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McGair: Double-elimination playoff formats need to go

June 3, 2013

Lincoln's Nick Zammarelli will try to help the Lions stay alive today in the 4 p.m. losers’ bracket of the Division I baseball playoffs. The Lions will host Woonsocket at Chet Nichols Field. Because of Monday’s inclement weather, which washed out almost all of the state’s baseball and softball playoff games, there are 11 games on today’s schedule featuring Blackstone Valley teams. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN

A little of this, a little of that …

Rainouts during high school spring sports are always problematic. Sure, there’s comfort in knowing that you can reschedule, but what happens if the same issue arises on the rescheduled day? Can’t keep pushing the games or matches further and further down the road forever, you know.
A rainout like the one that washed away the vast majority of Monday’s baseball and softball playoff contests brings with it a whole host of complications.
For starters, the unexpected break couldn’t have come at a worse time. The itinerary of a high school student is loaded at this stage of the academic calendar. There are proms, honors nights and class trips on top of preparing for final exams and seniors eyeing graduation.
Busy times, indeed, hence why shaving off one day from the springtime playoff slate is not considered a lucky break. So many of the teenagers who compete also have commitments that deserve their undivided attention, hence why it might be time to adopt a new format for crowning baseball and softball champions in this state.
It’s pretty straightforward – single elimination all the way through the postseason gauntlet until the finals, where you play a best-of-three series. Remember, there aren’t any second chances in football, basketball, volleyball, or soccer, so why should baseball and softball adhere to a different set of rules?
Softball already has a finger on the pulse with a one-and-you’re-done opening-round contest that serves an important purpose, that of whittling down the fields in Division I and II before embarking upon the double-elimination format that seemingly takes weeks to complete. As recent as 2006, baseball featured a one-game playoff that served as the precursor for the best-of-three quarterfinals.
Utilizing a one-game format would certainly keep the baseball and softball playoffs from getting bogged down, a side affect that comes about when teams are relocated to the losers’ bracket.
To the naked eye, dropping the opener of the double-elimination portion doesn’t have that life-or-death vibe that normally makes the second season so compelling. Instead, there’s a built-in safety net that comes with knowing that, “Yes, we may have lost, but our season isn’t through yet.”
Undoubtedly, teams are appreciative of the mulligan. The drawback is that those same teams are part of a playoff exercise that is no longer defined by a straight line. There are multiple layers to now cut through, each additional slice bringing with it another batch of games that help to satisfy the prerequisite for a champion.
Too much playoff indulgence helps remove some of the shine from something that should not prove so complicated. Win and you live to see another day, lose and it’s time to take one last bow before the uniforms are collected.
As was mentioned earlier, the baseball and softball playoffs are held at a time when there are plenty of activities taking place. Over the years, we’ve seen plenty of games postponed due to graduations that obviously take precedent over any playoff game. Problems start to arise when you run into a succession of graduations and/or other school-related functions that end up disrupting matters to the point that you may go several days between contests.
And we haven’t touched upon the topsy-turvy nature that stems from when the heavens decide open and summon the power of water. That’s because Monday provided us with a firsthand account of what can happen when Mother Nature decides to strike. The Division I baseball playoff game between East Greenwich and La Salle was the only non-casualty of the entire bunch; the Rams play their home games on a turf surface, hence no need to worry about mud or wet grass.
Monday probably won’t be the last time we hear about the playoffs getting pushed aside in favor of an external matter that creates plenty of headaches. Had single elimination been the modus operandi – there are whispers that softball could soon be heading toward such an arrangement that would run from the first pitch of the playoffs until the final out is recorded – perhaps there wouldn’t be cause for too much concern.

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