O Log - Championships

[ 2-Mar-05] 

    Previously I have written about some of my ideas for restructuring all the championships in the US, which I feel is a baroque mess. I had meant to write an article for ONA further refining my thoughts and presenting an alternative that tries to capture alot of other peoples' ideas over the years. I never got to it, but recently some proposals came across the board (including one, since revised, to dump night O and add trail O), so I decided, after a couple of posts to the board with these thoughts, to take the time to get my thoughts down in one place before more patching occurred.

    Well it didn't end up in ONA, before the board, or on the clubnet, but it did end up with the VP of competition and here. I guess that is because I get my racing done in Europe primarily, do not compete for individual championships that often, and it is up to those who this affects more to care more (in other words, who am I to speak for others). I glad I can mark this to do off my list finally. Hopefully some find it valuable.

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    I. Overview
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    There are some in USOF who would like to see the championship package improved. There is some feeling that there are too many championships, with more continually being bolted onto a baroque package, leading to product dilution, and a feeling that our premier championship needs to be more aligned with IOF WOC formats (sprint, middle, and long individual races versus a two day classic). These goals dovetail in a sense, as we do have individual championships in the IOF formats, more or less, yet it is just too much as we struggle each year to fill all the bids (for example, the '06 classic championships are not even in sanctioning yet, despite an 18 month lead time requirement. Other championships look like they will be unbid).

    My goal here is to simply analyze what I see are the problems, and propose something that attempts to address them. I try to synthesize points others have made over the years, and make as many people happy as possible, while still addressing problems. I have no hidden agenda here -- in fact, if I were king, the system I would impose would be different than the one I propose. Consider it a starting point for discussion from someone who is unhappy with the present package, and unhappy with the ongoing maintenance (or lack thereof) of the present package. I realise some of these proposals will generate controversy, but my goal is not to upset anyone, only to explore better alternatives if they exist.

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    II. Problems
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    A. Too Much Product
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    The following championships are on the books (USOF rule 3.2.4): Individual, Ski, Intercollegiate, Long, Relay, Short, Night, Interscholastic, Trail, and Rogaining. There is presently a proposal to add Sprint to this package.

    There are some that see this as too much, as too dilutive, or as championship inflation. Less abstractly, USOF is a weak organization in terms of resources (as compared to our European peers), yet is trying to use those limited resources to conduct all these championships. It stands to reason, all other things being equal, that if the same number of resources were spread over fewer championship races, the quality of the remaining races would improve, as would their cachet. Perhaps we'd even have competitive bids for the remaining championships, leading to better resource allocation, and hence better product. For example, how many of these championships use new maps?

    For some of these championships, there is a struggle to get a bid, or they remain unbid. Some of these championships are in disciplines with very few participants; in some case, the only race all year is the championship. That simply feels dilutive to me.

    In plain English, we seem spread thin. And many have pointed out a quality issue. The two often go hand in hand.

    B. The Wrong Product
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    It is no secret that some of the younger membership would like to see more races aligned with the IOF disciplines, i.e., sprint, middle, and long distance. (And as an aside, most are aware that this means more than changing winning times, but finding terrain and making maps which each format in mind).

    I'm not clear as to what percentage want this format, and, quite frankly, in an ideal world, finding out would be an appropriate research task. Anecdotally, tho, people I talk to and I read find the two-day combined time USOF classic distance format becoming passe, and individual races in the IOF formats more interesting, exciting, and relevant to international competition.

    And this makes sense, at least from a training perspective. If one wants to get good at things, the best training is to do those specific things one wants to get good at. Since the rest of the world has moved to conducting sprint/middle/long races, running those race formats here will better prepare one for those races over there. Thus, expecting championships in that format makes more sense.

    Of course, we do have a long, short, and sprint (proposed) championship now. But these are not the premier championships; they are not what one prepares for if one wants to be _the_ US champion. Moreover, there are less races conducted in these formats than in the main championship format. The main championship format drives the formats of the supporting races. Less races in the format means less training specificity, and worse international results.

    And I can say this is real from personal experience. I used to be terrible at true middle distance format but generally happy with my classic distance results, all things considered. But lots of middle distance racing in Europe has made me better in that discipline specifically where I am now generally happy with those results, and it is not speed. It is technique and practice on the format.

    Every other country I'm aware of (caveat -- I haven't studied all that many) has aligned with IOF on this in some regard, including Canada and O newcomers as Uruguay and Brazil. While being different isn't always bad, I don't see a compelling reason to remain so, but see compelling benefits in not remaining so.

    Of course, I understand that the majority probably likes the two-day classic format. As many have pointed out, and has been conducted at A meets, there is no reason the two formats cannot co-exist at a championship. Proposing this will be an attempt to make as many people happy as possible.

