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|Subject: ||Has the Spirit been broken?|
Preserving the Spirit
What is the Spirit of NXN? Has it been Broken?
In 2004 Nike redefined the prep cross country scene with the implementation of Nike Team Nationals. Nike Team Nationals featured the top 25 high school teams in the nation. Teams that were selected based upon a final season ending poll. But why was NTN created? Beneath the name, behind the swoosh; there lies the spirit of the event. What is that spirit?
In 1989, Runners world editor Marc Bloom began releasing the official Harrier Super 25 National Rankings. Each season teams competed, traveled, and dreamed of a Harrier Super-25 National Championship. The Great American XC Festival was formulated to allow teams the ability to compete in a large invitational assisting in higher rankings. The same could be said for Mt. SAC and Manhattan. But controversy existed with the paper polls and a growing consensus for a region championship system arose.
The powers that be within the National Scholastic Sports Foundation and Nike youth development program saw the growing concern, and they answered the call. Nike Team Nationals was born in 2004 carrying the hopes and dreams of athletes, coaches, and teams with it. That first event was historic in retrospect for the sport. Featuring the top 25 teams in the nation as comprised of in-season performances and season ending state meet championships.
The spirit of NTN was in providing the opportunity for a true national championship high school team to be awarded. But controversy continued to exist with the region paper poll ranking system. While NTN was superb in its design, it was designed for the high school cross country team whom competed each week and finally at the state championships. NTN was not designed for teams that did not comprise the same team that competed during the season. This is the spirit of the event.
In 2007, Nike took the NTN system to the next level with a Region Championship system. This system would allow teams the opportunity to earn their trip to the championships. No longer were regional ranking polls relevant. No longer would deserving teams be left out of the national championship because of subjective rankings. In that year a team’s national championship berth would be earned on the field of battle. The integrity of the region championship system would proclaim that a coach field a team at the regional championships that comprised of the same athletes they fielded during their season while competing as a club. Thus preserving the spirit of the event in proclaiming on the NXN site, “Only one sport throws the polls away and lets the athletes decide who the real national champions are. This year, as always, those champions will be crowned.”
Has that spirit been broken? Has the region championship system been manipulated? What does it mean to be crowned the NXN National Champion? These are fundamentally important questions that demand answers for the coach, the athlete, and the programs that choose to compete for an NXN National Championship. It is these questions we will confront and seek to answer.
Recently a team competed at the NXN Northwest Championships and earned a berth to Nike Cross Nationals that has caused questions to arise. This team, the Knights as they were called, claimed second place and an automatic berth to NXN. A team comprised of a soccer player and an athlete deemed ineligible for varsity competition for the school they attended. A team that could not be fielded during the season had been organized and defeated teams that were comprised of athletes that could be fielded during the season. A team whom their own state association would not recognize as eligible to represent the high school, a club team?
So, I ask those of you with passion for this sport, was NXN designed for coaches to field teams comprised of athletes who did not compete in the cross country season and who have been declared ineligible by a State Association? Was NXN designed for athletes who could not compete at state championships? Was NXN formulated for coaches and teams whom competed all season long as a unit… in season and at state championships to then compete against all-star teams of athletes who could not? When this deal was formed leading to an end of Marc Bloom's final Super 25 National Championship did not the integrity of the in-season team mean anything?
For this editor, an all-star team is any team formulated that cannot be fielded in a meet head to head during the season. For example, could Bishop Kelly compete with the team now comprised by Knights RC against Shadle Park during the season? The answer is no, defining this team as a post season all-star team. Which leads to further questions, is the spirit of NXN based on building the best team your school can field or the team fielded during in-season competition?
Coaches across the country and athletes begin each season with the hope of an NXN berth. With the hope of traveling to Nike town athletes train, dream, and compete in super meets across the nation. With recent developments it is suggested that in-season teams, team performances, state association rulings and head-to-head competitions are meaningless in NXN post season competition. It would seem that no longer does the season matter and that now coaches have to compete against teams that cannot even legally run as a single unit during the cross country season. Is this the spirit of NXN? Is this why NXN was founded? Is this what the Region Championship system is all about?
According to a multiple time NTN top five head Coach, “This is unethical and if we put together a supreme court of coaches across the country I believe that they would come to the consensus that this is not ethical. Nike needs to look at how they word their eligibility regarding this event. This situation makes the season team irrelevant and athletes who did not compete during the season and athletes who have been deemed ineligible by a state association should not compete. We should field teams comprised of athletes we competed against during the season. We have seven girls in Spokane right now who are asking why we trained so hard for a chance to compete on this team to be beat by a team who could not even compete during the season as the same unit. Shadle Park sacrificed quite a bit to compete. We cherish the history of the sport and the GSL stands united that what occurred in Boise was not ethical and does not represent the spirit of the event as we see it…and we feel we have a right to express our feelings.”
These are big questions that demand very real answers and comments from teams and coaches across the country. The lines have been blurred, the club format and integrity of the “team” for the national championship challenged. What has been declared by Nike officials is the following; it does not matter if an athlete does not compete for the team during the season. It does not matter if the athlete has been declared ineligible by the state association during the season. It does not matter if the athlete never even competed in cross country during the season. As long as the athlete attends the high school they can run on the team and coaches can organize a team that they could not even field during the season to compete at NXN Region Championships. Now I ask you, is this the spirit of NXN and was this why NXN was created? Has that spirit been broken? You decide.
Or am I just whining?
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