Is changing format for JUCO in the near future?

It’s not as if the JUCO World Series bracket is broken, but can it be better?

Maybe, says David Elder, the second vice president of the NJCAA and the Division I baseball chair.

The NJCAA, like all athletic conferences and governing bodies, is always looking at suggestions for its tournaments, and with the growth of the Southeastern Conference next year, Elder saw the SEC’s 10-team conference baseball tournament bracket.

Tournaments are best in increments of eight — 8, 16, 32, 64. It gives you an even number of teams in quadrants and avoids byes. Any other number means byes and an unbalanced schedule.

JUCO has long been a 10-team tournament, and unless you start playing earlier than the 9 a.m. start we currently have on opening day, and go well into the night (or into the wee hours of the next morning), it’s impossible to play five nine-inning baseball games in one day on one field.

I took a look at the SEC bracket Wednesday night and it’s intriguing. It’s a seeded tournament, which some coaches would like to see instead of the 9-year rotating district pairings.

The bracket Elder has looked at calls for two tiers of five teams. The No. 1 and No. 2 seeded teams receive first-round byes, and like now, wouldn’t play until Sunday.

That’s a bone of contention with coaches in the current bracket, with two teams eliminated Sunday before two teams ever take the field. I agree it’s not ideal, but it’s better than trying to squeeze five games into one day.

I see pros and cons, just like the current bracket.

Pro: It does away with the coin flip to determine which team advances to the championship game if there are three teams left with the same number of games played. No tournament finalist should ever be determined by a coin flip. Period.

One option is that, once you’re through the two tiers, your tier champions play a best-of-three series for the title. They haven’t faced each other before then during the week. I like that option, which would keep JUCO an 18- or 19-game tournament.

Con: Four games per day for three straight days. JUCO Chairman Jamie Hamilton told junior college administrators that format would put a huge strain on the volunteers who run the tournament. Many of the volunteers are at the ballpark from 6 a.m. until the final out of the day, which can be as late as 11 p.m. I put in a 16-hour day covering Day 1 this year, and honestly can’t imagine doing that two more days.

“It would be one thing if they could guarantee us the speed of the game would be like we had Saturday,” Hamilton said Wednesday. “But then we could have games like (Tuesday) night or today.”

If the format were to change, Hamilton would opt for an 8-team tournament.

“Eight teams works even better,” he said. “But then two teams won’t get this experience.

“I voiced my opinion to the administrators and they shelved it for two years. I don’t know what we’ll do if they tell us (they’re changing the 10-team bracket).”

No changes will be considered until 2014.

Elder said an 8-team national tournament could bring about a Super Regional format much like the NCAA tournament.

Instead of regional champions going to a district tournament, which varies depending on what part of the country you’re in, regions would meet in a Super Regional, the same format, on the same weekend.

Now, district tournaments are everything from a two-team, best-of-three series to an 8-team double-elimination tournament.

Polk State (Fla.) qualified in early May, Gordon (Ga.) College the Monday before the tournament began.

The Super Regional at the NJCAA level, though, would have to be thought through with the expense of more travel involved for schools.

And changing the bracket would involve more than just looking at how many games are played each day. There’s the economic impact to Grand Junction if a tournament is shorter than the week it currently runs. If more teams are eliminated quickly, hotels and restaurants lose revenue.

“It’s that sort of balancing act; you want to keep everything the way it’s been going for years in Grand Junction as far as the schools coming in and spending money and the economic impact,” Elder said. “You don’t want to mess that up.”


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