Ok, bare with me for these first few sections
One of my biggest goals for this cross country season is to help our readers and fans of the sport better understand the very complicated NCAA Cross Country Kolas qualifying system. It's a difficult system to grasp and even a few head coaches don't understand it in it's entirety.
Earlier this month, we launched our new KOLAS page which will be updated throughout the season. Once there, you can check on that page and see which teams we think will qualify (based on projected Auto-Lock picks) every week. We even have a page solely dedicated to explaining every aspect of the qualifying system. You can check it out here or find it on the KOLAS tab.
The creation of our KOLAS tab and the research needed to understand it eventually left me with a few questions that needed answering...
Which teams and/or regions give up the most Kolas points to other teams throughout the year?
How many of those Kolas points go to waste / do not matter in the overall calculation?
What is the trend for the future? Is that going to change?
KEEP IN MIND that what I am asking is NOT in regards to how many Kolas points a team earned throughout a season. This is how many points that Auto-Lock teams gave to other teams.
Before I could even answer those questions and write this article, I need to be able to fully explain what a "Kolas point" is. Here is how we explain it on our UNDERSTANDING KOLAS page...
There are 9 regional meets in the NCAA where teams can qualify for Nationals. The top 2 teams at each regional championship are automatically given a spot to Nationals, leaving us with 18 "Auto Locks".
This leaves room for 13 "At-Large" teams that can qualify for Nationals by accumulating enough "Kolas points" or "wins" prior to the regional championships.
Kolas Points are given to teams that were not among the 18 Auto Locks, but did earn wins over those Auto Lock teams during the regular season + conference championships.
For instance, if team X placed 3rd at their regional meet, but had defeated 6 other teams that placed in the top 2 of their regional championship, then team X just earned 6 Kolas points.
The teams with the most Kolas points will be selected for the At-Large spots.
That is, in essence, the most basic way the NCAA qualifying system works. If there is any other confusion, don't hesitate to email us at email@example.com
Important for those who want the TL;DR
Throughout this article, we gave some interesting headlines and bolded some cool stats to save you from the technical mumbo-jumbo. Keep an eye out for those are you read through and try to make sense of it all!
This is where things get intense.
Unfortunately, there is no data out there in regards to Kolas points for the NCAA. Why? Because the time it takes to gather that information is excruiatingly long.
In order to figure out how many Kolas points an Auto-Lock team has given up, someone would need to go through the entire season schedule of one team, view all races that are 7500 meters or longer, ensure that they ran at least four of the same guys that they did at regionals that year, and then count the number of teams that beat them at each meet during the regular season + conference championship.
Completing that process for just one team means that you would only be 1/18th of the way done in an attempt to find the total number of Kolas points given to teams for the entire year.
On top of that, if the data was going to be valid and show trends, then you would have to do it for more than just one year (preferably five).
In More basic terms...
To give you an idea of how many results you would have to look through, the average team races about three times a year before their NCAA Regional Championship. If you are examining 18 Auto-Lock teams for a single season and they all race three times that year, then you would have to look through, cross reference, and double check a variety of results 54 different times.
If you were to do that from 2012 to 2016 (a five year span), then you would have to examine results over 270 times and count which squads defeated Auto-Lock teams to find their respected number of Kolas points.
Absolutely insane, right?
That's what my roommate said when I told him that I was going to complete every part of that counting process (and I did).
Again, this is NOT how many Kolas points a team earned throughout a season. This is how many points that Auto-Lock teams gave away to other teams. I am emphasizing that again because that distinction is crucial to your understanding of this article.
THE ACTUAL DATA
Totals & Averages
Over the course of two weeks, I sat at my laptop and counted every single Kolas point from 2012 to 2016. I counted and confirmed 736 Kolas points in that five year span. On average, that is 147.2 Kolas points a year. In layman's terms, 18 Auto-Lock teams have been defeated (sometimes by the same team) at an average of 147.2 times a year.
Trends & Projections
Here are the total Kolas points given up over the past five years...
If it's not already clear, there is a noticeable trend within these five years.
During the even years, the number of Kolas points is below the average of 147.2. During the odd years, the number of Kolas points is above the average. Assuming that trend continues in 2017, then the number of Kolas points given out this year will be approximately 162 points (mean + one standard deviation) (147.2 + 15.28).
