Seeking Input on a Proposal for Track and Field

Nicole Montgomery was a legendary SMR8 anchor in her days at Lewis-Palmer High School.

Honestly, I don't believe there's enough time left to get a proposal ready for the 2017 CHSAA Track and Field Committee meeting. So, what I discuss below looks ahead to 2018.

Still, if you never start the discussion, you never have anything ready to propose, unless you aim to submit a proposal without trying to get input from coaches first. Theoretically, you could do that, but it seems better to get input first.

The Problem: The 800 Meter Sprint Medley Relay

Why is this a problem? It is a problem because 1) it is a single gender event originally added to provide equity for girls when Colorado did not have a girls pole vault, 2) it is a non-standard relay, 3) it skews meet scoring in the direction of sprint events, 4) it is an inequitable relay, 5) the third (final) exchange is a train wreck waiting to happen, 6) removing this relay would tend to increase the quality of the other sprint relays, and 7) it adds to the length of already long meet days.

I'll go through each of the five items above individually and then proceed to a discussion of why there are programs that cling to the SMR8 and resist any attempts to abolish it as a state meet event.

1. It is a single gender event. Theoretically, we could add a boys 800 meter sprint medley relay to balance things out. That nobody seems really gung-ho to advance that cause that should tell us a little something about the relay in general. Adding a boys SMR8 would add still more time to the meet day. The SMR8 is no longer needed for gender equity purposes. In fact, as it stands now, it works against gender equity. 

2. It is a non-standard relay. Although you could possibly argue that the 4x200 and 4x800 meter relays are non-standard relays as well, there are 24 states that run the 4x200 at their state meets and 40 states that run the 4x800. Neither count makes a great case for "non-standard." By way of comparison, there are two states (including Colorado) that run the SMR8 and four states that run the SMR16 (hold onto that note, as it will come back for later discussion). The SMR8 is well-recognized as a relay meet event, but very poorly accepted as a standard event.

3. If you think of the 19 girls events in Colorado, seven of those 19 events are sprint events (100, 200, 400, 4x100, 4x200, 4x400, and SMR8). Iowa is the only other state in the nation that weighs sprint events that heavily at their state meet. By way of comparison, in NCAA track and field there are five sprint events, two hurdle events, five middle distance and distance events, four jump and vault events, and four throws events. That makes only five of 20 events that are sprint events.

4. I wrote an article on this topic last year. You can link to that article for greater detail on this topic. Bottom line, though, the distances covered by the various teams in a sprint medley relay are not identical. The farther to the outside of the track your lane assignment is, the greater distance your team must run. We do not accept that in any other event in our state meet.

5. The SMR8 is the only relay at our state meet where an exchange begins in lanes and ends in a free for all. Teams in outside lanes must run even farther than teams in inside lanes if they stay in their lanes through the third exchange zone, but cutting across lanes means dodging runners (both incoming and outgoing) from other teams. There is good reason the 4x400 is run in lanes for three turns and not two. The marks required to run the SMR8 in lanes for three turns do not exist on any track in Colorado.

6. Let's face it. No team in the state has the roster talent to lock and load four sprint relays. And particularly so when you figure that most top sprinters (who typically get those relay teams to state, even if they don't actually run in those relays at state) have at least one, and often two or three individual state events to take care of as well. I did my research and found that last year the only classification with a major problem of several state-qualifying teams offloading their SMR8s at state was (surprisingly) 5A, but if you want better relay competition, you trim down the number of relays. More relays means more dilution of the pool.

7. The SMR8 typically adds about 15 minutes to the beginning of every state qualifying meet around the state.

Now, we all know there are schools that very much want to keep the SMR8. Those schools tend to be the smallest schools in the state. The argument for it typically goes something like this: "We usually don't have enough girls to run a state-quality 4x400, but we usually do have at least one girl who is good at the 400 who we can pair up with three other girls who are decent enough sprinters to make a competitive SMR8."

The typical rejoinder to that argument goes something like, "So, what you really want is a second race your top 400 girl can win for you, right?"

There's something to be said for both sides of that argument, and I don't aim to bring it to a resolution here. But, we can allow that there is something to the small school coach's point about it being sometimes difficult to fill a competitive 4x400 (presumably, then, it is still more difficult for that small school coach to fill a 4x800).

Does there exist a means of moving forward that addresses all of these concerns? I believe there is, but it requires some thinking outside of the box.

Here is one way I think you can do it. 

Step One: Remove the SMR8 for classes 2A through 5A. At that point all that remain are standard relays (4x100, 4x200, 4x400, and 4x800) that are properly marked on our tracks. We have only relays that involve equitable distances for all teams. We have improved the overall quality of the other sprint relays. And we have achieved gender equity. Sometimes less is more. This is one of those cases.

Step Two: Offer the smallest classification of schools (currently 1A) a choice and let them vote on it (and this choice could come up again with each new cycle): Take either the 4x800 for both boys and girls or the SMR16 for both boys and girls. Note that the SMR16 is run 200-200-400-800, with a four-turn stagger. There is still a problem of inequitable distances for outer lanes, but it is smaller relative to the entire race than it is with the SMR8. The SMR16 has a much less congested, and therefore less problematic, final exchange than the SMR8. The SMR16 offers a relief valve for the difficult-to-fill-4x800 problem as well as the difficult-to-fill-4x400 problem. The SMR16 is run in both Utah and New Mexico, so presumably small schools could run in meets in those states and possibly earn a qualifier (something that is never possible with the SMR8).

Step Three: Allow rankings meets to choose any one of the following three options: 1) Offer only the 4x800, 2) Offer only the SMR16, or 3) Offer both. Presumably, most meets would go with option #1, but many small-school meets would go with either option 2 or 3. Option three is not so much of a time issue with smaller school meets as it is with larger school meets because smaller school meets tend to get over much more quickly (typically fewer teams and far fewer heats).

Under this scenario, if we suppose that the small schools have opted for the SMR16, it's not really much of an issue for these same small schools to still attend several larger school meets as some are in the habit of doing. Just as today, where the smallest schools usually only run the 4x800 two or three times a season, so it would not be that big of a deal if the SMR16 was not available at every meet they went to. They only need to load up and run the SMR16 at a couple of smaller school meets to qualify.

So, think this over. Give it some honest thought. Then, please, let me hear your thoughts about it either by email or in the comments section below (these comments will not appear on Facebook, but you will get FB notifications when others respond to your comments below). If this turns out to be an acceptable idea or if it can be refined to make it acceptable, then I intend to start the proposal process for next year's track and field committee meeting.