The Drake Relays is the most competitive high school meet for Iowa prep athletes next to the State meet, some would argue even more so. One unique trait about the Drake Relays is the allowance of only Iowan athletes to compete in the high school events. It is uncommon for high-caliber track meets to exclude certain athletes based on their geographic location, but the Drake Relays has been the exception to this and wants only kids from the home-state to have the opportunity to compete. By eliminating kids from other states, this hurts the total level of competition that is seen in the high school races, but creates a feeling of pride among Iowans.
The main advantage of the home state restriction on high school athletes competing on the Blue Oval in April is getting more athletes from around the state, in various classes, to compete against each other. In contrast to the State meet, 2A athletes like Gable Sieperda have the chance to compete against the top 4A athletes. This often makes it more exciting, and in some events can be even more competitive than the State meet.
The main disadvantage of the restriction is that it limits the overall competition. The college/university and elite events have athletes from all over the country competing, creating an incredibly competitive field and drawing big crowds. Because the high school portion is open to all classes they certainly have the numbers for depth, but it becomes an Iowa State meet for all classes. It would be fun to see athletes like Katelyn Tuohy be able to compete in the state of Iowa, after setting the US girls junior World record in the 5K with a time of 15:37.12. But with opening up the races to anyone, we could potentially see a lot of Iowa prep athletes excluded from competing because of the stiffer competition. That could hurt the ticket sales and may present smaller crowds during the high school events.
Another option for the Drake Relays to keep that local feel but increase the competition is to have half of the athletes from the state of Iowa and half from other states. They could allow X number of Iowan athletes into each event and X number of out-of-state athletes in. This would make a fun atmosphere of fans cheering on the local athletes to beat the athletes from other states! We could still see sell-out crowds with this option, as most athletes that would be competing would either be in surrounding states, or very high-caliber athletes that would draw a crowd of track fans.
The Drake Relay has a beautiful history of competition among all levels, and will continue to be a great race weekend no matter if they make these kinds of changes or not. If they keep it restricted to just Iowa prep athletes then we will still get to see great high school athletes compete and continue to have sell-out crowds. If they decide to open it up to other states, we could see stronger competition and still a very fun atmosphere. As always, it is a great opportunity for track and field to be on a showcase in the state of Iowa!