   Last year Zoe Nelson of Flathead had that question until her team turned down the offer.   (More can be added on this topic but I?ll refrain).    This year there is a fear that Kenny Klotz of Central Catholic of Portland will be faced with the decision.    Should he support his team & go to the Nike team meet or opt for the Footlocker individual meet?    Recall that just 2 runners per region will qualify for San Diego, while their are eight positions available at the Mt.  SAC Footlocker qualifier.    I realize that some will say that the team is everything but then XC is a very individual sport.     Also please note there is a long history for   Footlocker and by going there one can compare   himself in a way to Bob Kennedy, Todd Williams, Marc Davis, Adam Goucher or the recent Ritz.   For the  girls there  can be comparisons with greats such as  Melody Fairchild,  Suzy Favor, Deena Drossin (Kastor), Jen Rhines, Sarah Scwald, Julia Stamps & Carrie Tollefson to name a few.    For those still yawning team let me ask what ought to be obvious:    should a youngster cost himself   crucial scholarship money, which is on the line?   Given a choice would you like an all-expenses paid tour to Portland or San Diego?   Yea, it?s a toughie!

       I am well aware that complaints have been made by coaches but little has happened, so let us be open about this process.   In short, however, the essence of cross country is head - to - head competition.    At the very least we should lessen the impact decision - makers, i. e. rankers, and let the kids have their say.   After all they are what the sport is supposed to be all about.