Track & Field is often described as an individual sport with a team aspect. The objectivity of our sport is one of its greatest aspects. Want to know who’s the fastest? Race. Want to know who can jump the farthest? Measure it. Want to know who has the best team? Uhhhh. That is much harder to tell, and depends on an incredible number of factors.
Just this year, my team at Lake Forest ran in dual meets, standard invitationals, ABC invitationals, frosh/soph invitationals, relay meets, and invitationals that also scored JV relays. Until we got to the championship meets, not one of our invitationals, indoors or out, had the same schedule of events or scored the meet the same way. Part of that is the draw of our sport: it takes all kinds.
In our crazy sport we also have meets just for the distance runners, just for the pole vaulters, just for three relays. Some meets do not even bother keeping team scores. The events themselves are the draw, and keeping team scores would just muddle things up.
But ultimately, we care how the team does. Winning an invite is fun. Getting plaques is fun. Earning a trophy at the State Championships? I don’t know any coach who isn’t striving for one. But are we scoring the IHSA State Championships the correct way? Could doubling the points in the relays help determine a more “true” State Champion?
Note: I realize I am not the ideal person to present on whether or not relays should count double. I have never coached a high school track team in contention for a trophy at State. This article is largely meant to start a discussion. Please comment below.
In 1996, Ben Kuepers of Cuba City (WI) won the runner-up trophy at the Wisconsin Division 2 Track & Field Championships by himself. He won the Triple Jump and the High Jump, finished second in the 110m Hurdles and third in the Long Jump to score 34 points for his team. He was the only athlete from Cuba City competing at the meet. The State Champion team that year, Sugar River, had only two athletes at the meet. Scott Wick won the 110m Hurdles, 300m Hurdles and 200m Dash; Ben O’Brien took second in the 3200m and third in the 1600m. Wisconsin only gives two trophies per division. A total of three athletes contributed to the two trophies in D2.
Two people, of course, do not make up a team. One person certainly doesn’t. Babatunde Ridley won four events for Carlinville at the 1996 IHSA Class A State Championships to score 40 points. Two of his teammates added six more to given Carlinville a total of 46 points and the team title. Second place had 31 points, which means Babatunde Ridley would have captured the team State Championship all by himself.
The performances mentioned above are noteworthy because they are rare. While seeing amazing individual performances is no doubt memorable, I hope we can all agree that just a couple individuals should not be honored with a team State Championship.
“I believe all championship programs focus on relay excellence. Top programs have depth. Depth creates relays. Bad programs may get lucky and have one or two elite athletes. Great programs have dominant relays.” – Tony Holler
Tony Holler, whose teams have won 3 state titles and 8 state trophies, believes relays should count double. In his own words, “I believe all championship programs focus on relay excellence. Top programs have depth. Depth creates relays. Bad programs may get lucky and have one or two elite athletes. Great programs have dominant relays.” To make this easy, let’s show a simple pro/con list for having the relays count as double at the State Championships.
- Relays are more reflective of team depth
- A few stellar athletes will be less likely to take home a “team” trophy
- Relays focus on the team aspect of the sport
All three of these basically are the same general point. Four athletes contribute to a relay, while only one contributes to an individual event. If we are truly trying to determine a “team” championship, then more athletes should be contributing to the points. Doubling relay points rewards the deeper teams. Then again, scoring to 20 instead of nine would be a great way to add depth to the team trophy hunt as well. Swimming scores to 12. In Wisconsin, track scores to eight and swimming scores to 16! We’ll talk more about swimming in a little bit (and more about Wisconsin as well).
- Less impressive individual race performances (even during the regular season)
- Larger teams now have an even larger advantage
- Sprint schools will have an even bigger advantage as well
Something has to give. If you double relay points, more teams are going to load up the relays. That means less top athletes in the individual events, and not just at the State meet. Changes at Sectionals and State always trickle down to the regular season. How many outdoor invites did you go to this year that ran sprint prelims? Hopefully none, the IHSA got that rule right. If relays count double at State, many invites, even conferences, will change their format to have relays count double. Obviously each coach makes his or her own decisions, but doubling relay points at State will affect individual events all season long.
East St. Louis, enrollment 1414, is one of the smallest schools in AAA. They are of course our 2016 IHSA Class AAA State Track & Field Champions, and would have won by a wider margin had relays been doubled. But that does not hide the fact that the bigger schools are the main ones that benefit from doubling relay points. It should be easier to find four studs at a school with 3500 kids than from a school with 1500 kids.
