by Rich Gonzalez
PORTLAND 8/7/04 -- With excitement levels escalating as the date of the inaugural Nike Team Nationals cross-country extravaganza approaches, NIKE and the National Scholastic Sports Foundation today unveiled joint plans for how the first-year event will be contested within existing state association guidelines.
The model for participation in the 2004 Nike Team Nationals (slated for Saturday, December 4 at Portland Meadows) will be predicated exclusively on club-team affiliation under the auspices of USA Track & Field. As a result, all participating groups will have no standardized affiliation with their high school of attendance.
Additionally, teams will be directed to adhere to all guidelines contained within their respective states' particular interscholastic rules. A primary goal of the first-year Nike Team Nationals event is to maximize the number of eligible participants from across the 50 states while fully complying within the scope of their governing bodies. Several core details in the planning of the inaugural event have been developed with this philosophy in mind.
"We've spent considerable time and care in examining the situation, seeking to create the best possible situation while making sure teams adhere to their own unique state guidelines," said Josh Rowe, director of Nike's Youth Running division. "So long as groups enter this endeavor with the premise of adherence to each of their own state rules, we believe there are ample opportunities for most club teams to still participate."
To ensure cooperation with the most common statewide guidelines in place, Nike will fund the travel/lodging expenses of those club teams (seven runners per team plus an alternate, each from the same high school) in participation, as many states prohibit the "out-of-season" funding of teams by its member schools. In accordance with many state by-laws, school uniforms and other forms of assistance also will not be permitted either from schools or their affiliated groups.
Additionally, in those states that prohibit "coaching contact/association" with athletes outside their "season of sport," the regular coaches will not be allowed to serve as club-team coaches. This would also exclude participation by assistant coaches, part-time coaches, and volunteer coaches from any official involvement in the event. Instead, each club team from these states will need to secure an adult chaperone (also funded by the Nike Team Nationals) that has no official tie-in with the high school team. Such a condition will protect coaches from infringing upon a state-specific guideline.
Each state has its own unique rules in place, and attempting to list and address all of them and their conditions in any single press release would be overly cumbersome. That said, Nike and the National Scholastic Sports Foundation (NSSF) have researched these limitations and then sculpted a prevailing set of general participation conditions that take into consideration the total product of these circumstances. Ultimately, however, the onus will be on the competing club teams to thoroughly review and abide by all rules prescribed in their state high school association by-laws.
"We've done our homework on these rules, but coaches usually know their own state rules better than anyone," added Rowe. "We are hoping they understand the importance of respecting the integrity of all state association by-laws in place. At the same time, we are hoping club-team participants strive to have an identical understanding of the rules as well."
It is possible that a few states might have certain rules in order which eliminate chances of participation in any capacity, regardless of the format being undertaken by the Nike Team Nationals organizers.
"We realize this might not be a 100% success rate across the board in terms of participation possibilities in Year 1," said Jim Spier of the NSSF. "At the same time, we are striving to create the initial infrastructure for what promises to be a very special and exciting event for teen runners -- both now and in the years to come. Meeting these goals while staying true to the parameters we have to work within is something we understand fully."