Determining a champion imperfect at best

I don?t care if we?re talking about high school, college or pro sports. Devising the best way to crown a champion is complicated.

Nearly every year, one organization or another goes about tweaking its system.

High school sports may be the most constant because they don?t have a lot of money to invest in changing the system. The most noticeable change in recent years has been expanding the number of classes, resulting in more state champions.

You can debate why Kansas needs so many champions, given its relatively small population, but the kindergarten philosophy in which everyone is special seems to have moved into high school athletics.

The classes are determined by enrollment, but are eight championship classes in high school basketball really necessary? Back in the day when I was in high school there were only four classes. Apparently we weren?t smart enough to know how deprived we were.

In four of the classes, a basketball team need only win two games to qualify for state. That?s a pretty short road to the state tournament.

But that?s OK. If that?s what educators think is best, so be it.

NCAA Division I college basketball has been relatively consistent for the past couple of decades, but even there we see things gradually expanding. They still determine a champion in a manageable three weeks though.

College football, on the other hand, has been another story. For the longest time, there was no playoff; only bowl games. Voters decided which team was No. 1.

Then came the BCS format in which two teams played for the championship. That will soon expand to four.

Of course, no matter how many times you expand the playoffs, some team will be on the outside looking in, because the system of determining who qualifies will always be debatable.

Tabor College had never been in the NAIA World Series before this year, so we didn?t pay close attention to that system before.

One oddity is that host school Lewis-Clark State College automatically qualifies for the tournament. Hosting a national tournament is an immense amount of work, so the NAIA national office needs a host school for the event to pull it off.

That?s a nice recruiting tool. ?Come play for us and you?ll compete in the national tournament.?

The site of the tournament also poses a geographic problem by the flight of many power programs from NAIA to NCAA D-II. Most of the remaining NAIA schools that play baseball successfully are located in the southeast, a long way from Idaho.

Of course, the NAIA doesn?t have deep pockets. Frankly, it hardly has any pockets because there?s little media coverage or advertising revenue. The teams that qualify for the postseason have to pick up the tab for travel and other expenses.

Another oddity is that 10 teams qualify for the national tournament, an untidy number because that means the two top teams have a first-round bye. That?s not insignificant, because it creates an advantage by saving your best pitcher for the next round.

The best way to avoid an advantage for the top seeds is to have an eight-team or 16-team tournament.

Interestingly, No. 10 seed Cumberland won this year?s NAIA baseball title, giving hope to anyone who qualifies for the national tournament.

Therein lies the real issue. The sports seasons are already lengthy. The best teams probably don?t win the championship all the time. The hope is that your team has a good enough year to qualify for the postseason, and gets on a hot streak at the end of the year.

The professional sports seasons are inordinately long for financial reasons, and to my knowledge each sport has expanded how many teams qualify for the playoffs.

So truth be told, maybe the kindergarten philosophy had it right all along. We?re all special.

More from Joe Kleinsasser
Should professional athletes be allowed days of rest?
NBA fans aren’t happy when coaches rest players, especially if the fan...
Read More