    C. Selling the Product
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    Since I've been involved with orienteering (6 or so years), there has been talk about growth, growth plans, and worry that it is not growing. I'm not sure, but to me, it probably seems about the same as it was when I started.

    Will repackaging, rebranding, or changing the product lead to more growth? I don't know, probably not, but when your growth is stagnant, and there are _other_ compelling reasons to change, it is probably worth the risk.

    Does "sprint/middle/long races" sound snappier than "2 day classic distance". Would such repackaging appeal more to the younger, athletic prospects we need to sustain the sport? Would specifically targeting and branding a "Junior Championship" do the same? I don't know, I'm not a marketing guy; perhaps it sounds better to me because it is change or I am playing with words, but words do matter.

    Would a sleeker, more concentrated championship package appeal more to sponsors? Do our sponsors and prospective sponsors understand our present championship package? Has confusion about the current package turned off prospective sponsors?

    I have no idea, but it is interesting to speculate. Change can either be good or bad. Change is generally bad when you are content with the status quo, yet is worth the risk when you are not.

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    III. Proposal
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    A. Summary
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    * Divide our championships into major (annual) and non-major (bi-annual) championships, based on participation, interest, and how often the particular race formats are presently bid as A days or championships.

    * Brand a Junior Championship (using modern IOF formats), and cut M/F21 over to modern IOF formats, while retaining two day classic for age classes.

    * Eliminate redundant/obsolete races.

    B. Major Championships
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    Major championships will be conducted annually. Unless there is a compelling reason not to, they should be conducted on new maps. They are:

    B1. US Championships

    M/F 20; M/F 21 will have one race in each IOF WOC individual discipline [presently sprint, middle, and long] using true IOF guidelines for these formats. Either a champion will be crowned in each discipline, or an overall champion will be crowned based on some scoring system that combines the results of the three races [to be determined based on preference]. Other age classes will have a two-day combined classic distance championship.

    These races should be held in the fall [I personally don't like this, as it eliminates a potential way to make the package even stronger].

    At least one of these races should be bid as a WRE for M/F 21, and thus have an IOF consultant. At the minimum, there should be an _on site_ USOF consultant.

    B2. US Junior and Intercollegiate Championships

    There will be one championship course for women, and one for men, in each JWOC discipline. Either an individual champion will be crowned in each discipline, or an overall individual champion will be crowned based on some scoring system that combines the results of the races [to be determined based on preference]. Eligibility for individual championships will be based on JWOC guidelines [age <21 I believe]. At the minimum, there should be an _on site_ USOF consultant.

    Additionally, there will be a team championship [teams being based on present Intercollegiate roster rules; scoring based on results of performance on each of the championship courses -- probably a TBD scoring system]. Those eligible to be on a college roster but ineligible for JWOC would still run the championship course for their gender, they would simply be ineligible for an individual championship (but of course count towards team scoring).

    These races should be held in the spring, and should carry tremendous weight, if not total weight, in JWOC team selection. [One thing that always comes up is inability for juniors to get to enough races to make the JWOC team. Team trials at the Junior championships solves this problem (one race to get to), and is better anyway, IMHO].

    [The idea of creating a separate junior champs and combining with the IC could generate mass or excitement for both in the same demographic. It would be an experiment, but I feel a worthwhile one. It would also promote the IC's to a USOF premier championship, and I think that is a good thing].

    Other races for other age classes could be held concurrently, probably as A days, but not championships [as is current practice].

    [One bug in this proposal, considerable, but not a showstopper, is the ambiguity between Junior Champ and age class winner of M/F20 at the US Champs. It should be clear, however, that this is the Junior Championship. This leads to the possibility of contesting the Junior Champs in the spring, then running the US champs as M/F21 in the fall. I think this is a good thing, but admit I am not totally happy with this bug, but I think it is ok.]

    B3. Interscholastic Championships.

    This is a well-participated championship and deserves major status. While I personally would change both the eligibility rules, races formats, and scoring rules, these changes can be done outside this proposed framework, if at all.

    B4. Relay Championships

    This is both a WOC and JWOC format, and deserves major status. It is not as great a draw as I would like, but perhaps that would change.

    C. Non-major Championships
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    Non-major championships will be conducted bi-annually. As these formats become more popular, and races other than championships are conducted on a widespread basis, or clubs are trying to bid them every year, they could be moved to major status.

    These championships are: Ski, Night, Trail, Rogaining, and Ultra-Long.

    (Ultra-Long is an IOF discipline. Format could be mass or interval start; traditional, goat, or Farsta).

    D. North American Championships
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    The NA Champs will follow the US Champs format as above when it is USOF's turn to host them.

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    VI. Conclusion
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    I hope someone finds the above valuable. I speak only for myself and not my club, the board, or the team or the team esc. The intent is really to spur discussion, tho it would be nice from my point of view to have this rather than what we have.

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