Brief remarks about a dumb petition to change the format of NCAA cross-country
Another "equality"-oriented mission powered by lazy thinking
Someone named Molly Peters has started a petition aimed at compelling the NCAA to “equalize” men’s and women’s cross-country at the NCAA level by increasing the distance of women’s championship-level races from 6K to 8K while also reducing the men’s distance from 10K to 8K.
8K = 8K; “problem” solved, right?
No, because the underlying logic is full of holes.
I’ve long been strongly in favor of increasing the women’s distance to 8K. For one thing, I’d rather see true distance types incrementally rewarded more in cross-country at the slight, but non-negligible, expense of 800m/1,500m types. For another, and more importantly, this would in effect make men’s and women’s championship races roughly equal in duration, which is the “equality” variable of interest even if this is not evident on paper.
The petition, riddled with Wokish keywords and buzzphrases, includes this language:
With the time gap closing at longer distances, women are unquestionably ready for the 8km distance.
Peters provides no evidence of this closing time gap; I doubt she even looked for any, but if she had, she could have learned here that for at least ten years, the performance difference between the best Division I men and the best Division I women has remained static at around 17 percent in both the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters (and other events, too, but clearly these are the outdoor-track distances of interest).
By “performance difference” I don’t mean the difference between the number-one male and female time in a given year, which is statistically unhelpful if not irrelevant. I mean the difference between the 10th-fastest men’s and women’s times, or better yet, the difference between the 100th-fastest men’s and women’s times—marks that provide a far more reliable indicator of true sex differences (and are still exceptional; in 2021, the #100 men’s and women’s D-1 times in the outdoor 5,000m were 13:52 and 16:11 respectively).
With this in mind, it’s easy to see why knocking 2K off the men’s distance, rather than completing this equality-oriented move, would in fact scuttle it. If women started running on 8K courses at the NCAA National Championships, their times would cluster in the 26- to 29-minute range. This is comparable to the extant situation for men, whose 25-percent-longer 10K races on similarly difficult courses take almost everyone on the field around 28 to 31 minutes to complete.
Peters—who seems to not understand or care that championship-level college sports are not about participation trophies—also conflates the rigors of an entire NCAA season with the challenge of a one-off road race. She argues that because women have shown that they can compete successfully at any distance, the next obvious step is to make college cross-country races equal in distance—including by monkeying with the scheme already in place for men. (I would bet my life that University of Colorado coach Mark Wetmore would shitcan the idea of dropping the men’s distance to 8K on sight, and he’d have a lot of company on the coaching staffs of other strength-oriented distance programs.)
I’m guessing that Peters grasps at least a little of the above, but no Wokish person can properly argue for “equality” without being precisely literal about it. Hence, this can’t be just about moving the women’s distance up; it has to be about making the men’s and women’s distances the same.
It’s revealing that Peters, despite going on enthusiastically about the proven and burgeoning capabilities of women, doesn’t want both distances to be 10K. Why? I can’t read minds, but whatever answer Peters would supply to this question would probably push her toward accepting that something resembling male-female congruence in NCAA cross-country can only be achieved by accounting for the fact that women run significantly slower than men—even more so at the collegiate level than at the world-class level, where the ~17-percent performance gap narrows by perhaps five percentage points.
And as long as women continue running significantly slower than men, their recovery times from cross-country races of the same distance will be correspondingly longer—more than “correspondingly,” in fact, because of women’s far lower testosterone levels.
So one consequence of a scheme in which men and women race over the same distance is women facing a considerably more physically demanding season than men. Maybe, as Peters claims, “women are ready for a new challenge,” but I doubt any of them want this challenge to include being more beaten up by the end of the season than their male counterparts, all else the same.
I think I could have made this analysis even shorter: “Any petition written by an adult that includes multiple exclamation points can be safely and categorically ignored.”