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Teams May Advance in a Timely Manner

Cross-country: New rule allowing teams to be considered for at-large state berths by meeting a preset qualifying standard should benefit Southern Section.


When the Southern Section cross-country finals begin Saturday at Mt. San Antonio College, more than section titles and automatic qualifying berths for the state meet will be at stake.

For the first time, teams that meet or finish under predetermined race times will be considered for at-large berths for the state finals, Nov. 25 at Woodward Park in Fresno.

This secondary qualifying system is the brainchild of the California Coaches Alliance, a professional organization of track and cross-country coaches from across the state.

A majority of the CCA's members have long sought to send a true representation of the state's top teams to Fresno, instead of limiting each of the 10 sections to a predetermined number of automatic berths.

In the past, only teams that finished among the top four in each division within the Southern Section earned berths, as well as the top two from each division within the San Diego, City, Central, Central Coast, North Coast, Northern and San Joaquin sections. The Oakland and San Francisco sections, each with only six schools fielding cross-country teams, send only the winners of the Division I races. The City, Oakland and San Francisco sections field only Division I teams.

With the Southern Section having more than three times as many schools as the next largest section, and a majority of the top cross-country teams, it stands to be the biggest beneficiary of the new qualifying system.

"The Southern Section will blow everything out of proportion because it's so powerful," said Woodbridge Coach and CCA President George Varvas, envisioning the starting line at future state championships.

Finding a way to get the best teams to Fresno while keeping the at-large qualifying process fair for all sections took some thought. CCA members eventually came up with a formula and convinced each of the section's commissioners, who, in turn, presented the idea to the CIF state federated council, which approved it for the current cross-country season and the upcoming track season.

The at-large qualifying time for cross-country varies according to division. One of the components is the particular course each section uses for its finals.

The Southern Section runs its finals at Mt. San Antonio College, which has proven to be about a minute slower per boys' team than the Woodward Park course.

Taking the average 10th-place time at the boys' Division I state finals the last three years and adjusting for the slower Mt. SAC course, the boys' Southern Section Division I at-large qualifying time was set at 1 hour 21 minutes 29 seconds.

At the Southern Section preliminaries six days ago, 14 Division I boys' teams met that time, including two teams that didn't advance out of the prelims.

In all, 73 boys' and girls' teams at the Southern Section prelims met their divisions' at-large qualifying times. Not counting the 40 teams that finished among the top four in each division, that left 33 additional teams that would have qualified for the state finals.

By comparison, the Northern, San Francisco and Oakland sections didn't have any teams meet the at-large standards at their section finals, and the San Joaquin, Central Coast and Central sections each had only one.

The at-large qualifying system isn't aimed to please the Southern Section alone.

The San Diego Section had three of the state's strongest teams come from the same league last season, but since only two automatic qualifying berths were available in their division, one team didn't qualify.

"Any one of those teams could have won a state title," Varvas said, "but one had to stay home."

However, even if a team meets the at-large qualifying time, there's no guarantee it will advance to the state meet.

Because the starting line at Woodward Park is limited to 25 teams per division, only a handful of at-large teams will qualify based on their times.

Southern Section coaches will be informed by a CIF official Sunday morning if their teams have qualified.

Also, if a team does not meet the automatic qualifying standard or the at-large qualifying time, no team that finishes below it in the standings will be considered for an at-large berth, even if it meets the qualifying time. Because a point system is used to determine team champions and automatic qualifiers, it is possible for a fifth-place team to have a slower time than a team that finishes below it in the point standings.

"That's one point a lot of these coaches don't understand," said Hal Harkness, the Southern Section's meet manager. "They think just because they meet the team time, they will be considered for the state meet."

Another factor that could eliminate at-large berths altogether is the weather. Although rain is not expected Saturday, if the section finals were held on an alternate rain course, then no at-large qualifiers will be permitted because the course will not have the history needed to determine a qualifying time.

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