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August 04, 2011 9:33 am

SPORTS GUY: Is this any way to crown a champion?

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In a stunning move, the NJCAA recently announced a radical change to the way its national basketball championships will be determined.

The junior college organization will now see its top teams seeded onto a bracket alongside four-year schools competing for the NAIA national championship title. The two-year school advancing the farthest on the bracket will be named the NJCAA men’s or women’s national champion for that given year.

I’ll pause here a moment to let that sink in. Ready to continue? Good.

Now it’s time for a confession, faithful reader. I lied. Nothing has changed. It will be business as usual for NWC when the season tips off on Ken Rochlitz Court this winter. But if the first two paragraphs had you staring at the newspaper in disbelief, or if you caught yourself wondering either subliminally or aloud why anyone in their right mind would agree to such a proposal, I have a simple question for you.

Why does Wyoming do pretty much that very thing when it comes to American Legion baseball each summer?

After two years of successfully dodging the bullet, the third time wasn’t a charm. The 2011 Class A champion Wheatland Lobos earned their state title by sitting in the bleachers and watching as Class AA Casper knocked out their last possible challenger, Sheridan.

I’ve got nothing against the Lobos. I congratulate them on their state title and wish them nothing but the best as they carry Wyoming’s banner at regional tournament play in Oregon this weekend.

That said, I come from the Ric Flair school of thought. To be the man, you’ve gotta beat the man. 

Wheatland did everything asked of it to be crowned the 2011 Wyoming Class A state champion. The problem is Wyoming isn’t asking the correct question.

Sheridan and Wheatland never met on a baseball field this summer. Not in the regular season. Not in the postseason. Who can say how a game between the two teams would have finished on the scoreboard? How can we predict how the pressure of a make-or-break title game may have impacted the psyche, focus and performance of both squads unless they’re thrown into that river and forced to sink or swim?

If sports fans are nearly unanimous in their dislike of the BCS as a mechanism to determine college football’s national champion, why do we tolerate and defend a Legion baseball format that could easily be the BCS’ little brother?

The entire purpose of the current state tournament isn’t to determine the Class A champion. That title is bestowed as nothing more than a matter of convenience to avoid having to re-assemble many of the same teams at another venue.

Wyoming’s state tournament is designed as an optical illusion. It’s sole purpose is to create the perception that enough teams are competing for Wyoming’s AA title so that folks at the regional and national levels remain obliviously happy.

How many teams at state are actually interested in being AA champs?

That prize was so tantalizing last summer that Powell opted to forfeit out of the tournament rather than risk an injury to its lineup after claimng the Class A crown. Placed in a similar position the year before, the Pioneers emptied their bench rather than go after a win.

Those were teams strong enough to place second and third in Class A regional play. They weren’t close to contending against AA talent at the regional level.

It isn’t just the local nine, either. Paired against two-time state champion Cheyenne and its four Division I signees in the opening round this year, Douglas opted to start all-state pitcher Dylan Klava…at shortstop. Is that the move of a team interested in winning it all? Similarly, I doubt baseball seasons in Lovell and Cody begin with discussions about how those teams can best contend for the AA crown.

Look, if you’re going to run a fair race, the first criteria is generally making sure the start and finish lines are located at the same distance for all parties involved. I understand the desire to see a Wyoming team compete for a place in the American Legion World Series, but let’s inject a dose of reality into that dream.

When you talk about American Legion baseball in Wyoming, you’re generally talking about Class A baseball. Only three AA teams remain in the state. Having a tournament that panders to their needs at the expense of Wyoming’s 14 Class A teams is ludicrous.

The system needs changed. Never again should a team be crowned champion without being asked to beat “the man.”

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