The third con is the biggest. Right now, the State meet is weighed heavily toward the speed events. There are only four “distance” events in Track & Field. If we double relay points, we are making it even easier for the sprint schools to win trophies, since three of the four relays are sprint relays (some may argue that the 4x800m is basically a sprint relay also). The flip side to that, of course, is that the distance runners get their own sport. Win a Cross Country trophy in the fall, and understand that the spring may be weighed against you.
You know what would make it easier for the distance runners to contribute to a team trophy? Eliminate the prelims. Wisconsin does not run prelims in the 800m, 1600m or 4x800m. Can you imagine the Torpy twins tripling up in the 4x800m, 800m and 1600m? At that same Wisconsin State meet I mentioned above (1996), Madison East’s future Olympian Gabe Jennings won the 800m, 1600m and 3200m in Division 1.
Two good comparisons
In Illinois, like in most states, relays count double in swimming. However, no two sports are created equal, so we have to talk about the relevant differences between Swimming & Diving and Track & Field. Both sports allow four events per athlete, but in swimming each athlete is only allowed two individual events. That makes the relays matter even more, so having the relays count as double makes perfect sense.
Something else swimming does, semi-officially, is give out National Dual Meet Team Ranking certificates. The NISCA uses their own power point tables to determine the strength of your team in a dual meet setting. Of course, you have to belong to the NISCA to be included in such rankings. Most teams do not bother to pay the memberships, so the rankings are fun but ultimately do not mean much.
Minnesota holds a “True Team” State Championships on a different weekend than the regular State Championships. Both give team trophies. The winner at each True Team Sectional (where they score to every place) advances to the State True Team Championships, with the runner-up team advancing as a “wild card.” Teams get two entries per event in 1A and 2A, and three entries per event in 3A (regular state meet only has two divisions, True Team has three). Sounds great until you see what their schedule looks like. Here is a typical schedule from this year.
Wed, 5/11 – True Team Sectional
Tues, 5/17 – Conference Championships
Fri, 5/20 – State True Team Championships
Tues 5/31 – MSHSL Sectional Day 1
Thurs, 6/2 – MSHSL Sectional Day 2
Fri, 6/10 – MSHSL State Championship Prelims
Sat, 6/11 – MSHSL State Championship Finals
How does a solid month of championship meets sound to you? How does a State meet four days after your Conference meet sound? How about two State Championships 22 days apart? Obviously the State True Team Championship definitely does a better job of determining the “real” state team champion, but there is a reason Minnesota is the only state with such a meet.
A more logical proposal in Illinois would be to use our current Sectionals to determine the teams at the State True Team Championships. We could keep the schedule exactly as it is, but add the State True Team Championships the week after our current State Championships. Take each of the Sectional champions and have some sort of a system to determine some wild card teams (I would suggest throwing all the performances from the runner-up teams into a list, scoring out that list, and taking the next 4-5 best teams). You know what? Let’s expand on this proposal.
Illinois State Championship and True Team State Championship
This first point is destined for a longer article, but why not allow the athletes to hit their State auto mark at any time during the season? If you run a 3:21.35 in the 4x400m Relay at your first outdoor invite, you can relax a little knowing that those four athletes have a spot at State. Obviously the times would have to be FAT. Yes, there would be issues with standardizing the horizontal jumps (low pits), high jump (sagging bars) and the rest of the field events. But those issues are for later. Right now we’re assuming we have figured all that out, and your marks from any invitational can qualify for State. Even if you have three people on your team who hit the mark! It’s ridiculous how we only allow two people per team in each event. This proposal fixes that.
Now that teams have a lot of pressure off of them, we can have a true Sectional Championship (rather than a straight-up State qualifying meet). Yes, some athletes will not have hit their mark yet and will have to qualify at Sectionals. No plan is perfect. But many athletes will not have to rest for one event in order to qualify in another. Want to keep a kid out of the 4x400m in order to score more points in the 200m? Go ahead. Got a distance runner who has hit the auto in the 1600m, but also wants to score points for his team in the 800m? Put him in both. This will give us a better reflection of the best team at Sectionals because…we are taking the Sectional champions to the True Team State Championship in two weeks!
As mentioned a few paragraphs earlier, we are also taking some wildcard teams, but are being objective about it. Take all the runner-ups, enter their marks from Sectionals, score out a meet, figure out who the next best teams are. The top five in AA and AAA will qualify, plus the next two in A. That way we have 16 teams on each level.
Hold the A, AA and AAA True Team State Championships at different sites if you like. Make it a one-day meet. No prelims. Score to all 32 places (or just to 16, but make it deep). Want to switch your lineup from Sectionals? Go ahead! Two entries per individual event, one in the relays. Everybody has fun. We determine a “real” state champion team.
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Or we could just double the points in the relays.
Have a better idea? Comment below. You can follow Lake Forest Track & Field on Twitter at @LFHStrack.