Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Opinion: Improving State Meet Qualifying

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:

1AA Champion
2AA Champion
3AA Champion
4AA Champion
5AA Champion
6AA Champion
7AA Champion
8AA Champion

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!


Bill E. said...

I like the idea, I really do, but I'd modify it such that _no_ section gets more than 4 and that each section gets at least 2. Essentially you're talking two wilcard teams, but maybe 3 that could get there.

But really, how many wildcard teams have a real shot at "winning" the state meet? Seriously? Placing is not winning, and for outstate programs, the state meet is an honor.

Bill Miles said...

The State High School League has shown resistance to adding teams based on merit. They fear that other sports will demand additional qualifiers.

Further, they were skeptical of a system based on only the previous year. I am certain the athletes from Section 1AA would agree with that assessment this year.

Finally, I fear that a number of coaches were relieved that they did not have to face Edina's or Roseville's boys teams or Woodbury or Wayzata's girls teams this year.

I agree that something should be done in the interest of fairness to the kids and have been advocating that since 1978 when as President of the State XC Coaches' Association I presented a plan that would have have expanded the field to 20 teams. Just about every two year cycle since then the Coaches'Association has made a push for additional team or individual qualifiers. A dramatic gain was accomplished when the Individual qualifiers was expanded to seven and then ten under the leadership of Ross Fleming and others. However, we have been told that we are lucky to have two qualifiers and have made no additional gains in team entries.

Good luck in your efforts to do something about this.

Charlie said...

Not that this would necessarily be the yardstick that the powers that be would use, but how many teams run at State Meets in other states?

Is 16 per class high or low?

Is 32 per gender high or low? That is, comparing Minnesota to states with a different number of enrollment classes.

I would think adding teams to the meet would be a bigger hurdle than changing how teams are chosen ... although if an addition would ever come, it could also be the magic moment to change the system.

Charlie said...

In constructive response to Bill E's ideas ...

(1) I could see where a cap at 4 teams/Section could work to keep a top-10 team home, which I don't like. Still, if that's the compromise needed to improve the system, I'd likely make it.

(2) I don't see why the 2nd place team in a Section deserves a spot on the State starting line any more than any other Section non-winners. Me, I think those "non-champion" slots are what should move to where the quality is.

(3) I don't think it's just about putting potential winners in the meet. I think you want all of the top-10 teams on the line, if possible, which means, I think, all of the teams that could "trophy" at State.

Laura said...

I agree with bill e. that the state meet should be something special and that adding more teams would take away from this. I also think that you would be creating as much of a problem with qualified teams not making the meet as you have right now. Weak sections one year could have multiple good teams the next year. No one would have been able to predict last year that Burnsville ladies would win the championship this year no matter what section they were in. I guess what I'm saying is if there are certain teams that everyone thinks deserve to be at the state meet but didn't make it because of their section, why not just make all the so carded "bonus spots", wild cards. I think that there is a reason NCAA DIII changed the format of qualifying, the current system is debatable for the bubble teams but the teams in the running for a championship all get to go.

Charlie said...

Thanks for commenting, Laura. Here's my two cents ...

(1) I believe D3 changed their system because the NCAA banned -- across all sports -- using previous-year's results to determine qualifiers. D3 used that system for about 15 years prior to that, and I think their coaches were largely happy with it.

(2) I understand your concerns about "power shifts" from one year to another, though. There may indeed be more of that in HS than D3, too.

The current system is completely blind to that, of course. My suggestion would, I think, help in that area, but wouldn't be perfect. Perhaps a "top-6 and 2 panel-selected wild cards" would be the finest-tuned way to get the right teams in the meet.

(3) I don't think the suggested system would have kept the Burnsville girls out of the meet, if it would have been in effect this year. Their move from 6AA to 3AA muddies the picture a bit, but 6AA would have gotten 3 teams in 2007 based on 'Tonka and EP going 2-3 last year at State. 3AA would have had 2 team based on Prior Lake's 5th place finish in 2006.

I can think of a team like Burnsville 2007 not making it in with the current system, though: Wayzata boys 2006.

Laura said...

By "current system" I was referring to the DIII on in which top two get automatic and up to next three can get wild cards. I'm in total agreement that the current section system in high school is not working. Having wild cards would put more importance on teams that are competing that year rather than the year before.

Laura said...

By "current system" I was referring to the DIII on in which top two get automatic and up to next three can get wild cards. I'm in total agreement that the current section system in high school is not working. Having wild cards would put more importance on teams that are competing that year rather than the year before.

Charlie said...

Sorry to misunderstand your point, Laura ...

I guess I favored the "based-on-last-year-system" because it was objective. The skeptic in me tends to worry about a "selected-by-committee" plan -- politics, bias, etc. D1, I know, puts a lot of stipulations on its "wild card" selection committee to avoid such things.

I would support either system -- or a combination -- over the current MSHSL system.

Jim from MN said...

Does anyone from the MSHSL listen to anyone about anything? This is the same group who ammounced loud and clear several times during the state CC meet that no jewelry would be tolerated.