Short answer: You don’t need schools for cross country, and you certainly don’t need cross country to race.
The Ivy League cancelled their fall sports this week as the Big 10 announced that they would only compete within their conference, apparently oblivious to the fact that there are many more non-Big 10 schools in close proximity to Big 10 schools. than their schools are to each other. We’ll have to double check Google Maps*, but we’re pretty sure University of Nebraska (Big 10) is much closer to Kansas State (Big 12) than it is to Rutgers (Big 10).
Closer to home - geographically and athletically - Oklahoma State is certainly hoping that college sports are at peak corona-crazy right now so they can go ahead and host the NCAA Division I Cross Country championships for the first time.
And even closer than that, does anyone know if Tulsa Public Schools and the Oklahoma High School Sports federation have any clue about what they’re going to do about fall sports, particularly cross country? Sand Springs seems to have a plan, as do some of Tulsa’s charter schools, but what about the big ones at the local and state level?
Cross country is only slightly less socially-distanced than track & field. Other than the 10-15 minutes when the athletes are in the starting corral, they are rarely in close proximity to each other. When they are in the corral, they are breathing on the back of each other’s necks, not into their faces like football linemen do. Once they are running, because they are running through wide open spaces outdoors, they are literally doing the exact opposite of the conditions that most strongly facilitate coronavirus transmission: prolonged close contact in an enclosed space.
And then there’s the little matter that, as not only young people but highly fit and healthy young people, they are at negligible risk of infection and perhaps have an even lower probability of asymptomatic transmission.
But at what point in the last six months did facts, data and logic affect any wide-scale decisions?
Despite all that, there’s always the chance that someone somewhere will decide to cancel cross country, either as collateral damage from cancelling “higher” “risk” sports like football (since it’s COVID-19, and not football, that would make football dangerous) or as a token gesture of doing something in order to preserve football.
If there is no cross country, here’s the plan: we’ll take over cross country. We’ll talk to running and track coaches in the Tulsa area, ask them to take off their school hats and put on their “I’m a coach, first and foremost” hat to find a course, recruit athletes and put on a race. Between the local high schools and colleges, there has to be at least a few coaches with the local knowledge, ambition and athlete-centric world view to put on a meet if no one else will.
Failing that, we’ll get on a track. Not every track will fall under the jurisdiction of whoever cancelled the cross country season, and we’re reasonably hopeful that at least one XC/TF coach or athletic director will be willing to take our money (“ours” meaning all of ours, like maybe yours, dear reader). Heaven knows schools need money these days. If they remained fraught with concern, we’ll do race after race after race (mile? Two mile? 3000, 5000, 6000 meters? Whatever we want!), however many at a time will satisfy the fearful facility folks, and limit spectators for each race to a similar, proportional number. It might take us all day or all weekend, but everyone will get to race.
And if that doesn’t work, well, the only people in the running community taking a bigger hit than coaches and athletes are the running stores. If they don’t get over themselves and put on their usual slate of autumnal 5K road races, well, running warehouse dot com will thank them for it.
Let the local cross country athletes take over the Tulsa road racing scene. But they will race.
Athletes in all sports and at all levels have worked too hard this summer to not have the reward of competing. There’s more than enough pent up energy in the world looking for a release, and we - as coaches and athletes - know the best, most positive way of doing it. If the normal suppliers of competition are not out there, we - the suppliers of athletes - will just have to meet that demand.
Tulsa will have distance running this fall, whether it’s cross country, track or road racing. It’s not a question of if or when, simply what and by whom.
*And if you need a place to train for track & field, forget Google Maps: That’s literally what NALathletics’ map is for.