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NTN Selections 2006 - Some Thoughts

Bill Meylan (November 22, 2006)


This article is not about statistics or speed ratings ... It's not a complaint about current team selections ... It's about history! ... That's right, history ... and the relevance of history in selecting teams to compete in the Nike Team National Championships ... That's because "history repeats itself".

This article would be irrelevant if NTN had regional qualifying meets similar to Footlocker (yes, NTN and Footlocker in the same sentence) ... Head-to-head competition with the top teams advancing to nationals is the fairest method of selecting teams, but it does not exist ... Teams are selected to NTN by a small group of individuals using the "subjective judgment" method.

NTN has a short history ... It began in 2004, so it's history comprises only two years; but still, there are two years of history to observe and ponder ... I prefer to look at what actually happened and ignore speculations.

During the first two years of NTN and through the current team selections (32 of the 40 teams for 2006), the NTN Selection Committee has selected teams worthy of competing in the NTN race ... I can not fault any selection as being "unworthy" ... In this regard, the NTN committee has done an admirable job! ... Unfortunately, there are a number of "worthy" teams that did not get selected (and will not be selected) because there are limitations on the number of teams allowed to compete in NTN, and that's not the fault of the selection group.

The NTN Selection Committee has tried to increase the number of "at-large" selections, but Nike did not approve (and the number of total selections remains at 20 boys and 20 girls teams) ... This corporate confinement is about to butt heads with history and call into serious question their promotional labeling of "championship".

Originally, Nike Team Nationals was billed as an invitational race ... That's the correct label because teams are subjectively invited to compete ... But even in the first year, the "invitational" label began morphing into "Championship" because effectively, that's what the race has become in the minds of most fans ... So now Nike openly bills NTN as Championship (see the Nike's NTN web-site) ... and there's nothing wrong with that if the teams invited are chosen with a championship point-of-view consideration ... And by that I mean this - If you are subjectively inviting teams to a championship meet, you should invite teams that have already proven their championship status ... Excluding teams that have already proven their championship-caliber abilities greatly diminishes the meet in historical context.

NTN Champion teams do not need to prove they can win NTN ... They have already proven it ... Only four teams in the nation can lay claim to that proof - the York boys, the Saratoga boys, the Hilton girls and the Saratoga girls ... And if we extend the NTN "championship-caliber abilities" to teams who finished in the top three, once again we see the York boys and the Saratoga girls ... now add in the Fayetteville-Manlius boys who finished second and third in the first two years ... Do we see history repeating itself?? ... Just consider all the great teams that competed in the first two NTN races - and they did not raise themselves to the status of the teams listed above.

Should the results of last year's NTN have a bearing on the invitations for this year's NTN?? ... Absolutely! ... History has a way of repeating itself even in sports ... If NTN is subjectively inviting every team with a chance to win, then NTN should invite teams that have already proven they can win and have even the slightest prospect of winning again this year.

Last year, only two girls' team finished first and second at NTN (nobody else in the nation was good enough) - those teams were Hilton & Saratoga ... Hilton has been at or near the top of the Northeast rankings all year ... four of their top five runners from last year are running again this year ... their performances this year have been good  as reflected by their ranking ... Based on their prior performance at NTN, anybody who thinks Hilton doesn't have have a chance to win is deluding themselves ... denying the other teams at NTN the opportunity to race against a worthy defending champion is to diminish the achievement of becoming national champion.

The Saratoga girls are the definition of excellence in performance in high school cross country ... Their program is the envy of many throughout the nation ... I'm not going to waste time listing their accomplishments because they are well known ... Only one team in the nation was good enough to finish first or second in both years of NTN (Saratoga) ... the Saratoga girls and the term champion can be used interchangeably ... History has shown that Saratoga can win NTN (or come very close to winning as they did last year) ... And to repeat myself, "How many other teams have proven this ability??" or conversely, "How many teams have come and failed to achieve what Saratoga has (and let's include teams already invited in 2006)" ... And if that's not a consideration for subjective invitation, then something is very wrong!

I heard it on multiple occasions at NY Federations - "Hilton and Saratoga are not as good as they were last year" ... My response was "So What ... There was a reason they finished one-two last year ... they were better than everybody else ... they do not need to be as good this year to have a chance to win." ... Both teams have shown this year they can be competitive with anybody ... and simply being competitive is all that's required for a proven "champion" to win ... History has proven that ... Subjective judgment can only guess at what a team will do at NTN (especially under under the wet, muddy, cold conditions) ... History shows us ... I find it hard to fathom anybody believing with absolute faith that Saratoga has no chance to win NTN, but that's what the experts keep telling me ... History tells me something very different.

I hope "subjective judgment" isn't morphing into "you're only as good as your last race".

For the first time in NTN history, it seems likely that a team with chance to win will not be invited ... I can not blame the NTN Selection Committee because they are handcuffed by the number limitations imposed by Nike ... There are more worthy teams than most people realize.

Even after the first NTN race, I thought the top three finishing teams should receive special invitations the following year as long as they proved themselves worthy (such as being ranked regionally) ... these invitations would be in addition to the twenty regular invitations ... It could be a nice incentive to compete well at NTN ... Imagine the York boys getting a special invitation which allows another Illinois team to come to NTN (I would find that interesting).

But extra invitations mean additional cost ... but since NTN is morphing back to "invitational", it doesn't really matter.