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Teams Wanted

Publication Date: October 1, 2002

It's Wyoming's Fault?

I spent the week in Phoenix with the real job. I've been spending a lot of spare mental cycles here recently, since my talk with Jim Wright, about a politically salable replacement for the RPI's -- at least in principle, he's open to the idea of replacing the RPI, but it will take an idea that can be boiled down to an extremely simple and brief description to satisfy him, and one that will actually work better to satisfy me, so it's going to be like catching lightning in a bottle.

Part of that thought process has been trying to find ways to make the RPI itself more fair -- that would have the advantage of being much more politically acceptable, since it allows everyone who's sworn by it over the years to not have to disclaim it. It's possible, since each sport has the option to make whatever tweaks it wants to the basic formula, so with appropriate diplomacy all that would be needed would be a committee decision. I don't think it will be that easy to fix some of the overranking of particular Eastern teams, but it might be possible to at least get rid of some of the systematic unintentional anti-Western bias.

A byproduct of that thinking, though, is to realize that there is a way, although it's unlikely, for that problem to correct itself. The basic problem is two-fold -- there aren't enough teams in the West, and there's not enough cannon fodder. The worst team in the West in most years is either the worst team in the West Coast Conference or Hawaii-Hilo. It's very rare for any of the WCC teams to fall below #150 in the ISR's, and UH-H has their own distance problems in scheduling, so the worst available team for scheduling for midweek games for a Western team usually has two unattractive features from an RPI perspective -- they're in the top half of Division I, and they have a low winning percentage. That contraction of the available pool of opponents tends to pull everyone towards .500, which hurts everyone's RPI.

The easy way to fix this, which probably won't happen for political reasons, is to fix the RPI's. The hard way, which probably also won't happen for political and financial reasons, is to increase the number of teams. Now, nobody wants to move up to Division I just so they can be cannon fodder (actually, quite a few Eastern teams tend to, mostly because of perceived opportunity in other sports), so let's focus on just the "more teams needed" portion of the problem.

After looking at some of the possibilities, I can find two potential sources for new Division I baseball programs, which would require two different causes for them to move up. Just working to get everyone who participates in Division I in general to play baseball isn't really the answer. There are forty-odd schools, for example, that play D1 basketball and not baseball, and only about a third of those are in the West. However, the advantage that may be there is that the ones that are in the West tend to have a common theme -- they're all in places with really hostile weather in the spring. What I envision as the first source of new Western teams is for the potential move to a summer schedule to cause some of the bad-weather Plains and Northwestern teams to bring back baseball, since most of them had teams at some point or another. Many of the candidates make up the Big Sky Conference in other sports, but here's a complete list of the possibles:

Boise State
Colorado State
Eastern Washington
Idaho State
Montana State
Northern Arizona
Portland State
Utah State
Weber State

It's doubtful that the Western schools in general have looked favorably on the notion of moving the season back, but they might want to give the idea another look if they can get a bandwagon started to restart baseball at some of these places.

Fear the Banana Slugs

The second possible source of schools is driven by the success of the returns to D1 of the California-Riverside and California-Irvine programs. There are currently 10 members of Division II located in California, along with several quality NAIA programs. Most of the former are members of either the UC system or the Cal State system; most of the latter are private:

Division II teams in California:

Cal Poly Pomona
Cal State Chico
Cal State Dominguez Hills
Cal State Los Angeles
Cal State San Bernardino
Cal State Stanislaus
Cal-San Diego
San Francisco State
Sonoma State

Major NAIA teams in California:

Azusa Pacific
Cal-Santa Cruz
Cal State Hayward
Point Loma Nazarene

It would be in the best interests of the current California coaches to try to convince the system to push Division I baseball throughout the state systems; it's quite possible that there's even some budgetary compromises that they could make that might work in their self-interest in the long run, although the inter-campus nature of the discussions would make those problematic.

At first glance, it looks like I'm calling for a weakening of schedules. Although that might be justifiable given the postseason consequences of RPI distortion, it also turns out not to be true; most of those current D2 and NAIA teams already schedule quite a few games against the current D1 teams. What it would do is make those games count in the RPI, which would be beneficial to the current D1 teams. As UCI and UCR have shown, it's also quite possible that the current D2 teams could be competitive within a couple of years, which would also raise the overall level of play.

These are not short-term solutions, and I haven't completely given up on improving the ratings system that gets used, by whatever name. However, these are things that would help if they could be accomplished, and they will take time to bring to fruition, so I wanted to get the seed planted and see where it goes. Print out a copy and give it to your favorite coach or administrator today.

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Boyd's World-> Breadcrumbs Back to Omaha-> Teams Wanted About the author, Boyd Nation