NXN: Getting pulled in 50 directions, and keeping it together.

NXN: Getting pulled in 50 directions,
and keeping it together.

The fine print that created an opportunity for one, has created disappointment for another. Just ask Nike how hard it is to stay within the letter of the rules with 50 high school state associations.

On the surface, the high school sanctioning rules and regulations that dot the landscape seem to be at best, disjointed, or at worst, unfair.

In reality, they're neither.  Basically, the rules are the same, but with state-centric interpretations that can occasionally have a big impact. Each state does what it believes is best for its athletes.

Like in cross country. Like in the NXN Regional meets.

One held Saturday, November 14th, and one on Saturday, November 21st.

Both cases involve athletes who transferred from nearby schools, and who met up with state association regulations that required them to 'sit out' their first cross country seasons with their new teams.

But 'sit out' means two different things in two different states.

And that's where the state-centric interpretations come into play.

The 50 state associations pretty much run their own shows. With a national association which has no jurisdiction to overrule or enforce what are essentially, local regulations.

What the National Federation of High School Associations (NFHS) basically does is try to help with interpretation of the rules; develop new rules where they're needed; adapt others that become outdated; and try, as they might, to make it all as consistent as possible.

First a little background.

From the NFHS website:

Since 1920, The National Federation of State High School Associations has led the development of education -based interscholastic sports and activities that help students succeed in their lives. We set directions for the future by building awareness and support, improving the participation experience, establishing consistent standards and rules for competition, and helping those who oversee high school sports and activities.

The NFHS, from its offices in Indianapolis, Indiana, serves its 50 member state high school athletic/activity associations, plus the District of Columbia. The NFHS publishes playing rules in 16 sports for boys and girls competition and administers fine arts programs in speech, theater, debate and music. It provides a variety of program initiatives that reach the 18,500 high schools and over 11 million students involved in athletic and activity programs.

The NFHS also oversees sanctioning of competitions by trying to make sure that member schools are following the same general set of key regulations. One example is age restrictions.

But beyond that, when it comes to uniforms, travel, eligibility, etc., it ultimately comes down to the state level and how they choose to regulate and enforce their sports and activities.

Elliot Hopkins, the NFHS Sanctioning Director, puts it directly in describing his organization's oversight role. "NFHS does not interfere with their method or procedure of determining the eligibility of their students. That is an individual state association decision."

In the cases that have directly impacted teams hoping to compete in Portland at NXN on December 5th, the cause for the ineligibility is similar. Athletes transferred from one nearby school to another, and according to their respective state regulations, each athlete was required to 'sit out' from their sport - in this case cross country - for a year. Since the athletes changed schools this fall, that meant the 2009 season.

Looking for a reason as to why this even matters at all, we asked Nike Brand Marketing Specialist Bret Schoolmeester for clarification. Bret is essentially one of the meet directors for NXN, and has responsibility for making sure that NXN and its regional meets do not violate any of the 50 state (and D.C.) regulations.

Even though the meets are post-season, Nike has been trying to put together the only head-to-head races between the nation's top high school teams. With an emphasis on "teams." One school. One team.

To say they walk a fine line in trying to accomplish that is an understatement.

"We put so much time and energy into getting the kids to come to our meets, the last thing we want to do is jeopardize the meet for everyone. So we are always trying to have a good relationship with the federation (NFHS and the state associations)."

While the language was crafted by a copywriter rather than a lawyer, the NXN website puts the eligibility question and their goal of trying to keep state associations happy with the answer to 'who can run?': "If you are eligible to compete for your local high school, you're eligible to compete here!"

And according the Schoolmeester, that is exactly the tact they took in investigating and making decisions on the two cases. "Each is different."

In the first case - which occurred at the NXN Northwest Regional in Boise this past weekend, sophomore Ashlynn Curnow had attended Idaho's Kuna High School as a freshman. She helped her team to a 2nd place finish in the 2008 4A Girls state cross country championships with her 10th place. The team they beat by six points that day - Bishop Kelly of nearby Boise, would be her new running mates for 2009.

In the second case - which was reviewed and had a decidedly different outcome this past week in the shadow of this coming Saturday's NXN Southwest Regional in Tempe, AZ - sophomore Laura Orlie had attended Sunnyslope High School as a freshman. She would transfer to nearby Xavier Prep. Both schools are in Phoenix.

In Curnow's case, the Idaho High School Activities Association (IHSAA), required her to 'sit out' cross country. Which, according to IHSAA Assistant Director Julie Hammons, means she was "prohibited from participating in district and/or state competition." That left the door open for her to run JV during the season, which she did. The one varsity race she was in - Boise City Champs - was actually a combined JV-Varsity race.

In Orlie's situation, the Arizona association does not have the same language. She was not permitted to train or race with the team.

Therein lies the difference.

Curnow was allowed to train with her team and compete in meets with the Junior Varsity - just not qualify for the state championships.

Again, according the Schoolmeester, "she (Orlie) was not able to compete at all with her team. By rule, she did not fit into that requirement (If you are eligible to compete for your local high school, you're eligible to compete here.)."

"It was very stressful to make that call," Schoolmeester said. "This just came up over the past couple of weeks. Registration comes in late for these meets."

He continued, "I understand it is upsetting for them, and their athlete, but each case is different."

Curnow's team finished 2nd in the Northwest Regional, and received an automatic bid to NXN.

If Orlie's team makes it to NXN, they'll have to do it without her help. and ultimately, without her.

Fortunately, both girls are sophomores. And as the saying goes, there's always another race.