Monday, November 28, 2011

My 2 Spikes Worth: Why Foot Locker and Nike Cross Nationals can coexist

Facing the choice, Edward Cheserek chose Foot Locker 
For years, I've been a staunch supporter of the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships. Being from Charlotte, I grew up around Foot Locker South. I ran it, my dad was the announcer and I even did my high school senior project on "the only true national championship in high school sports." When Nike came in, I wasn't sure what to think, but I didn't like the idea of watering down a unique event like Foot Locker.

At first, when Nike branded their new championship, "Nike Team Nationals," I didn't think twice. Cool, a national team championship. Being on a high school team that finished top five in the state three times in my four years, I liked the idea. Then Nike changed their tune. "Nike Cross Nationals" was the new name and they wanted it all. Why wouldn't they? Cross Country is the third most participated sport in high school sports (behind swimming and track), and that's a lot of consumers. It seemed like just last year that they may take over what Foot Locker had built, but after attending the Nike Cross Southeast Regional this weekend in Cary, NC, I see that Foot Locker is alive and well, but that Nike has indeed carved out a cool niche that is indeed their team factor.

There are a few major differences that I have observed from comparing the two championships that give both a great deal of viability and show why both can exist:

1. Multiple Locations
Having multiple venues caters to (almost) everyone that wants to participate in a post-season meet. Nike is set up more like the NCAA system, with eight regional championships (plus auto qualifiers from the California state meet). This particularly serves runners in areas like Texas, who host the Nike Cross South Regional, but would have to travel all the way to Charlotte to compete at Foot Locker. That's certainly not in everyone's budget and it's nice that Nike Cross Regionals are more spread out. Foot Locker only has four. Aside from New York (which hosts Foot Locker Northeast, Nike Cross Northeast and Nike Cross New York) and North Carolina (which hosts Nike Cross Southeast and Foot Locker South), the regional meets are held in different states, to make travel as easy and as affordable as possible.

2. Nike is a true team championship, qualifying for the regional alone is impressive
At the Nike Cross Southeast Regional, I saw some the best teams I've ever seen in person. Having to qualify as a top 20 team is not something to be taken lightly. Like winning a state championship, this is an accomplishment in itself. The team that won the meet on the boys side, Belen Jesuit (aka the Miami Magis), is by far the most impressive high school team I've ever seen. Their top five went 14:58, 15:32, 15:50, 15:52 and 15:56 on the honest Wake Med course. The winning girls team, Tatnall (aka Wilmington XC Club), went 17:11, 17:53, 18:16, 18:16, 18:31. Unreal! The fifth girls individual qualifier ran 18:22, which tells you all you need to know about how good Tatnall is and how much of a team competition, and not an individual competition Nike is. Also, their were only five races and the meet was much, much smaller than the Foot Locker meet 150 miles west. What lacked in quantity (with all of Foot Locker's grade races), was made up with the quality of the teams participating in the championship race.

3. Foot Locker is the true individual championship
It seems that the top preps were going back and forth for a few years, but it looks now that the best of the best (not affiliated with high performing teams), are choosing Foot Locker again. Why? Foot Locker is a true individual championship. 40 of the best boys and girls in the nation compete every year at historic Balboa Park in front of the top collegiate coaches in America, as well as their families, friends and rabid running fans. The course is excellent for sorting out the best of the best and the presentation is second to none. On the regional level, there are freshman races, sophomore races, middle school races, etc. It's all about the individual, and it gives everyone a chance to shine that may have been tucked back on their team all season. Here in North Carolina, two time Foot Locker National Qualifier, Thomas Graham, has chosen to forego racing in his hometown of Cary, NC, where Nike Cross Southeast is held, to race at Foot Locker South. That dream of making it to San Diego drives many individuals to Foot Locker; to follow in the footsteps of Chris Solinsky, Meb Keflezighi, Jordan Hasay and the many others that have stayed at the Hotel Del Coronado en route to prep glory.

Whichever your preference... both will be broadcast free online over the next few weeks. Nike Cross Nationals will be broadcast at 12:30 eastern, this Saturday, December 3rd, at NikeXC.comFoot Locker will be live at 12:00 eastern, next Saturday, December 10th at http://footlockercc.com

I'll be excited to watch both!

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3 comments:

  1. Holy crap the times by Belen Jesuit and the girls of Tatnall are crazy fast! I don't remember that many girls on one team running that fast when I was in HS. Cross-country was my favorite high school sport. I loved the variety of courses opposed to just running on tracks.

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  2. Can someone explain to me why Nike and Footlocker have accomodated the West region to make it possible for athletes to qualify for both races but have not done so for the Nike Southeast region athletes? Regionals for Nike Southeast are the same day as Footlocker regionals so athletes from this region cannot participate in both or qualify in both races. In the west, they take the top 2 NXN athletes from the west and allow them to compete at Footlocker. Can't they do the same for the southeast? It may be only 2 guys and 2 girls, but Elliot Clemente and Adam Visokay are penalized for being loyal to their teams and leading their teams at Nike Regionals. They gave up both the chance to run by far the fastest course in the 11 state region at the Footlocker qualifier and put down a fast PR, AND the chance to qualify for and run at Footlocker. There is every indication that both of them would have qualified at FL unless something went wrong.

    They fixed it for the west, why can't they fix it for the southeast too? Don't penalize guys who are loyal to their teams, Footlocker!

    Okay full disclosure I'm the parent of one of those boys mentioned above. Fixing it wont help them but still should be fixed.

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  3. Thanks for reading. Foot Locker South has always been the weekend after Thanksgiving. Nike could have put NXN Southeast in the open weekend before, but chose to directly compete. So your hostility should be directed towards Nike, rather than Foot Locker. Either way, it's a tricky situation and California's schedule throws a wrench in all of it, due to their late start. Most regions should be able to accomodate.

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