Debate: Would Casey Clinger Have Won Foot Locker?

Reed Brown unleashed a nasty kick in the final 200m to win the Foot Locker national title this past Saturday in San Diego. While Brown's victory was impressive, it has opened a discussion for the first time that the boys Foot Locker winner may not be the consensus cross country national champion.

Every year since 2004, we've crowned two national champions--one at Nike Cross Nationals and the other at Foot Locker. On the boys side every season, one could easily argue that the Foot Locker winner was better than the NXN champion due to the eye test or a head-to-head matchup at Foot Locker.

Before the season started, we pointed out that the eventual Foot Locker winner may not be the unanimous national champion due to the strength of Casey Clinger, who went undefeated for two straight years at the three-mile/5K distance. Clinger has captured back-to-back NXN titles, including a win over eventual Foot Locker champion Reed Brown, who finished sixth at NXN on Dec. 3.

However, simply saying Clinger would've won Foot Locker because he beat Brown at NXN isn't 100 percent true. Athletes trade wins and losses all the time, so using one race as the ultimate predictor of another race is not justified.

What's great about this question is that there is no concrete answer.

Here are the resumes of Clinger and Brown...

2016 Head-to-Head Matchups:
Clinger beat Brown at the Nike Cross Nationals 5K 15:28.4 to 15:44.9
Brown beat Clinger at the U.S. Olympic Trials High School Mile 4:04.73 to 4:05.96

Lifetime Personal Bests:
Casey Clinger: 4:05.96 mile, 8:51.68 two mile
Reed Brown: 4:04.73 mile, 8:53.51 two mile (3200m converted)

2016 Brooks PR Results:
Casey Clinger: Third, two mile behind Andrew Jordan and Ben Veatch
Reed Brown: Second, mile behind Jon Davis

We asked the FloTrack and MileSplit crews the question on everyone's mind. Would Casey Clinger have won Foot Locker?

GORDON: Yes. I believe Clinger has demonstrated his dominance of cross country running over the past two seasons by winning 15 straight races. I doubt Foot Locker would've turned out any differently. However, if Clinger and Brown were to race a two mile on the track, I would put my money on Brown.

MEG: No. I'm thinking BOLD. Brown was on another level in San Diego. Yeah he didn't win the Texas state meet, or NXN South, or Foot Locker South. But his sixth-place at NXN--in sloppy conditions--was a better performance than 14th in '15. And his come-from-behind win over Seth Hirsch and Finn Gessner was strategically perfect and faster than both of Grant Fisher's FL victories. Clinger's an unknown because he's never raced at Foot Locker. He didn't have anyone around him in Portland, and perhaps in a more concentrated field would have fallen victim to Brown's kick.

DENNIS: Yes. The case for "yes" is obvious. Clinger beat Brown at NXN by 16 seconds; he beat Seth Hirsch at NXN by 9 seconds, better than the three-second margin that Brown beat Hirsch by at Foot Locker. The case for "no" exists, though. Brown's 15:02 is really fast--faster than either of Grant Fisher's wins and in the same ballpark as Drew Hunter, Edward Cheserek, and Lukas Verzbicas' winning times. Brown beat Clinger by 1.2 seconds in the high school mile at the Olympic Trials, so he has serious speed. And NXN was not a race for pure milers. It was muddy as hell in Portland, and the cliche that milers hate the mud is generally true. In good conditions--like those at Foot Locker--Brown would have had a shot at beating Clinger. My opinion is that Clinger would have made Foot Locker a grind from the start, and dropped Brown well before the finish. But it's easy to imagine a race on good footing and in good weather where Brown sticks around and outkicks Clinger.

JOJO: Yes. Reed Brown won Foot Locker fair and square but the competitors in San Diego were so closely matched that if you contested the race tomorrow, someone else would win. If you don't believe that, take a look at his last few races: he's finished no higher than fourth through the Texas state meet, NXN South, Foot Locker South and NXN (he was sixth in Portland). Meanwhile, Clinger is simply dominant. At NXN, he appeared to be running casually through the first two miles while making sure his teammates --McKay Johns and Patrick Parker, who would finish as All-Americans-- were in good position. When he decided to take off, he easily put seven seconds on the field and left everyone fighting for second place.

TRAVIS: No. Firstly, being a NYer, I'll reference speed ratings to point out that objectively...Reed's performance (202) was better than both of Casey's NXN titles (200). Reed gets written off as a pure track runner and is the most underrated XC runner in the country. Casey is a phenomenal athlete, but Reed's focus has been in the right place all season and no one was beating him at Foot Locker. I still can't believe how few people gave him a shot at winning. Even more absurd is how many more are calling it an upset after he won. Again showing how many underestimate his ability.

What do you think?