Based on that 2017 projection of 162 points, the average number of Kolas points per region is projected to be 18.05 points (162.48 / 9). The average number of Kolas points given up per Auto-Lock team is projected to be 9.03 points (162.48 / 18).
The projected average number of Kolas points for teams in 2017 may be 9.03 points, but which regions and teams are projected to be above or below that average?
Wanna earn Kolas Points? Race in regions with high %
Over the past five years, here is how many points each region has contributed to that total 736 Kolas points...
West: 67 (9%)
Great Lakes: 95 (13%)
Mountain: 25 (3%)
Mid-West: 47 (6%)
Mid-Atlantic: 73 (10%)
South: 167 (23%)
South Central: 103 (14%)
Southeast: 111 (15%)
Northeast: 48 (7%)
Did some averages, did some math, got some Numbers
If we take these percentages and apply them to our 2017 projected total of 162 points, we get the following projected regional totals for the 2017 season...
West: 15 points
Great Lakes: 21 points
Mountain: 6 points
Mid-West: 10 points
Mid-Atlantic: 16 points
South: 37 points
South Central: 23 points
Southeast: 25 points
Northeast: 11 points
In case you couldn't already tell, any southern region makes up a good portion of the Kolas qualifying points. Over the past five years, the South, Southeast, and South Central regions have made up 52% of the overall qualifying points.
A common misconception is that the South Central region is just as guilty as the South region for giving up a lot of Kolas points. However, that's not necessarily true. In fact, the Southeast, a region that holds established programs like Virginia, Furman, and Eastern Kentucky, has actually given up more Kolas points than the South Central region has in the past five years.
Of course, the South region easily gives up more Kolas points than any other region in the nation (and it's not even close).
Wanna make NCAA's? Race the teams above the AVG's
Not only can we see the regional averages, but we also have the team averages. Here is, on average, how much each team has given up during each of the years that they were Auto-Lock teams (must have been an Auto-Lock team 3+ times)...
Florida State (South): 17.3 points (2012, 2014, 2015)
Texas (South Central): 14.2 points (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016)
Ole Miss (South): 12.7 points (2014, 2015, 2016)
Michigan State (Great Lakes): 12 points (2014, 2015, 2016)
Tulsa (Mid-West): 10.7 points (2013, 2015, 2016)
Wisconsin (Great Lakes): 9 points (2012, 2013, 2014, 2016)
---AVERAGE OF TEAM AVERAGES: 8.98 points---
Stanford (West): 8.3 points (2012, 2013, 2015, 2016)
---OVERALL TEAM AVERAGE: 8.17 points---
Georgetown (Mid-Atlantic): 7.8 points (2012, 2014, 2015, 2016)
Michigan (Great Lakes): 7 points (2012, 2013, 2015)
Virginia (Southeast): 6.4 points (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016)
Arkansas (South Central): 6.4 points (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016)
Villanova (Mid-Atlantic): 6 points (2012, 2013, 2014)
N. Arizona (Mountain): 4.5 points (2012, 2013, 2014, 2016)
Syracuse (Northeast): 3.5 points (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016)
Iona (Northeast): 3 points (2012, 2015, 2016)
Oklahoma State (Mid-West): 1.5 points (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016)
Colorado (Mountain): .5 points (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016)
Basically, if you want to maximize the number of Kolas points you get in a season, replicate the racing schedules you see from Florida State, Texas, Ole Miss, Michigan State, Tulsa, Wisconsin, and Stanford. Those teams are more valuable to NCAA qualifying teams than programs with lower averages because they are statistically more likely to give up more points than usual. Of course, you also have to assume that those teams will place in the top two of their region. That is not a guarantee in 2017 for teams like Ole Miss, Florida State, and Michigan State.
At the same time, if you defeat Colorado or Oklahoma State, you are pulling off an extreme rarity. In fact, based on the past five years, it is more likely that Colorado has an undefeated season than have a single loss on their resume (all prior to the regional championship).
Most Kolas points go to waste
Auto vs At-Large vs Outside
Despite some of these teams giving away an insane amount of Kolas points, there is only one "type" that really matters: the At-Large points.
