Boyd's World-> Breadcrumbs Back to Omaha-> A Better Format (Part 1) About the author, Boyd Nation

A Better Format (Part 1)

Publication Date: June 20, 2000


Welcome to Breadcrumbs Back to Omaha, where I'll do my best to keep the stove warm until play starts again in January. I'll obviously be feeling my way along as I create this column, especially for the first couple of months or so, and I'll be glad to consider reader input as I go, so let me hear from you. At best, you'll give me something good to write about; at worst, you'll end up unnamed but considered in a column I'm planning on the type of mail I tend to get here.

My plans for the column are for it to touch all aspects of college baseball, but I am who I am, so there will be a statistical bent to many of the columns. I have a particular team that I root for, of course, but since I've gotten critical email from fans of that school twice so far, I think I do a pretty good job of remaining neutral on matters concerning the game as a whole. I will, however, occasionally throw in examples from Mississippi State history, since that's the experience that I have to draw from. I'll also throw in the occasional Tom Lehrer reference, since Tom Lehrer is always on topic in any context. I alternate between considering adult consideration of college sports recruiting absurd and obscene, so you won't see much here in the way of recruiting news.

There's an awful lot that's right about college baseball. The beauty of the game, the atmosphere, the love of the sport combined with the love of the institution that the team represents, the constant balance between the continuity of the program and the eternal turnover of fresh faces in the lineup -- those things are all wonderful and worthy of celebration. I'm not George Will, though, so I can only gush so much, and when I'm done with that, I start to find problems that need fixing, even when the powers that be don't realize that they need fixing.

The Problem

The postseason tournament format is broken. It's hard to accept that when the game, and especially the College World Series, is more popular than ever, and more teams than ever are getting a shot at the brass ring, but neither of those should be the primary goal of the tournament. The primary goal of the tournament should be to determine who the best team in the country is and give them a championship. The other goals may remain as secondary considerations (I'm all for the creation of a Division 1AA in baseball, for example, which would give the mid-level conference teams something to really shoot for), but the primary goal should always be to find out who the best team in the country is, especially as long as the lack of large amounts of inter-regional play makes that a difficult thing to determine many years during the regular season.

It's less obvious in 2000 than in most years, since two of the three best teams in the country managed to reach the CWS final and played a terrific game, but the current format does a terrible job of selecting the best teams in the field. There is, of course, a random element to sport -- if there weren't, it would just be ballet with cooler clothes -- and baseball is more random than any other major sport, but that just means that the format needs to be designed to allow for that randomness, not exaggerate it as the current format does. That means that it's fairer to have longer competitions between fewer teams instead of the one-to-three-game matchups we have now. We'll look at some of the mathematical underpinnings of this in next week's column.

Now, for those of you becoming apoplectic over the prospect of changing the Holy Current Format, relax. None of what I'm proposing here will ever actually happen because, although I believe it would boost total attendance and television ratings in the long term, it would require a dip and rebuilding cycle before it was accepted by the public, which would require long-term vision by both NCAA officials and network programmers, two groups not generally recognized as visionaries.

The Solution

With that out of the way, let's see what the tournament would look like in Boyd's World:

So, in summary, we have the sixteen best teams in the country, as best as we can determine, competing in a four-round tournament made up of best-of-five series, culminating with the last four teams standing playing their series in Omaha.

This column is already running a bit longer than I plan for most of them to run due to the introductory text at the top, so we'll revisit this topic in a bit more depth next week. I'll also look at a simulated tournament in this format for the 2000 season, so you can get a feel for how the matchups and scheduling would work.

Boyd's World-> Breadcrumbs Back to Omaha-> A Better Format (Part 1) About the author, Boyd Nation