They are trying to defeat Footlocker by allowing the top runners to run NXN without qualifying. This is a dangerous policy because a top kid could merely call Nike to express interest and notify them that he/she will be training through the qualifier and not competing but would like to compete at nationals.
It’s a double edged sword,... My guess is it was looking like Touhy was favoring Footlocker this year, and they couldn’t at large her team in like they obviously did last year just to pull in an underperforming sick individual. Now they can.
However, the cost is some credibility, (I.e. if you couldn’t run your way in do you really belong,) Footlocker already has the edge here as they only allow and have only ever allowed regional top 10 to qualify to race. Being a Footlocker Finalist has always been a badge of honor that you can wear for a lifetime, no backdoor to get in. Whereas Nike there are kids that where the number 7 runner on a team from an easy region that aren’t even being recruited to college calling themselves Nike Qualifiers.
More top individuals may now opt for Footlocker believing they can get an “at-large” bid if they miss the Nike qualifier. This will revamp the Footlocker regional races and they will return to being nearly as competitive (at least individually in 30-100 range) as the Nike National race due to Nike’s watered down team format.
There is still the big “edge” Nike has on Footlocker and that is giving the Californian Merged qualifiers a free ride, that’s tough for them to refuse, though Claudia Lane has done so twice. But again there is some credibility cost associated with this policy. (Ie a merged race is not the same as head to head)