I’ve groused about the MSHSL's State Cross Country Championship qualifying format for awhile now. (To catch up, click THIS, from last fall, and THIS, from last spring.) But now, I’m going to do something about it!
No, nothing rash, I’m simply going to offer a constructive plan for a better way to select teams for the State Meet.
My beef boils down to this: the current two-teams-from-each-Section format is too quality-blind. Too many good teams – potential trophy-wining and top-10 finishing teams – have been left off the State Meet starting line in the past with the current system. I’d like to find an objective way to put all of the best teams on the starting line at State.
So here’s my constructive advice for the MSHSL …
(1) Continue to divide the State into eight Sections.
(2) Award each Section Champion an “automatic” berth in the State Meet to its winner.
(3) Have each team that finishes in the top-8 at the previous year’s State Meet, earn their Section an additional, "bonus," team at State.
The Proposal would place the eight Section Champions in the State Meet every year. Sectional competition has been an important element of State-qualifying, across the MSHSL spectrum of sports, and it should be continued.
The proposal would reward strong Sections with additional teams based an objective measure – the previous year’s State Meet performance. If the system looks familiar, that’s because it’s similar to the way NCAA Division III selected teams for its national championship until recently.
If we put the proposal into practice beginning with this year’s State Meet results, here’s what, for example, the 2008 Class AA Boys State Meet starting line would look like:
6AA Runner-up … earned by Wayzata’s 1st place finish
3AA Runner-up … earned by Rosemounts’ 2nd place finish
8AA Runner-up … earned by Brainerd’s 3rd place finish
4AA Runner-up … earned by Stillwater’s 4th place finish
3AA 3rd placer … earned by Eastview’s 5th place finish
2AA Runner-up … earned by Willmar’s 6th place finish
8AA 3rd place team … earned by Moorhead’s 7th place finish
6AA 3rd place finisher … earned by Eden Prairie’s 8th place finish.
Put another way … 3AA, 6AA, and 8AA would get three teams at State next year; 2AA and 4AA gets two teams, 1AA, 5AA, and 7AA get only their Section champs to State in 2008.
At the 2008 State meet, all the teams on the starting line could earn their Section bonus teams for the 2009 meet. So, for example, if the order of finish at State for the top-8 went …
… then, in that scenario, 6AA would get four teams at the 2009 meet (their automatic team and three top-8 bonus teams) 8AA would get three teams (1 auto & 2 bonus), 1AA, 2AA, and 3AA would get two teams (1 & 1) and 4AA, 5AA, 7AA would each get their single automatic team.
The system assumes that the quality of a Section will endure across seasons, as one season’s results affect the next season’s qualifying teams. The system will respond to changes in the competitive landscape -- a Section with, say, four teams in the meet in one year could have only one the next.
While a Section could never have less than one team at State, a single Section could conceivably (if improbably) have nine teams at State, if they continued to earn more and more bonus teams each season with top-8 performances at State and earned all eight bonus teams.
The proposal could be tweaked or augmented in the following ways …
(1) You could cap the total number of teams a Section could earn.
(2) You could add teams to the starting line beyond the current 16, to allow more bonus teams or to allow two automatic teams per Section plus bonus teams. (A 24 team meet, for example, could put all the Section champions on the starting line, plus 16 bonus teams selected by top-16 finishes at State.)
(3) You could, in the 16-team format, offer bonus teams to only the top-6 teams from the previous year and leave two “wild card” teams to be chosen by a coaches’ panel based on results from the season in question.
I think almost any of these variations would make a better system than the one we have now.
My bottom line is that I’d like to see the best teams race at State year-in and year-out. I think the format above would allow that in a fair, objective way. It’s not a perfect plan – a top team could still fall through the cracks of the system – but it would be an improvement over what’s in place now.
Let us know what you think, by commenting below. Do you have your own plan? Let us know about that. Let DtB be a marketplace for cross country ideas!