The 2A Scoring Question: Issues And Arguments

Will there be more years of 6-3 scoring in 2A cross country, or will 2018 be the year we go to 6-4?

Note: This is a republication of an article that originally appeared in December. I have bubbled it back to the top, unedited, as league ADs begin to convene and plan their votes on the proposals before the CHSAA Legislative Council.

I write this article in the spirit of information. A whole lot of ADs will be casting votes for their leagues at the Legislative Council meeting in January, and there ought to be at least one place they can go to get a review of the issues.

Although 2A league member schools will likely lobby their larger-school neighbors either for or against a vote for scoring 4 in 2A cross country, I would hope that the ADs and leagues casting votes go beyond the loudest voice in the nearest 2A league for input on the decision.

With that in mind, below is a summary of the arguments on both sides. Some arguments, surely, are better than others, but that doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't wade through them all.

I begin with a section in which I state simply the arguments for both sides. I don't try to evaluate here, just lay out the basic arguments. As much as possible, I'll lay out parallel arguments in the same order so it's easier to see both sides at a glance and easier to analyze positions later in the article. I'll lay out the Score-3 arguments first since that is where we are now.

The next section will delve into some analysis of the various arguments advanced.

Arguments in Favor of Score 3

1. We have had it for several years now, and it's working.

2. Scoring 3 allows more schools to field complete teams than scoring 4 would.

3. It can be very difficult for a school with less than 100 students to score more than 3.

4. Football adjusts its team size for the smallest schools. This sets an important precedent for cross country.

Arguments in Favor of Score 4

1. Score 3 works in the sense that it determines a champion, but, very nearly without exception, the teams competing for a state trophy are teams that could easily score 4. And scoring 4 would weigh the results toward more of a team concept and less of a star runner concept. Plus, scoring 4 invests more team members in the outcome.

2. If the point is to allow the maximum number of schools to have complete teams, why not score 2?

3. There is only one other classification, in any state, in the entire nation that scores only 3 runners. That is for Class B in South Dakota, which is reserved for schools of fewer than 100 students. As currently configured, Colorado's 2A is for schools of approximately 300 students and under.

4. No sport other than football, and specifically no other meet sport, adjusts team size according to the size of the schools.

5. We heard all the same arguments raised now in favor of keeping scoring at 3 when Brett Shanklin of Frontier Academy was leading the movement for scoring 5 (instead of 4) in 3A about five years ago. 

Analysis of Arguments

Point 1

It is beyond dispute that scoring 3 allows more schools to field complete teams than scoring 4 would. If you advance the argument for scoring 4 you concede that it is highly likely there will be schools, at least in the near term, that will not have a complete scoring team on account of the change.

It is likewise beyond dispute that scoring 4 invests more student athletes in the outcome than scoring 3 does. Similarly, it is beyond dispute that the emphasis on building a complete program for your team, as opposed to leaning more heavily on a star runner or two, is enhanced with scoring 4 over what it is with scoring 3. 

That much should be evident to all.

Where there's room for some give-and-take on the merits of argument #1 for both positions is what impact added a fourth scoring runner would have on schools that aren't regularly able to score four runners. Would this discourage those schools or would it motivate the athletes to go out and recruit their own hallways (and friends from neighboring school districts that don't have cross country) to get those 4th and 5th runners?

The truth probably is that some of both would happen. Necessity is the mother of invention, as the saying goes, and if the standard becomes score-4, then you will find programs that aren't currently able to score 4 on a regular basis finding ways to do it. On the other hand, there will be programs that will, in effect, say it isn't worth the effort or that it simply can't be done.

We will come back to this issue a bit later when we discuss the 3A score-5 question that arose about five years ago.

Point 2

The score-3 argument that says scoring 3 allows more schools to field complete teams runs up against a hurdle when it comes to the question of "Why not score 2, then?" If the point is to allow more schools to field complete teams then, inasmuch as two is the minimum possible team size, we should be scoring 2. So, the score-3 position tacitly admits that there is something to the score-4 argument for the enhanced team concept achieved by scoring a larger body of runners.

In short, any argument that appeals to allowing more schools to have complete teams works better for scoring 2. There is a slippery slope here. You can certainly say you would personally prefer to stop at score-3, but the argument as implemented reaches its logical conclusion at score-2, not score-3. A quick check of results indicates scoring 2 (instead of 3) would have added an impressive number of programs to the team scoring at this year's 2A regionals.

The score-3 proponent, then, uses the same logic to stop at 3 that the score-4 proponent uses to move to scoring 4. They differ only in where they find the desired balance between team concept and enabling more programs to have scoring teams. 

That said, it still can be difficult for some schools to field complete teams. This is true now with the score-3 format and would be true to a greater extent (we could debate whether that greater extent is slight or large) at score-4. It's even true, at some level, in 4A and 5A.

Point 3

For 2018, there will be something like 65 schools with intentions of supporting a 2A cross country program in the fall. Of those, as many as 18 of those schools will have enrollments of under 100 students. Of those 18, many--and probably most--will not field complete teams whether 2A cross country is score-3 or score-4 this fall. 

