by John Dye
How do you get ranked in the Nike Team Nationals system? The rankings are developed by a committee which considers all available evidence. Head to head competition is the preeminent factor. As some coaches preach, if you want to be the best, you have to run with the best. If you want to be ranked higher, beat some one good.
In actuality, however, not very many top cross country teams in a region actually run against each other during the year. Some can't travel because of state or administrative restrictions, some can't afford to, some don't choose to. Even within a state, some top teams are in different divisions at the state meet. Therefore, ranking teams across a region of many states is very difficult, and the committee makes performance comparisons based on a number of factors.
NTN rankings are developed by a committee that is highly qualified. The committee includes Marc Bloom, Rich Gonzalez, a Nike representative and a DyeStat representative, plus the 8 regional editors.
Bloom and Gonzalez are arguably America's two leading experts in evaluating cross country performances. Bloom has been covering the sport since his own high school days. He has been publishing The Harrier magazine, with its Super 25 national team rankings, for more than 30 years. The Super 25 was the only way to compare teams nationally before the Great American and Nike Team Nationals provided opportunities for face to face matchups in recent years. Gonzalez edits DyeStatCal, directs the giant Arcadia Invitational, and helps seed California state championships. Both Bloom and Gonzalez have been involved in NTN from the beginning.
The NTN rankings process involves no formulas and no quantified methods. It consists of an expert review of all available information.
Cross country is the toughest sport to compare performances. No course is the same. There are different lengths, different levels of difficulty, different surfaces, and different weather. Even performances on the same day on the same course can require adjustments in judged value. Conditions change during the day, and some teams run in different classes or sections.
Here are some of the variables that are considered by the NTN rankings committee:
- Competition -- whom did you beat. This is the most credible factor. Teams that can't or don't travel are still considered, but the committee may have insufficient evidence to rank them high. On the other hand, teams that do travel to seek out good competition are rewarded.
- Times - Despite pitfalls, meaningful conclusions can be drawn. Historical comparisons can be made to prior times on the same course, especially at courses with a long history of performances by top teams, such as Mt. SAC, Manhattan, Stanford, and Roy Griak. A team's spread from 1 to 5 is very useful information, as are the size of the gap from a team's best runners to their 5th and 6th runners. As the NTN slogan says, "every teammate counts" in cross country.
- Timing -- A late season win is better than early season, but all important competitions are assessed.
The bottom line is that NTN rankings are based on judgment. The most expert judgment available, but still judgment. In the end, head to head competition is the only real way to find out who's best. That’s what will happen the first Saturday in December in Portland OR.