Updated: Feb 20, 2018
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"After watching the Eagles win their first Super Bowl, it got me wondering...which NCAA XC team is in the most desperate need of a cross country team title?" - PHL41 NE33
This is a really good question that I'm honestly unsure if I can answer accurately. The thing about the NCAA is that there are so many teams who put scholarship money into different areas. Syracuse puts all of their scholarship money into cross country while schools like Georgia put all of their scholarship money into track. Naturally, Georgia is going to be a better program on the track while Syracuse will be a better program during cross country. It wouldn't really be fair to consider Georgia in this conversation, so be sure to consider that as you read this...
For the sake of this topic, let's just assume that the teams we are discussing currently reside in the Power 5 conferences (ACC, BIG 10, SEC, BIG 12, PAC 12). Below, you will find the total number of NCAA XC titles that each current Power 5 program has secured over the 78 year history of the NCAA Cross Country Championships (1943 did not hold a championship due to WWII).
Arkansas: 11 Michigan State: 8 Oregon: 6 Colorado: 5 Wisconsin: 5 Oklahoma State: 4 Stanford: 4
Indiana: 3 Syracuse: 2 Penn State: 2 Iowa State: 2 Notre Dame: 1 Kansas: 1 Tennessee: 1
As you can see, this list still leaves A LOT of Power 5 teams without a team title. Yet, if there's one team that truly stands out, it might be the Michigan Wolverines. When you look at the Great Lakes region, you'll see that teams like Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana, and Notre Dame all have at least one cross country title. The Wolverines do not.
Obviously, there are plenty of other cross country program in that region without a title, but none may be more historic and more legendary than Michigan. When you consider the all-time greats to come out of the program (Alan Webb, Nick Willis, Nate Brannen, Kevin Sullivan, etc.) it's hard to believe that they have never earned the big win.
Of course, we also have to acknowledge that this program has historically put a lot of focus on their milers. Rivals like Wisconsin and the 1950's Michigan State squad have often had the sole focus of succeeding in cross country over track.
Some may argue that the SEC is underrepresented with just Arkansas and Tennessee, but historically, the conference has been dominated by sprinters. Mississippi is a team that is beginning to focus on their long-distance guys, but they are still more of a track-oriented program than anything. Aside from Arkansas, there hasn't really been a team in the SEC with the central focus being entirely on cross country.
The Virginia Cavaliers are another team that stand-out as a very Eagles-esque cross country program. For as long as I have been following the sport, UVA has been revered as one of the top programs in the nation. Sure, some seasons are better than others, but they have still been at the top of the NCAA most years. They have elite recruiting, outstanding depth, and are consistently ranked at the top of the polls.
And what about Texas? Almost a decade ago, they were known as one of the biggest threats in cross country with guys like Craig Lutz, Ryan Dohner, and Leo Manzano (to name a few). Now, the Longhorns are going through a bit of a rebuilding period as they attempt to regain their prominence among some of the top cross country teams in the nation.
Talking about all of the relevant Power 5 teams that are still looking for a title would take forever. Obviously, the ultimate goal for these squads is to win it all. Yet, when you consider the teams that have historically focused on and succeeded in cross country, programs like Michigan, Virginia, and Texas can't go ignored. If you're looking for other teams like that, you may want to consider Washington, Oklahoma, and NC State as well.
Who knows? Maybe one of those teams will be the miracle underdogs of 2018 just like the Eagles were...
"How legitimate do you think the altitude conversions are that we have seen so far?" - MileHigh
This question gets asked every single year after someone earns a generous altitude conversion. This past weekend, it was Southern Utah's Kasey Knevelbaard who ran a 4:04 mile at roughly 7000 ft (someone can correct me on that). With a conversion, that time is converted into a 3:55. At Colorado, we saw Zach Perrin and Ben Saarel run a pair of 4:03's to earn conversions of 3:57. Cole Rockhold ran 4:04 to earn a 3:58 conversion.
The altitude conversion system that the NCAA has is on lock-down, meaning that only they know what the conversion is going to be once a race is finished. The conversion system, although not officially published, has been consistently criticized over the years. During the 2014-2015 indoor track season, Montana State's Cristian Soratos ran a mile at altitude on a flat-track and earned a converted time of 3:56. Prior to this performance, no one had ever heard of Soratos which eventually led to questioning the validity of his time.
Fast forward to the Husky Classic in February, and Soratos threw down a 3:55 to win the meet and upset some huge names like Brannon Kidder and Daniel Winn. After that, no one questioned the conversion...or at least, not for the rest of the season.
Are the conversions exact? No. They never will be. But there are plenty of other examples of altitude converted times eventually matching the performances of the athlete. Let's take a look at the altitude converted milers from 2017...
- There were 8 men who dipped under 4 minutes in the mile thanks to a conversion from altitude.
- Of those 8 individuals, 7 of them qualified for Nationals.
- Of those 7 qualifiers, 5 of them later became All-Americans (some of them, albeit, in a different event).
- The 2 who did not become All-Americans that year were already All-Americans in a separate season.
Discussing examples like these from every year of results would take forever. However, what I can tell you is that the trend is relatively consistent. For the most part, altitude conversions are accurate and, most of the time, the athlete usually comes back to run a performance that is an equivalent of their altitude conversion.