Some Auto-Lock teams will defeat other Auto-Lock teams throughout the season. In the end, this does not matter for either squad because they are both guaranteed a spot to Nationals since they placed in the top two in their region. In a way, the Kolas points given to Auto-Lock teams are rendered useless. Luckily, for programs that are contending for an At-Large spot, this trend is going down. Here are the number of points Auto-Lock teams gave to other Auto-Lock teams throughout each year...
2012: 95 points
2013: 85 points (-10 from 2012)
2014: 70 points (-15 from 2013)
2015: 66 points (-4 from 2014)
2016: 59 points (-7 from 2015)
Which teams give up the most Auto-Lock points on average? If we only take teams that have been Auto-Locks three times in the past five years, then Ole Miss, Texas, Michigan, and Tulsa have been known to give up the most points. Ole Miss has given up the most with an average of 7 points per season.
But what about teams that get Kolas points and STILL don't make Nationals? At TSR, these squads are called "Outside" teams or "Outsiders". Outside teams don't get nearly as many points as Auto-Locks or At-Large teams do. Since 2012, they have only been given 91 of the 736 total points (or 12% in all). However, in 2016, we saw 44 Kolas points distributed to Outsiders, 25.8 points above the five-year average.
Of the teams that have been Auto-Locks for three or more years, Florida State, Ole Miss, Texas, Stanford, and Navy typically give away the most points to Outsiders (FSU has the highest average at 4 points per season).
These next few stats are cool if you made it this far
Much like the points that Auto-Lock teams earn, these Outside points also go to waste since the teams still can't qualify for Nationals. In the end, 63% of all Kolas points since 2015 (~464 points) have gone to teams that either didn't need it or didn't have enough to get in.
The third and final type of team that receives Kolas points are the At-Large teams. Just like you read in the explanation, these teams earned Kolas points throughout the season and had enough to get into Nationals. Simply put, their Kolas points didn't go to waste! Over the past five years, only 37% (~272.32 points) of all Kolas points actually mattered when it came time to make a decision as to who was going to qualify for NCAA's.
If there is one statistic that you need to remember from this entire article it's that Florida State, Michigan State, Texas, Tulsa, and Wisconsin give up the most Kolas points on average to teams that actually qualify for Nationals (of the teams that have been Auto-Locks for three or more years). Florida State gives up an average of 7.7 points per season while Wisconsin gives up the least of this top five with 4 points per season. If you're a team that is constantly fighting for an At-Large spot to Nationals, look to race these teams throughout the season.
These teams made it to Nationals & helped out a bunch of different programs...by a lot
Single Season Stats
Here are the teams that have given up the most total Kolas points in one season...
NC State (2016): 36 points
Georgia (2013): 33 points
Florida State (2015): 29 points
Ole Miss (2015): 27 points
Stanford (2015): 22 points
Michigan State (2014): 22 points
Florida (2013): 22 points
Georgia (2012): 20 points
Here are the teams that have given up the most Auto-Lock Kolas points in one season...
Georgia (2012): 14 points
NC State (2016): 12 points
Georgia (2013): 12 points
Ole Miss (2015): 11 points
8 teams tied at 9 points
Here are the teams that have given up the most At-Large Kolas points in one season...
NC State (2016): 16 points
Michigan State (2014): 12 points
Georgia (2013): 11 points
Florida (2013): 10 points
Texas (2013): 9 points
Florida State (2015): 9 points
Here are the teams that have given up the most Outside Kolas points in one season...
Florida State (2015): 11 points
Georgia (2013): 10 points
NC State (2016): 8 points
Penn (2015): 8 points
Ole Miss (2015): 8 points
Notes & Exceptions
Keep in mind that some Auto-Lock teams like Oklahoma State, Villanova, Mid. Tenn. State, and Navy typically don't go to major regular season meets like Wisconsin or Pre-Nats. So although they may not give up as many Kolas points, they also don't face the strongest competition.
In 2012, Virginia ran a heavy portion of it's varsity lineup at Wisconsin. They placed 27th in that race. However, they only ran three of their top seven runners from regionals at that meet (instead of four or more). Therefore, the 26 teams ahead of them did not count. Had Virginia run one more guy from their regional meet at Wisconsin, then 2012 would have tied 2015 for the most distributed Kolas points in a single year.
If you're still not exhausted, check this out