The system to qualify for the D1 NCAA Cross Country Championships can be a complicated one and often causes confusion for those following the season-long rollercoaster to the Big Dance. Now that cross country season is officially here, it's high time we break the selection process down and answer all of the burning questions for those who are running for a ticket to Terre Haute, Indiana.
Below is a breakdown of how 31 teams are selected to compete at the NCAA Championships.
AUTO TEAMSIf a team wants to safely qualify for nationals, it must finish in the top two of its respective NCAA regional championship. Each championship takes place on the same day -- November 11 this season. There are nine regionals happening on the same day across the country, so the first two teams from each will advance, which equates to 18 teams total. The complete chaos of this day is covered in FloTrack's live Kolas Show every year, aka six hours of breaking news call-ins from FloTrack contributors across the country.
If you like metaphors, read Dennis Young's USTFCCCA article where he explained the entire qualifying process by using the comparison of getting into an exclusive party.
AT-LARGE TEAMSAfter the 18 teams are determined, the NCAA Division I Cross Country Subcommittee selects 13 at-large teams on Saturday following the regional competition. An at-large team is determined by its regional finish and regular season performances where it earns "points" or wins over teams already in the championship (the 18 teams who earned top two finishes in their region). Between the weekend of Sept. 9-11 through the conclusion of the regional championships on Nov. 11, teams can earn wins against higher-ranked teams which put them in good position to be selected as an at-large team should they finish outside of the top two in their region. The committee examines the total wins for third- and fourth-place finishers in each region, which means wins over the 18 automatic teams.
For example, last year the Washington women entered the West Region championship with more at-large wins (seven) than any other at-large candidate. They finished third in the championship behind Oregon and Boise State but were selected as an at-large team based on the amount of regular season points they had accumulated at meets like the Wisconsin Invitational.
Sometimes even the fifth- or sixth-place team can earn an NCAA berth through the "push process." This arises when the next team under consideration based on regional finish doesn't have enough points to earn an at-large bid, but the team immediately behind them in regional finish does have enough points to be the next at-large team selected. Both teams would advance in this case as long as they meet specific conditions in the selection process.
Should there be a tie for teams under consideration for at-large bids, the committee looks at the head-to-head results between competitions in the regular season.
INDIVIDUALSIndividuals can qualify for the Big Dance if they are part of a team that did not qualify as an automatic or at-large qualifier. The NCAA committee selects the first four individual finishers not on a qualifying team who finish within the top 25 of their respective region.
Check out the first release of the Kolas Calculator here
See the NCAA's manual for the full list of qualifying procedures.