One of the biggest hot button topics heading into the upcoming New Jersey cross country season is a proposal by the NJSIAA that could potentially drastically change the current format of the NJSIAA Cross-Country Meet of Champions (MOCs).
Al Stumpf, the NJSIAA XC Tournament Director, said the official proposal, which would be a 2-year trial if approved, would be posted on the NJSIAA website prior it being voted on by the NJSIAA's Executive Committee. According to the NJSIAA website, that meeting is scheduled for September 14th.
While the official proposal has yet to be released, there's been leaked information from a meeting between the NJSIAA and some cross country coaches where discussions about what the proposal may look like were held. One of the topics was the possibility of eliminating official team champions at MOCs, something that's recently happened in every other high school sport in NJ that once held a team Tournament of Champions.
This has sparked plenty of speculation and chatter in the New Jersey cross country community, and has created quite a stir among the cross country coaches around the state.
The South Jersey Track Coaches Association, who represents the seven southern most counties in the state, (Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, and Salem) have issued a statement regarding the proposal. The SJTCA feels very strongly that the cross country MOCs should not be altered in any way.
Here's the full SJTCA statement, which was emailed late Wednesday night to Colleen Maguire, the Executive Director of the NJSIAA, and Stumpf.
Statement From the SJTCA to NJSIAA
This fall will mark the 50th anniversary of the NJSIAA State Meet of Champions in cross country. Over the years the event has evolved into one of the most prestigious and widely admired events hosted by any high school state federation in the country. The event itself is a spectacle, drawing interest and attendance of not just current athletes and coaches but thousands of parents, alumni, former runners and coaches and fans of the sport. Before the gun sounds or a single spike strikes the ground, the athletes and teams who qualify for the meet have achieved something remarkable.
At its inception in 1972, the meet was a unique feature of the New Jersey high school sports calendar. It was the first All-Group Championship. Since 1973, with the addition of the team competition, the Meet of Champions (MOC) has only grown in popularity. Over the years, the MOC has provided an opportunity for schools of all sizes, demographics, from every county and conference in the state, the chance to achieve season long aspirations. The unique nature of the sport of cross country allows teams the ability to achieve success regardless of podium finish. Simply put, the New Jersey Cross Country Meet of Champions is one the most beloved events in NJSIAA sports.
Considering this widely accepted sentiment, the coaches of the SJTCA were surprised and disappointed to learn that the NJSIAA is considering a dramatic alteration to the meet format by eliminating the association sponsored team competition and reducing individual and team qualification opportunities. While we understand that in many other sports support for a Tournament of Champions has been mixed, this is not the case in cross country where enthusiasm for the Meet of Champions is universal.
In December of 2021 the NJSIAA officially adopted legislation eliminating Tournament of Champions competition in specifically listed sports. The legislation explicitly eliminated the TOC in all team sports with the exception of cross country. This omission is important: it preserved the individual culminating events in sports like Track & Field, Swimming, and Wrestling. Either the executive committee believed the team component should remain an aspect of the cross country championship or, disturbingly, they disregarded its existence. On November 23, 2021 the cross country committee convened. At the meeting it was incorrectly reported to the committee, many of whom vehemently objected, that the Meet of Champions team competition would be eliminated. The NJSIAA later corrected the minutes and acknowledged that cross country was not a part of the December 2021 Tournament of Champions elimination legislation.
While coaches on the cross country committee were warned that they might need to justify the team competition to the Executive Committee in the future, to our knowledge, there was no opportunity to do so. Furthermore, based on publicly available information, the topic was not openly discussed at any official NJSIAA meeting between the November 23rd meeting and the release of the NorthJersey.com article outlining the current proposal. The article described a meeting which took place on July 26, 2022 composed of a small group of coaches and NJSIAA leadership where, after determined resistance by many of the coaches present, the current proposal was introduced.
The South Jersey Track Coaches Association (SJTCA) has serious questions about the decision making process:
● Why was there no large scale attempt made to survey coaches for their input on possible alterations to the meet?
● Are there publicly available meeting minutes between the 2021 Cross Country Committee meeting and the July 26, 2022 meeting that refer to any discussion of this proposed change?
● What is the process for changing the format of an NJSIAA Championship and is that process being followed in this instance?
● Can such changes be unilaterally implemented without consultation and agreement from stakeholders (principals, athletic directors, coaches, athletes, fans, etc.)?
It is the position of the SJTCA that the Meet of Champions in its current, inclusive, elite, and safe, format should be maintained. We feel certain that coaches from around the state concur with our position. To affirm this belief the SJTCA will be conducting a statewide survey of coaches. It is our sincere hope that the NJSIAA will listen to the voices of the coaches who represent the most important constituency in this discussion: high school cross country runners.
The South Jersey Track Coaches Association (SJTCA)