With regionals officially in the books, I've allowed myself to drift casually into track season and jumped on ptfca.org for the latest scoop on indoor state qualifying.
See the official qualifying info here: http://www.ptfca.org/state-indoor-track-field-championships/
For the majority of my blogging experience, indoor state qualifying has been fairly straightforward. The PTFCA created a list of qualifying standards: if you hit the standard you were in, if not you were out. There were exceptions under certain circumstances (occasionally officials needed to fill a field by taking top times outside the standard) but for the most part things were pretty black and white.
Last year, based on what I've heard, the higher powers said the meet had to be shortened (and moved to Sunday to add insult to injury) and so the PTFCA instituted field sizes rather than qualifying times. So instead of needing to run 4:32.54 to get into the state meet, you need to run a time that places you in the top 20 of individuals entered in the mile. I don't particularly mind this system, although it does really complicate a coach's training plan as it's never going to be obvious what the cut off will be until after the entry lists. There are qualifying "guidelines" which are essentially the old time cut offs, but these are meaningless honestly. It confused coaches last year as well: I can basically guarantee you that some runners were not entered in the state meet because coaches thought their athletes had no shot based on their time compared to the guidelines. As a result, some athletes who would have otherwise qualified, were left sitting at home.
(Small humble brag here, I kept a running list of all the times run over the course of the season and the projected scratches and cut offs and plan to do the same for 2016. I think it ended up being a big help and I did a decent job predicting who would run where and what the state qualifying picture would look like. So yeah, follow along)
In 2016, it looks like the same powers are determined to keep the meet short so they will be using the same qualifying system of spots not times used in 2015. If my explanation on qualifying doesn't make much sense, feel free to comment or email with questions. You're probably not the only one.
Last year, I think this system actually expanded the 800m field with little to no change in the 3k and mile fields when compared to the time cut offs. The DMR field was similar as well, but the 4x8 field got screwed. The 4x8 qualifying guidelines are soft. Not really sure how else to say it. Those guidelines are made for a two heat final, not a one heat final like the 12 team cut off says. If you look at the teams that just missed making it to states in the 4x8 last year, they were really good and outdoors they crushed it to back up just how good they were. If you look back at my posts from that time last year, I was really angry about the way things played out for the 4x8 and the quality left home.
But this year, it looks like things are about to get even worse for distance relays. You see, there are two distance relays at indoor states: the DMR and the 4x8. It's really cool because outdoors we don't get any DMR at states and I'm always in favor of a little extra distance love. Plus the DM is probably my favorite event in track and field. Indoor states used to be set up with all the relays at the end of the meet, putting the 4x8 and DMR basically next to each other. As a result, teams were only permitted to enter one event, the DM or the 4x8 rather than both, because otherwise you would have a lot of teams running either super tired relays of "B" squads that didn't truly represent the best talent.
It was a bummer that we had to split the best distance schools into two different relays, but I also kinda liked the set up. It was fun to speculate about who would choose what event and to see what relay was most important to each team and things like that. Plus, most importantly, it gave more schools a chance to compete at states and get a really cool experience at PSU.
This year, the PTFCA has decided to change the order of the meet, putting the 4x8 as the first event and keeping the DMR in 2nd to last. Now that the events are spread out, teams are allowed to enter both the 4x8 and the DMR at states. And I'd imagine we will see a lot of teams take advantage.
Before I go off on a rant, I will highlight some of the positives. For starters, we will no longer be diluting the top talent in the relays as teams will not have to choose which race to compete in, but instead can load both relays and chase championships. It's also huge for any distance driven team that is trying to win a state title as a team. The meet was definitely slanted towards sprint powerhouses before, but with an extra distance relay, things are a bit more fair.
But despite these positives, I hate this decision by the PTFCA. I know others will disagree, and I'd love to hear their arguments on this one, but I think the negatives here clearly outweigh the positives.
For starters, this rule means less kids will be competing at indoor states this year and, for the second straight year, the distance runners are taking the complete brunt of the move. Let's be honest, there will be teams good enough to qualify in both the 4x8 and the DMR and (as far as I can tell) there are no rules that say you have to run the same team that qualified at states. Therefore, any smart coach who is looking out for his team will run an all out 4x8 and DMR during the season, enter both at states and then decide to either run their A team in both relays or run a B team in one (or maybe both) relays. So one team now takes two spots from the already limited relay fields and in some cases it is to let their JV team compete.
And I wouldn't get mad at any team who exploited those rules. If I was the coach at say DT West, I'd run the fastest 4x8 and DMR possible during the regular season and then run my B team in the 4x8 so that I can send my top individuals in the opens and double them back to win the DMR. I would do that with 0 regrets even though I would be cancelling out a deserving 4x8 squad that would actually be racing their best team. If I'm a coach my job is to represent my guys, the PTFCA is supposed to be the organization making sure things are fair.
Now it's possible there are some additional rules in play here that I didn't see on the site, so maybe my hypothetical isn't practical, but there will still be teams entering both relays, trying to double or triple their guys and struggling to pull it all off.
The schedule change also makes a 3k-DMR double impossible. It was already near impossible in past years, but now only the 4x2s separate the two. That makes it really, really tricky. And every year there are teams that pull this double. No reason to think more wont try this year, further decreasing the quality of the DMR field.
And the new positioning of the 4x8 puts top individuals in an awkward spot. Runners are usually team players and really willing to sacrifice for their team, but I don't want some state contender in the mile to sacrifice his shot at individual gold to help his 4x8 compete for 7th or something. I liked it a lot better when the individual could take a shot at the mile and double back for the relay and help his less talented teammates chase that medal anyway. If he's carrying the relay, I don't feel like he (or she) should be put in that awkward position (especially when it happens outdoors anyway). It's a lose-lose for the kid: they either look selfish for chasing the individual honors or they blow their chances in the mile to help their team. And that 4x8-mile double is going to be quite tricky. They only have 60 dash/hurdles prelims in between events.
Basically, we now have the same scheduling conflicts indoors that we have outdoors (except with extra complicating factors) and I don't like that. Not only because I appreciate a little variety, but I appreciate the chance for athletes to take a varied approach in each season.
I don't know, the more I write and talk, I probably sound like an old man who doesn't like change (I did just age another year), but the bottom line is I think this will further limit the number of distance runners competing at indoor states. Hey, qualifying standards are what they are and kids will always be left home who are deserving (there is no perfect system) but considering this same state just pushed XC up to 3 classifications to give more kids a chance to run at states, you would think they might be a bit more generous with the qualifying guidelines for the hardest meet to qualify for out of all 3 state championships.
Weigh in on the debate by sharing your thoughts here on the blog! Tell me why I'm wrong or show your support!