In a nutshell, 4A has a regional alignment problem coming out of yesterday's CHSAA cross country committee meeting.
The issue chiefly concerns the matter of what schools get placed with Western Slope schools. I suspect, but I don't know, the issue is aggravated by memories of the regional course near Frisco this fall. You can see from the meet results that it was a particularly challenging course.
So, it's time to get creative. I'll toss out a couple of potential solutions here. I'm not especially partial to my "solutions" being the ones that get adopted here, but it's time for all the smart people in our cross country community to put on their thinking caps.
The world "regional" has a meaning. When applied to a cross country meet, it means we're pulling teams from a particular region rather than willy-nilly across the state. School administrators and bean counters like that because it saves on travel expenses.
Going into the current cycle (2016-18), the Western Slope was kind of short on 4A teams, so what 4A teams there were (Durango, Montrose, Palisade, Glenwood Springs, Battle Mountain, Eagle Valley, and Summit) got absorbed into a couple of different regions.
For the record, the issue at hand here doesn't so much concern the region that includes Durango and Montrose, but those two schools definitely have added travel burdens with the region they've been placed into.
For the upcoming cycle, the ranks have 4A Western Slope cross country programs has grown by two, now to include Grand Junction Central and Steamboat Springs. So, for the 2018-20 cycle, there are nine Western Slope 4A teams.
That's almost, but not quite, enough for the Western Slope to have their own 4A region. Granted, it's a hefty piece of travel between Steamboat Springs and Durango, but they are all Western Slope.
Not many schools are clamoring to be the three Front Range schools that join with the nine Western Slope schools to form a region (though, if Conifer, Evergreen, and Golden are all amenable, perhaps that solves our problem right there). Front Range schools aren't necessarily accustomed to the travel demands of the Western Slope. If you're a Front Range school in the 3A ranks, you may not have much of a choice about travel, but the 4A programs still want regional choice that doesn't commit them to Western Slope travel.
That creates problems. Schools have all sorts of reasons for wanting a particular regional alignment and not all of those reasons boil down to minimizing travel expense. Open the door to schools demanding a particular regional alignment and you quickly have a less-than-desirable situation on your hands.
So, I submit here a couple of different ways to manage to 4A regional problem.
1. Create a Western Slope region of nine teams. The rest of the regions than have to absorb the "extras," meaning we'd have four more regions of 13 or 14 teams. Obviously, there's a mathematical imbalance here that would have to be addressed. One means of addressing that imbalance would be to give the Western Slope region three auto qualifiers and all other regions four. That takes us to 19. You could either run the state race with 19 or come up with a means of selecting one at-large qualifier. You could, for example, average the scores of the auto qualifiers from each region and the next-place team (4th in the Western Slope region, 5th in the other regions) that has the score closest to the score of the average of the auto qualifiers from their region advances. Or, you could do the same thing, only with average times.
2. Create a Western Slope region of nine teams. If this region had 12 teams, then every other region would have to have 12 or 13 teams, so, in essence, the Western Slope region is short three teams. To address the shortfall, make a region of 15 or 16 teams. The Western Slope region would then have three team qualifiers, the three regions with 12 or 13 teams would have four team qualifiers, and the super region with 15 or 16 teams would have five team qualifiers. The proportions here actually work out rather nicely.
In either case, though, you do not let the teams self-select into regions. Regional assignment needs to be a little more impartial than that. In either case, you might also have to adjust the formula for individual qualifiers as well.
Either proposal moves us past the sticky situation of having to assign three Front Range teams to a Western Slope region when otherwise suitable regions are much closer at hand. Conceptually, the proposals work. Whether it's too much of a conceptual leap to go with either of these proposals remains to be seen.
Regardless, it's a problem in search of a solution and we're smart enough people to figure this one out. The alternatives to figuring it out would appear to be brute force assignment into regions of 12 or 13 or some measure of self-selection into regions, with all that implies, until we find three Front Range teams to join a Western Slope region. Or we could stay with the current model where two of the five regions have Western Slope implications and the travel demands that come with that.