My thoughts on adding 16 more teams to the Class C State Tournament based purely on fan attendance strongly concur with St. Joseph's Brent Schloe and Stewartville-Racine's Andy Johnson (as posted to "Bill's Blog" on the MBA website).
Two disclaimers, though, before proceeding: I am speaking only for myself – not on behalf of the Belle Plaine Tigers or its baseball board, of which I've been a member for 20 and 13 years, respectively.
Also, I have a great appreciation for the time and commitment State Board members put forth in maintaining and ensuring the prosperity of our game. Whether I agree or disagree with them on certain issues, I will always respect that.
That said, I think the recently passed changes are misguided and a complete sell-out of the integrity of the amateur game. While I also adamantly disagree about draftees – I think teams should win or lose with their own players, just as they did all season long – at least those results are determined on the field.
But now, under the new rules, one-third of the teams in the 'C' tournament will be there not based on merit, but on fan attendance?? I am stunned and disheartened that the issue was even brought up, much less unanimously passed. Doing so will open up a circus-like can of worms that I predict few will feel good about being associated with.
I don't know what kind of financial shape in the MBA is in, but to me it could never, ever be bad enough to come to the point where the integrity of the tournament is compromised. I have been fortunate to be a part of 10 state tournament teams in my 20 years in uniform, and each time, it meant something to us. It was a big deal, because it's not easy. To me, seasons in amateur ball are defined by whether or not you make the state tournament.
I would much rather write a check to play each year – or go door-to-door selling raffle tickets or frozen pizzas or Girl Scout cookies, for that matter – than to further alter the purity of the championship chase. State tournament appearances matter because they are earned, not handed to you.
I think some people are too caught up in looking in the back of the State Tournament program, seeing the attendance figures of past eras, and coming to the conclusion that we must be doing something wrong. My opinion is that the golden era of town-team baseball – from a fan-attendance perspective, anyway – is long gone, and we need to accept that reality.
Mr. Schloe nailed this issue, but to repeat: people's lives are busier than ever. And their kids' lives are busier than ever, at an earlier age – especially through year-round, never-ending travelling teams and weekend tournaments that pull families in all directions. People aren't "looking for something to do" anymore; they're trying to figure out how they can squeeze one more thing into an already overloaded schedule.
We have a great game. The level and depth of talent is impressive, the number of teams across the state remains robust, and the tradition of the tournament provides thrills like clockwork. What's changed is the number of fans. It's not anybody's fault – it's just the way it is.
It shouldn't surprise anyone that support for the change comes from the teams in the regions that stand to benefit from it; teams will almost always look out for their best interests, but that doesn't mean it's what's best for the game as a whole. That's why we need the caretakers of the game – the state board – to protect the interests of the greater good. (For the record, Belle Plaine is a member of Region 6C, which stands to be "rewarded" with an extra state tournament entrant.)
I don't have a problem with expanding the tournament field if need be, and I think the desire to increase state tournament attendance is a noble one. But this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. I implore the state board to reconsider.
Is anybody unaware of the wildly unpopular BCS playoff system in college football? Then why, I ask, would we want our own version of it in town-team baseball?