We love to find sporting mismatches and work them to our advantage. Whether it’s pitting your tallest wide receiver against an opponent’s shortest defensive back or pinch hitting a left-handed hitter against a right-handed reliever, finding a competitive advantage is so much a part of our nature that it may as well have been written into our DNA.
Still, crossing the fine line between taking advantage and flat-out cheating is an unforgiveable act.
The problem, sadly, is that there isn’t always a road map to tell you exactly where the line between the two lies. Your own, personal GPS locator varies depending on who you root for: Your players commit indiscretions; their players break rules.
So where exactly on that spectrum lies the situation the Great Northern League faced in last year’s track and field postseason?
The situation was this: The GNL could have sent athletes directly to state from their district championship meet but would have been limited to just one per event.
So the league talked with the Central Washington Athletic Conference about coupling its state berth with theirs in a regional meet and were presented with a take-it-or-leave it proposition: GNL athletes could compete for two state berths while CWAC athletes could claim as many as four slots. Why would the GNL be limited to two state berths? Because it was allowed just two berths per event in the regional meet while the CWAC sent 16.
“There wasn’t anything we could do about it, really,” East Valley girls coach Shane Toy said. “They have 10 schools in their conference and we only have seven, so we were out-voted.”
The GNL had an outstanding girls season, and the limit on regional berths meant that a number of state-caliber athletes – athletes fully capable of standing atop the medal platform at the state meet – stayed home.
“We did OK,” Toy said. “We got 95 percent of our girls through to the state meet.”
This year the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association has allocated the GNL two state berths per event, so it will skip a regional meet and qualify athletes directly into the state meet.
It’s not a perfect solution. Big-time performances often come out in big-time meets and the GNL will have one fewer big-time meet than the rest of the state.
And there’s still the problem of leaving state-caliber athletes home.
There’s a solution for that, Toy insists.
At regional meets, an athlete can also qualify for the state meet in two ways: by placing in the top two in an event or by meeting a state-qualifying standard. For example, if the state-qualifying standard in the high jump is 5-feet-2 inches, any jumper who clears that height has a state berth.
Traditionally, state qualifying standards don’t come into play until the regional meet, and there has been no decision on whether they will be used in the district meet.
“We didn’t have a league coaches meeting this year, so we haven’t discussed it,” Toy said. “I’m hopeful that it’s just a formality at this point.”
It’s the fair thing to do, after all.