Yesterday’s NCAA D1 Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, Indiana again produced compelling competitions and high drama. But that drama was immeasurably stretched out by the interminable wait for team results, especially in the women’s race. So long was the hold up that it nearly bled over into the men’s competition.
Oh, it was pure torture, like waiting for voting results on election night. But in the end the Oregon Duck women were that much more thrilled, and Coach Mike McGuire’s Michigan Wolverines were all that much more disappointed when the whisper-thin 125 to 126 scores were finally posted.
This is not a new problem for NCAA cross. Most recently in 2012 there were all kinds of technical difficulties that had officials declaring Oregon as the women’s national champs, then Providence, and finally the Ducks one more time after the technology failed to account for several finishers.
But what is it with technology that can be so impressive in almost every regard – automation is replacing every worker in the nation, including brain surgeons – but it can’t keep track of several hundred runners going 10 mph over an open grass field?
Now most of you are too young to remember, but at one time America flew a man to the moon and back safely, or at least perpetrated an elaborate hoax to that effect, which might actually even be harder, come to think of it. But because we had accomplished that seemingly impossible goal, the standard refrain when anything possible was not achieved was, “if we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we do X?”
Well, today we can’t put a man on the moon, so everything possible has been reduced by a quarter million miles across the board. Maybe we shouldn’t be that confounded, then, that we can’t score a cross country championship automatically with all the technology that we have at hand. Plus, would it be nearly as exciting if we knew instantaneously who had won by one point?
But is using eyeball counting from a video stream the most efficient way to figure results in the 21st century? Is it a little like baseball continuing to use umpires to call balls and strikes because it’s all about tradition when it’s been shown endlessly how wrong so many of their calls are? Tennis still uses lines people, too, but they’ve got the Hawkeye technology for challenges to those calls as a backup.
Is timing and scoring cross country so difficult that they can’t automatically program the results so that the individuals are automatically removed for team scoring? Facebook gives us options on who we send our posts to. Maybe we should return to using popsicle sticks like we did in the old days. Or make sure everyone stays lined up in the chutes exactly as they crossed the finish line. I mean, how hard is this?
I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. But hopefully this will bleed through to President-elect Trump in Bedminster, N.J. this weekend (who knows, maybe he’s a Flotrack Pro subscriber and saw the thing himself). And just maybe the NCAAs will become the impetus to get us back to the moon, or maybe even Mars, just so everything else below that difficulty factor improves.