A different way of looking at this issue is to study this year's 2A regional and state meets. At State, one 2A Boys and one 2A Girls team was at State with only three team members. All of the rest had at least four team members, and most (13 of 16 boys, and 11 of 16 girls) brought six team members to State. Further, 14 of 16 boys teams brought at least five team members to State, and 14 of 16 girls teams also brought at least five team members to State.

If we take things down to the regional level, where more smaller programs were represented, one meaningful take on the numbers reads like this (note that scoring teams have to have at least three members under the current rule):

Region 1 - 11 of 11 scoring boys teams had at least four runners, 8 of 10 scoring girls teams had at least four runners

Region 2 - 10 of 12 scoring boys teams had at least four runners, 8 of 11 scoring girls teams had at least four runners

Region 3 - 8 of 8 scoring boys teams had at least four runners, 6 of 6 scoring girls teams had at least four runners

Region 4 - 10 of 12 scoring boys teams had at least four runners, 8 of 9 scoring girls teams had at least four runners.

Different people will interpret the above numbers differently. One group will say, "69 of 79 regional scoring teams this year would have still had complete teams if we had scored four. And, if we have a year to adjust, many of those 10 that get cut could make the step up next year." The other group will say, "We would lose 10 scoring teams at regionals if we move to score-4."

I'll leave the reader to determine on your own which interpretation is more compelling, but any interpretations should be made off of actual data. You now have some actual data by which to inform your interpretations.

The score-4 position is correct that almost no other state in any other situation has resorted to scoring 3. That doesn't mean it can't be done, but it does suggest Colorado is saying something 48 other states already do is too difficult to do here. And, the one other state that says it's too difficult only says so for a classification restricted to schools with enrollments under 100.

It is further the case that a majority of state associations have no provision for scoring cross country teams with less than five runners, regardless of classification parameters. So, even score-4 is more the exception than the rule for small schools across the nation. The score-3 position most definitely argues against the precedent of other states, for whatever it is worth (and that worth is something that must be evaluated subjectively).

Point 4

In Colorado, and in many other states, football has 8-man and/or 6-man classifications for smaller schools. That provision, however, is as much a concession to disparity of sizes of athletes as it is to enrollment. It can be positively dangerous for a prepubescent 90-pound freshman to find himself across the line of scrimmage from a 210-pound, hormonally supercharged senior. Yet, that very scenario is bound to happen in small-school football where there are no separate freshman or JV programs. Reducing team size on the field helps keep the 90-vs-210 scenario from happening as frequently, though it does not preclude it.

Football, a collision sport, is the only state-sanctioned sport other than cross country that ever makes concessions on team sizes. 

Baseball requires nine, regardless of school size. Soccer requires 11, regardless of school size. Basketball requires five, regardless of school size. Volleyball requires six, regardless of school size. Some meet sports are amorphous with respect to team size, but wrestling does not reduce the count of weight classes for small schools, nor do swimming and track and field reduce event options for school size. Golf team sizes do not scale with school enrollment.

There is some precedent in cross country for using ghost runners for schools without complete teams. North Dakota uses this method of scoring at their state meet, but they do it in a format that scores 5, not 3 or 4.

Briefly, ghost runner scoring goes like this: If a school does not have the minimum number of runners required for team scoring, they are assigned a point value equal to the next place beyond the last finishing runner for any missing team members. So, if 125 competitors complete a race and Team A had only three runners, Team A gets a team score by having "runners" 4 and 5 assigned point values of 126 and 127, and then adding those values to the places earned by runners 1, 2, and 3. No runners are removed for the purposes of team scoring, except where teams were allowed to have more than 7 runners.

I'm not sure the data here point decisively in one direction or the other, but this information should help to lead to better informed decisions, regardless.

Point 5

To what extent should the 3A experience from the last four years of state cross country influence the current 2A decision? Answering that question may depend a lot on which side of the argument you stand.

A run 7/score 5 proposal for 3A was defeated at the 2012 CHSAA cross country committee meeting. The objections raised then were similar in the extreme to the objections we hear now to the 2A score-4 proposal. It was argued that scoring five would reduce the number of schools with complete teams. It was argued that smaller programs would be discouraged by the score-5 requirement. It was argued that the size of the smaller 3A schools would make it very difficult for some schools to field complete teams. It was argued that State would become the domain of larger schools that were more readily able to field the requisite score-5 teams.

For the 2013 season, 3A cross country remained at run 6/score 4. Later that fall, however, Brett Shanklin of Frontier Academy (not one of the larger schools in 3A) came back with the same data and the same arguments and won the day at the cross country committee meeting. 3A cross country has been a score-5 operation ever since. More to the point, 3A now has more complete teams than it ever had before. That much is beyond dispute.

Whatever the truth of the dissenting arguments might have been (there was likely some mixture of truth and the-sky-is-falling kind of thinking, but it may be impossible to say exactly how much of each), you would now have a difficult time finding enough 3A coaches who want to go back to use up the fingers on one hand. 3A cross country has been better than it's ever been the last four years. And more kids are contributing in an obvious way to their teams' success at regional and state meets.

That does not necessarily mean 2A will have the same experience if they add a scoring member to their teams, but it is still the kind of information you would want to consider as decisions are made on which way to cast a vote.



Comments welcome below. Please exercise civility.