How Texas Teams Can Start Getting NXN At Large Bids

Travis and Will talk in depth about changes Texas teams can make to get more at large NXN bids.

This cross country season was a very exciting season. There were many individual and team performances that were off the charts.

The season was so awesome that it continued after state and into the post season. At NXR South, teams on both the boys and girls sides battled for the only two automatic qualifying spots for the Nike Cross National (NXN) meet. NXN is considered the meet that decides which team is the best cross country team in the nation.

If teams do not secure one of the two automatic bids, Nike does have a committee that selects four at large bids from the teams throughout the country that they believe deserve the opportunity to race to be the best cross country team in the nation.

This season, there were several Texas teams hoping to get an at large bid. On the girl's side, Hebron was optimistically hoping to get one and on the boy's side, it was El Paso Eastwood and The Woodlands.

But, Texas was shut out of getting an at large bid -- Again.

Out of the 104 at large bids in NXN history, only six of them have been awarded to a team from Texas and the South Region. So, why is it that almost every year Texas only gets the two automatic bids and are left wondering why one of the at large bids didn't go to a Texas team? Not only are we not getting the at large bids, most of the time we aren't getting much consideration for them.

Does the rest of the nation have better athletes, teams, and coaches? My answers are no, No, and NO! So, then what is the deal?

The first thing to consider is that there are tons of more kids in Texas and that means tons of more schools than most states. There are 1,591 public high schools in Texas and 4,329,841 public school students with an extra 1,301 private schools and 48,000 private high school students. The only states that come close are New York (1,539 public and 628 private schools) and California (1,839 public high schools with 6,298,928 students and 3,849 private schools with 113,000 private high school students).

New York and California are two of the states frequently getting at large bids, but there are many of the smaller states getting them as well like Illinois, Virginia, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Kentucky.

These numbers mean that in Texas, there are a lot of student athletes in the same vicinity that are separated into the many different high schools in one area. Areas like the mid cities in the DFW area (Lewisville, Keller, Southlake), Frisco, McKinney, Katy, and the Cypress areas for example have a lot of schools in close proximity. This means teams that could have more quality runners and could be deeper are potentially splitting athletes with other schools.

Depth is an area the committee looks at when selecting the at large teams. If a team has one or two low sticks and then there is a fall off with the rest of the team, then the percentage of getting selected by the committee is lower. Running 19s for girls and low 16s for boys in the 5K are very good for local meets and even state caliber meets, but at NXN, on average, the top four to five teams are averaging at least 18:40s to 18:50s and 15:50s at the always tough never perfect conditioned course in Portland.

It is important to have the 3-7 runners all be quality runners and capable of being a top 5 scorer at any day. Coach Barnett, the legendary Luling coach once said, "The key to winning championships is to get seven guys to each run their best on the same day." If you've got the ingredient to get 15-17 year old runners to do that, they you need to patent that immediately. Being fast and good is great, but having your seven runners be consistent is even more important to being a national contending program.

Another key is competition. The committee values head to head competition against quality programs. Racing and beating other ranked teams or teams that automatically qualify or are looking to get at large bids themselves is valuable in the minds of the committee.

For this to happen, Texas teams need to go out of state to run against the top teams in the nation. Running locally isn't getting favor from the committee.

Southlake Carroll usually takes a trip out of state to race big time teams. In the last several years, they have gone to California's Woodbridge meet and have run well. El Paso Eastwood also crosses state lines when they compete at the Desert Twilight meet in Arizona.

Other teams also go to out of state meets with teams like Keller and others going to Arkansas' Chile Pepper or Kansas' Rim Rock to race national competition. However, running out of state isn't good enough, the meets have to have some serious elite national competition. 

The Nike committee views this much like the NCAA looks at strength of schedule for their basketball and football playoffs and the teams without the strength of schedule and quality wins often get left out or "snubbed".

This year, the Hebron girls and the El Paso and Woodlands boys all fell in that "snubbed" position.

The committee turned a blind eye to the wins Hebron had over Texas' other top teams and their in state resume'. Hebron's inability to top Keller - (who the committee considers Texas' only title contender) and win state or beat any other top national team gave the committee enough reason to omit them.

Eastwood placed second at Desert Twilight to Arizona's Desert Vista. Desert Vista got an at large bid. Even though they beat Flower Mound and Southlake head to head (both automatic qualifiers) at the regional meet Southlake came back to beat them in consecutive weeks.

Texas teams have been accustomed to staying in state and running against their local area teams. The Nike committee has expressed that it gives very little thought to this type of scheduling. They are not high on Texas' blazing fast times on flat courses that provide very little challenges and are questionable when it comes to true distance. In the past, history has proven that the times that come out of Texas are inconsequential when it comes to the conditions and the course at NXN.

Bringing in nationally ranked teams from other states to Texas would bode just as well. The only problem with that is that nobody wants to come to Texas to run. That would just be a wasted trip for them. 

Texas doesn't have any "real" big time invitationals that have the elite in state teams race each other. If a team came to race in Texas what would be the beneficial factor?

Out of state teams would potentially find it attractive if they were coming down to race against Southlake Carroll boys and The Woodlands boys at the same meet. El Paso Eastwood doesn't even come East and other teams don't go West to race. Having Eastwood in a regular season meet with Carroll and The Woodlands, etc. would be a huge incentive to attract just about any team. A meet with top girls teams like Keller, Carroll, Hebron, Canyon Randall, Marcus, etc. would could potentially provide enough to get a couple of top national teams to come run. As it currently stands, getting the big in state programs only happens at the state meet and NXR South.  

Marcus I is one of the few meets that get most of the quality DFW programs together, but it is very early in the season. Still, the Houston area schools do not attend.

The typical weekends of having 30 plus meets all over the state with so called "elite" races that don't actually have the best individuals and teams in the state racing their top kids against one another aren't moving the needle. 

Texas has to have some mid to late season meets that truly has the best talent in the state competing against each other. Without it, this doesn't improve the sport in Texas or move it forward. Without that and not having national level teams definitely doesn't do any favors in they eyes and mind of the at large selection committee. 

I believe next year, Texas cross country will once again have several teams worthy of racing at NXN and with the potential of getting at large bids to showcase our talent to the nation. However, without change, next year at this time the same question will remain, why didn't we get beyond the two automatic bids?