The calendar has turned to August. In less than a week, college football fall practices will begin. Shortly thereafter, the obligatory annual talk of how messed up the BCS is as a system for determining college football's national champion will start.
But there's absolutely no reason to wait for college football to talk about messed up systems. We can start right now by looking at Wyoming American Legion baseball.
Wyoming is flirting with diamond disaster. To date, we've been lucky. In two years under the current format, the state's top two AA programs have found a way to meet in the championship. The top two A programs have managed to meet head-to-head on the consolation side of the bracket and everyone has been able to pretend the system works.
It doesn't work. We dodged controversy last season when teams were inexplicably allowed to change their classification prior to the state tournament. We were dangerously close to courting it again last weekend.
Consider, eventual state A runner-up Laramie trailed at one point in its game against Casper. Had the Rangers not rallied for a two-run victory, Powell would have repeated as state champion by virtue of … eating lunch at Perkins while its lone remaining challenger played an opponent not even from the same classification?
Look, I want success for the local nine as much as the next guy. That said, any system that potentially distributes hardware and regional tournament invites based on something other than head-to-head play is a ticking timebomb.
Wyoming American Legion is faced with a unique problem. The national entity has dictated that, in order to qualify a team to the regional feeder tournament for the American Legion World Series each year, it must hold a state tournament with at least eight teams.
The problem is, we here in Wyoming don't have eight AA teams. Nor is there any reason to suspect we will any time in the near future. In fact, that pool of AA teams has shrunk in recent years. The result is a tournament structure designed out of necessity for the bigger teams being used to also determine Wyoming's regional A representative.
That makes about as much sense as asking for a chainsaw when a butter knife will do.
As long as the current format persists, so will the no-win situation faced by managers like Powell's Mike Jameson.
Faced with a AA opponent in last year's semifinals, the Pioneers' skipper threw one of his top pitchers, lost badly and needed a Herculean 12-inning pitching effort that saw staff ace Scotty Jameson throw in excess of 200 pitches in a single day to help lift his team to a state title. This year, in an effort to conserve pitching arms in pursuit of a repeat state title, it meant the Pioneers were placed in the position of sacrificial semifinal lambs.
Let me be clear here — Jameson and the Pioneers' coaching staff made precisely the right call in taking their lumps and living to fight another day rather than risk that a 40-win season would prematurely end. I'd love to see Powell trying to be David to Wyoming's baseball Goliath — I love the Chaminades and Appalachian States as much as the next person — but the time for those story lines is in the regular season, not during a hybrid AA/A state tournament where different teams are playing for different prizes.
No coach playing for a title should find himself in that position. The post-season is about moving forward, not about pausing to take a step backwards. Brackets should be designed to ensure that all teams are competing for an equal prize, with equal goals. Right now, three Wyoming teams at state need to play for first place. The other five might be able to make do with fourth place.
That's not a recipe for equal competition.
I don't claim to know the fix to these issues. I do know that its just a matter of time before someone more mathematical than myself puts a value on how the current system skews the odds of an A title in favor of the north division teams compared to the south due to the imbalance among AA teams.
Perhaps there is no solution. Maybe it turns out that the Wyoming state Legion baseball tournament, like democracy, is the worst possible idea, save for all others that have been tried.
I don't have the answers. But there's no question we currently have an imperfect system, and it is only a matter of time before it blows up into major controversy.