Was Single Elimination the Only Option? – From the Bird’s Nest
I was more than disappointed when I heard what the Sun Belt Conference was going to do after rains in Statesboro, GA forced postponement of the first two days of the championships.
The league had originally planned to use two sites on Wednesday: J. I. Clements Stadium on the campus of Georgia Southern, and Mill Creek Park, a city park in town. I discovered Mill Creek would not be available until Friday because there was no tarp and no way to get the field ready for play on Thursday.
But, assuming the park would be available Friday, I worked out a schedule where the tournament would be able to be played intact.
That was one option. The second would have been to have the tournament, eliminating the #9 and #10 seeds. Personally, I hated that option; bringing in 54 student-athletes, only to tell them they wouldn't be allowed to participate.
But, on the other hand, a single elimination tournament was not beneficial to the top teams. As of now, none of the top three RPI schools (South Alabama, Coastal Carolina and Louisiana) had an at-large bid sewn up. South Alabama had the best RPI, but a horrendous record against the top 50. Coastal Carolina's RPI wasn't as good and their record against the top 50 wasn't good, either. They do, however, have the regular season championship, and that means something to the committee. Louisiana had the best at-large resume with a solid record against the top 50, but the worst RPI of the bunch. All three needed to play multiple games in order to enhance their respective resumes.
Single elimination would take away that opportunity. I felt as though the league's priority would be helping those schools; after all, they had done the best jobs during the regular season. Yet, I knew they wouldn't send anyone home without playing.
No, the double elimination with a condensed schedule was the way to go.
I expressed my reservations and concerns to Commissioner Karl Benson. I have always found Benson to be accessible and reasonable. He listens and considers another person's point of view. He is neither tyrannical nor stubborn. He was willing to listen to what I had to say, even though the announcement had been made.
I have said many times, I'm an opinionated man. And, I have also said, my opinions are based on the data that I know.
Well, in speaking with the Commissioner, I had new data.
My proposal to keep the double elimination format was predicated on playing four games on Thursday: the elimination games, and the games between the #3 and #6 seeds and the #4 and $5 seeds.
There was a reason why my idea wouldn't fly: There had been enough rain where four games at Georgia Southern today would not have been possible. They needed to be able to do field maintenance and allow the sun (which is out for the remainder of the tournament) to help dry the field. Now, technically, we STILL could have gotten all the games in using two fields. But that would mean an eight team double elimination tournament over a three day period. As one coach lamented, the teams could be having infielders on the mound on the final day. Taken literally, that might be a stretch, but the point was made.
There was one other idea suggested this morning: Play the elimination games today, play a single elimination round tomorrow, which would eliminate four more teams. Let Friday's winners each play a doubleheader on Saturday and if a team sweeps, they move to the championship. A split would mean another game Sunday prior to the championship. "If necessary" games on the final day has been done many times in the past in a four day tournament. Worst case scenario would involve a single game Friday, doubleheader Saturday and doubleheader Sunday. Teams have had to do that in a tournament format many times. But that idea was probably proposed too late to make a change. The coaches had been notified and they had already adjusted their strategy and probably didn't want ANOTHER change. Goodness knows they had plenty of them since arriving in Statesboro.
The unavailability for four games at Georgia Southern today was a game changer. Technically they could have kept the double elimination format, but it wasn't really feasible with only three days to get it in. No one wanted to send two teams home without having a chance to play (although I still believe the biggest priority is putting your best teams in the best position to succeed.) And, the one that really could have worked (single elimination tomorrow, double elimination after that), was simply thought of too late in the game. The coaches have planned for single elimination and don't want it to change again.
So we have what we have. I don't like it. But, at least I understand it better now.