Foul Ball

The universe holds innumerable secrets – Is there life on other worlds?  Whatever happened to D.B. Cooper? Why is bacon so damn delicious? Why do stormtroopers wear bright white clanky armor that is ineffective against common blasters and lightsabers? The list goes on and on. Yet the biggest riddle of all may be why Lewis-Clark State receives an automatic bid to the NAIA World Series.

That the Warriors get a free pass to the final ten is absolutely, positively, unequivocally ridiculous . Its unfathomable. It’s so disgustingly unfair I had to stop typing and tightly wrap a scarf around my head to keep it from exploding.

The sportsmanship is so lacking its revolting. It’s wrong on many different levels.

First of all, and perhaps lest of which, the Warriors have received perpetual home-field advantage for the last sixteen years (plus nearly another 10 back in the 80’s and 90’s) which gives them an undeniable advantage. For the last five seasons LCSC has maintained an impressive .769 (87 of 113) winning percentage on the road. Nevertheless it pales in comparison to their  a .837 (108 of 129) home winning percentage – that’s a difference of four wins over a sixty game season.

When the series starts the Warrior players perform in comfortable surroundings and nestle in their own familiar beds at night. Meanwhile their opposition is staying in hotels, adjusting their circadian clocks and recovering from extended travel. While I’m sure the NAIA provides as much support to visiting teams as they can, I’m confident that schools aren’t arriving in chartered jets, enjoying posh hotels and being doted on to offset the disruption caused by playing away from home.

Is isn’t just the uncomfortableness of being away from home that can affect players either. Its a different lifestyle for the traveling teams. According to Will Ahmed, the CEO of the company Whoop which studies athletes’ performance, “We found that athletes, when traveling, on average got an hour less sleep than athletes that did not travel. An hour less in bed, 45 minutes less sleep. That’s about 10% lower recovery. Conventional wisdom says the home team wins because they have their fans supporting them or they are playing in a familiar park. The study suggests the home team may win because they are better recovered and better well rested.”

Yet physiology is just part of it. There is also the psychological advantage the Warriors receive by being the host of their division’s most important tournament. Lewis-Clark gets to play in front of thousands of local fans cheering them on. Meanwhile their opponents are lucky to have a couple dozen supporters. Before last season’s series Faulkner Head Coach Patrick McCarthy said the following in regards to the championship attendees, “We may have about 50 fans. We will add on another 30 elementary school kids that cheer for us because we read to them and gave them Faulkner gear. The other 4,200 or what not will be rooting against us.”

How much would McCarthy’s team enjoyed playing the World Series in Montgomery last season instead? The Eagles record at home in 2016? A stunning 37-4. Away games? 10-9. Quite the difference.

Irregardless, it would be one thing if Lewis-Clark State’s advantage were simply playing on their home diamond. It’s just part of the injustice. What is even more confusing is why they also receive an automatic bid to be in the World Series. They get to completely skip over regional play and get to be in the final ten regardless of their ability. The Warriors could be a sub .500 team and still get a pass into the finals. No fear of an upset or need to travel and play in a competitive, grueling tournament against some of the top teams in the nation. Instead, while others are duking it out on the diamond in the opening round, LCSC coaches can rest their players and pitchers tired from a spring season of competition. They can forgoing fear of injury or the need to put their staff on pitch counts. Instead they can relax and let the team mend knowing they are going to be playing in the World Series. Regional play is tough. Darn tootin’ tough. In 2015 and 2016 half of the teams which were the top seeds in the NAIA Opening Rounds failed to advance, but an upset didn’t besmirch the Warriors opportunities to play for the title. They jumped over the round and waited for their challengers to catch up with them in the finals.

Its also costly to play in a regional. Per the NAIA manual, “Traveling teams will be responsible for a minimum $16,000 of their transportation and housing expenses prior to being eligible for expense reimbursement for participation in NAIA Baseball National Championship Opening Round”. It costs a pretty penny to move a team and the supporting staff to play in a regional. Last season Vanguard had to move their team and supporting staff from California to Alabama for the opening round. Missouri Baptist had to travel from St. Louis up to Jamestown, North Dakota. British Columbia had to pack up for Lawrenceville, Georgia from Vancouver. These are long and expensive trips to play a couple of games of baseball.

The home teams don’t get off easy either. They have to bid a minimum of $10,000 to be the host institution. These are funds which aren’t going to be made up at the gate and concession stand. NAIA Opening Round admission isn’t a hot ticket that scalpers covet and has fans hoping they can find four seats together. The money is not going to be recouped by the schools. They’re paying money in part to help their chances of winning so they can then spend more money for a trip to Idaho.

No financial or travel logistics worries for the Warriors though. They don’t have to come up with money or make travel arrangements. In fact, its the opposite. The NAIA World Series creates funds and opportunities for the LCSC program.

In hosting the World Series Lewis-Clark State receives recruiting benefits other schools don’t. At the beginning of this year it was announced that LCSC was awarded a two-year extension in hosting the series. As a part of the reveal it was touted that the agreement “plays a key role in helping Lewis Clark State secure capital improvements to Harris Field.  Following the 2016 World Series, Lewis-Clark State set out to acquire a new digital scoreboard in addition to stadium renovations. Along with the 24’4” x 32’9” video display board that will have digital capabilities, Lewis-Clark State is also working to add new molded reserved seating, which will be wider and more comfortable than the previous seats and are also working to enclose the stadium with brick.” So in essence, the Warriors program gets an extra boon to increase their facilities which in turn makes it easier for them to recruit players. The Warriors get to play on an immaculate diamond while other programs struggle to have playable fields. Just scroll trough the NAIA Baseball Probz Twitter feed and look at the facilities some schools play in. Meanwhile Lewis-Clark State has an embarrassment of riches and it keeps getting even better. Their players get to play in top notch facility and get to play in the World Series – how can schools complete with that? 

Just yesterday the situation got even worse. LCSC decided not to play in the West three team playoff. Officials stated that since the Warriors already have an invite in hand there was no need for them to play. This further mucks up the playoff system because a different, less qualified team, will take their place in the West playoff tournament -presumably a sub .500 Oregon Tech club.   Because of this, British Columbia, a “bubble team”,  loses their chances to bolster their postseason résumé because they can’t earn more wins against LCSC who should’ve been there. The Thunderbirds, who haven’t been getting any love in the official NAIA rankings without even a “receiving votes”nod, could’ve used another quality win or two for their current 28-13 record. Instead they have to hope to stomp their way over lesser opposition and hope that the determining factor into getting an opening round invite is quantity of wins over quality.

In another aside LCSC decided to forgo making up a double-header with Oregon Tech. Why do teams get to simply pass on playing scheduled games? Well, in this case it’s because they are essentially meaningless as far as wins and losses go; regardless of the outcome the Warriors are going to the World Series.

Think of what would happen if Creighton or Nebraska got to automatically play in the NCAA College World Series. Would people stand for that? Heck no. Not a chance. Why does the NAIA think this is OK? What can schools do to change it?

Rescinding LCSC’s automatic bid would mean that the NAIA would have to create a tenth opening round regional. Good. Hopefully it would mean some teams and families would have to travel less and save some money which can be put back into the program or the school instead of to Holiday Inns and motor coaches. If the NAIA for some unknown reason wouldn’t want to create a tenth location, that’d be fine. Instead give the automatic bid to the previous year’s winner. It still gives a team the advantage of getting to sit out the first round, but at least they earned it on the diamond instead of some conference room where the whole host field auto-bid scheme was laid out.

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