Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Travel distance to NXN Regionals - a reason for rearranging the regional borders (Part II)

(this post is part of a series of 3, see the first post here and the last one here)

Would it be so bad if Nike re-arranged the regions on the East coast and added an additional region out West? You would drastically decrease average distance to regional meets, which should increase participation numbers. Plus, if you add a fifth at-large and allow a maximum of 5 teams per region (rather than the current 4 at-large and 4 per region), you wouldn’t lose hardly any competitiveness at the national meets, PLUS you get to a more ‘round’ number of 25 teams rather than 22 as well as a more ‘round’ number of 225 athletes instead of 199. The only downside, in my opinion, is that Nike would be paying for another 6 teams and 10 individuals. That is a significant factor, obviously, since Nike is the one paying these bills, though I don't know how much the additional participation at the regional meets would help offset the costs.

Here’s what the changes could be:

-Combine New York with the New England states, the meet can stay at Bowdoin Park. Alternatively, it could be in the Albany or Hartford areas, but Bowdoin Park would still be a great location for it.

-Combine New Jersey and Pennsylvania with Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Washington DC. Hold the meet in the Wilmington DE/Philadelphia PA area. You won’t lose any kids to FLNE, and few if any kids to FLS (Southwest Virginia would be closer to FLS, the rest would be closer to NXN unlike the current set-up for the Southeast).

-Move Mississippi from the South to the Southeast, and move the meet to the Atlanta area. That should increase participation in the western half of the Southeast, though it would be further for North Carolina and eastern South Carolina athletes to travel to, but closer for everyone else. Again, that would only help the numbers compared to the draw of FLS.

-Move Utah to the Northwest while splitting off Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Hawaii into a “Pacific Northwest” region. Northwest meet could be held in Boise (it wouldn’t be any change for the current Northwest states, and Boise is closer than Mesa AZ for Utah anyways), or you could move it to Salt Lake City (closer for Utah and Wyoming, but further for Idaho and western Montana with no change for central/eastern Montana). Pacific Northwest region could be held in either Seattle, Tacoma or Portland – all which would have more (and thus probably better) airfare options for Alaska and Hawaii athletes, and the change in location should draw significantly more teams and athletes from western Washington and western Oregon (the vast majority of the population in the current Northwest).

At first glance, people might assume a few things:

1. Combining New York with another region is ridiculous, because New York girls are so good!

2. Washington and Oregon haven’t produced enough quality girls teams since the regionals started for them to have their own region

3. The NEW Northwest/Mountain West, Pacific Northwest and Southwest regions would be tiny! They’d never have enough quality teams on either side to be competitive every year.

4. The Southeast isn’t strong enough as it is to be split up, why would you want to water down the competition in that area even further?

But all four of those points are either wrong or exaggerated (in my opinion), and let me explain why:

1. Combining New York with another region would NOT mean that New York teams wouldn’t get into NXN if they were good enough to finish in the top 10. In fact, it’s MORE likely because not only are the very good New York teams (if they’re really that good) beating up on teams from what used to be other regions, they’ll look better doing it – only adding teams to the “New York” field would only make the region more competitive, which would more clearly sort out the “great” from the “good but not great”. In addition, by raising the regional limit and adding an additional wildcard, strong New York teams would have a BETTER chance of making it to nationals because there is potentially one extra spot available to them.

2. Washington and Oregon have had at least two teams in the top 3 in the Northwest every single year, and have earned nine of the 12 spots as it is (Bishop Kelly ID 2009, Bozeman MT 2010 and Coeur d’Alene ID 2012 are the only teams from outside Washington/Oregon to qualify during the regional era). In those three years, the second best Washington/Oregon teams were better than multiple teams that qualified out of weaker regions.

3. Yes, all three regions would have few states and small populations compared to the other regions in the nation. But they are also the largest states geographically, and nearly all are among the strongest states per-capita. At worst, they would still be “average” regions. At best, the National meet would be stronger because the depth of the Southwest and Northwest would be split up (on the boys side, that is certainly the case – just take a quick look at how strong the Southwest has been, and realize that Utah is about half of that resurgence – by essentially splitting the Southwest in two, and combining one of those halves with states that struggle to get in the top 10 in the current Northwest, you’re only helping Utah and the other current Southwest states get more opportunities).

4. True, losing those states (particularly Virginia, and Tatnall DE) to the Mid-Atlantic would be a big blow to the Southeast, and adding in Mississippi to the mix wouldn’t nearly make up for the loss. On the other hand, you’d be helping the rest of the region by making the meet much more accessible, and making the team competition a much more viable post-season option, and in the process make one of the weakest regions (Northeast girls) over the last few years become two of the strongest (I'm guessing the Mid-Atlantic wouldn't be quite as deep as the Midwest if you include Michigan and maybe not the remaining Southwest, but it wouldn't be far off, though it wouldn't touch California and the Northeast... but with Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Tatnall DE it would certainly not be a weak region by any stretch of the imagination). The Southeast would be a little further down the totem pole, but the girls would be perfectly fine – it’s already a deep region, and the remaining Southeast states would still be competitive at the national level. The boys haven’t been as competitive in the past, but with more participation from Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky, and more exposure for all the states in the area, the caliber of boys programs could see a more significant rise than they would in the current situation.

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