Sunday, January 25, 2009

On February 13, vote YES YES YES

(Or rather, "agree, agree, agree.") You have the historic opportunity to move track & field in Michigan forward. If you are a coach, assistant coach, or wannabe coach, please be at the business meeting of MITCA in Lansing on February 13 at 4:05 p.m., and please mark AGREE on your survey form.

The leadership of the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association is putting forward a logical and crucially important set of proposals to improve the timing situation in our state. At the business meeting, the membership will be surveyed as to its preferences. If more than 70% of coaches agree to the proposals, they will be forwarded on to the MHSAA. That doesn't guarantee the proposals will happen, but it's a very influential first step.

And while there have been many important MITCA --> MHSAA proposals over the years, never has a set of proposals been nearer to the purpose of the michtrack website: that since our athletes try so hard to improve constantly, we owe them the most accurate timing and measurement possible.

Let's look at the proposals individually:
1. At the 2008 MITCA Track & Field Business Meeting, 80% of the coaches polled stated that they believe that “The MHSAA should follow National Federation regulations and have all regional "hand timed" times be recorded to 0.1 seconds.” If the MHSAA were to revert back to following this National Federation guideline (as it did prior to the 2007 season), the Head Meet Referee should be officially responsible for verifying the results at the completion of the Regional Finals and make sure that all hand times were properly rounded up to the next higher tenth of a second. If the times were not properly rounded, the Head Meet Referee will make sure that all of those times are properly rounded before they are finalized and submitted to the MHSAA for State Finals Seeding.
The Michtrack response: common sense. This is all about fairness in the seeding at the state meet. It was crazy that the state put its stamp of approval on the bad habits of some. Here's our chance to get out of that mess and get back in compliance with the rules. STRONGLY AGREE

2. The MHSAA should set an official goal of having all Regional Championships use Fully Automatic Timing by the year 2014 (5 years).
The Michtrack response: we have nearly enough FAT timing systems available in the state right now to handle the job. This goal is not only achievable; it's about doing the right thing for the kids. STRONGLY AGREE

3. The MHSAA should allow Regional hosts to use Fully Automatic Timing if it is available to them.
The Michtrack response: of course! What a bizarre message we have given to our athletes over the years at regionals--"we have the ability to give you accuracy but we're not going to." Student-athletes who pour their hearts out on the track deserve, at the very least, the most accurate time we can give them. STRONGLY AGREE

4. If some Regions were to use Fully Automatic Timing, the performances for State Qualifying performances recorded as Hand Times should be adjusted by a pre-established “conversion” factor for the purpose of seeding at the state finals.
The Michtrack response: common sense. At this point, there is no problem with mixing FAT times and a hopefully declining number of hand times in the seeding lists, as long as we use a fair conversion factor. STRONGLY AGREE

5. If the MHSAA begins allowing Fully Automatic Timing at Regional Finals, they should establish a list of Additional Qualifying performances (AQ’s) for both Hand Times and Fully Automatic Times (FAT) so that Regional hosts can utilize accurate FAT timing without penalizing those athletes. Until the majority of Regionals begin utilizing FAT, the existing Hand-Timed AQ’s should be modified by adding 0.4 seconds to existing hand-times to create the FAT-AQ times.
The Michtrack response: I've written numerous times about the fictional and misleading nature of the 0.24 conversion. Time and again, comparison studies show that 0.4 is the best conversion. STRONGLY AGREE

6. The MHSAA should sanction (not host or sponsor) “Certified Pre-Qualifying Invitationals” whereby athletes can automatically qualify to the State Finals by attaining pre-established performance standards at sanctioned invitationals in the weeks immediately prior to Regionals. In order to be sanctioned as a pre-qualifying meet, hosts would be required to register their meet with the MHSAA, properly utilize an FAT system and windguages and adhere to all regulations regarding their usage. Hosts would also be responsible for acquiring specified numbers and types of registered officials who closely monitor the operation of the meet as well as the validity of any Pre-Qualifying performances that might be attained at that meet. Anyone would be allowed to host a Certified Pre-Qualifying Invitational as long as they are able to meet all of the established requirements.
The Michtrack response: Very intriquing proposal. In the end, what would it change? Probably not a big difference in who qualifies for the state finals. However, it would give long-standing meets the incentive to give our athletes more professional and accurate timing. I think we'd also see an increase in great athlete match-ups as well. STRONGLY AGREE

What about the naysayers? I've been to a zillion of these meetings, and have seen good proposals get shot down before. Usually, three factors are at work: fear of change, self-interest, and confusion over details. Let me address those.

Fear of change: Yes, there is some change involved. You'll hear: "Why can't we do it the way we've always done it?" Funny. We tell our athletes they should always strive to improve. Don't you think that we as coaches, officials and meet directors can do the same? Maybe with an increase in quality timing, we'll see fewer athletes crushed because they tried to peak at the state meet and their 10.8 (bad) hand times were only worth 11.20.

Self-interest: unfortunately, many coaches will evaluate these proposals through the lens of "how will this affect me?" Hopefully, most will see that this will help them give better times and more informed feedback to their athletes. But please take a step beyond that. Think of the sport as a whole. We ask the athletes to give us their best. Let's return the favor and give them the most professional treatment we can. They've earned it.

Confusion over details: I have often seen proposals die because of infighting over minor details. Think of Moses parting the Red Sea. If he had first surveyed coaches, the proposal might very well have died in an argument over whether the pathway was 10 or 15 feet wide! Seriously, help these proposals not get bogged down over little things (arguments over whether the conversion should be 0.39 or 0.40 or 0.41, for instance). Details can always be ironed out and corrected in future years. However, a good proposal that doesn't get a 70%+ survey response will often not come back for years, or ever.

So there you have it. Please encourage others in the coaching community to be in Lansing on the 13th and help advance these proposals. This is all for the athletes and the future of our sport. Let's make it happen.

For a look at MITCA's well-written rationale for the proposals, check this out.

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