For the sake of equity, Little League must rethink its sectional format

It was from Imus in the Morning, the classic, daily skit, "Which doesn't belong and why?" Bernard McGuirk would impersonate Cardinal O'Connor with a thick Irish accent and give us all a laugh on the way to work.

So, let's play the Connecticut Little League baseball version of "Which doesn't belong and why?"

District all-star tournaments: double elimination. Undefeated team in the championship round must be defeated twice.

State tournament: double elimination. Undefeated team in the championship round must be defeated twice.

Sectional tournament: Undefeated team in the championship round plays one, winner-take-all championship game, regardless of previous tournament performance.

Hmmm.

Which doesn't belong and why?

Double elimination is perfectly fine for the district and state tournaments, but not the sectional?

It's exactly why Mystic's season is over.

Mystic cut a swath through the district and won its first two games of the sectional. Nine wins, zero losses. Outscored the competition by more than 70 runs. Defeated Wethersfield and Madison in the first two games of the sectional by a combined 12-0.

Ah, but because of this arbitrary format, undefeated Mystic found itself in a winner-take-all championship game earlier this week against one-loss Madison.

Mystic lost and went home.

Absurd.

Here is the level of absurdity: In the winner-take-all game, Mystic yielded a run to Madison in the first inning and fell behind 1-0. I turned to my longtime friend Tom Doyle, whose grandsons (Dylan and Liam) play for Mystic and said this:

"Do you realize that if the score stays this way, Mystic will have lost a four-day, three-game tournament by allowing one entire run?"

It could have happened.

Based on the potential of that alone, this must change.

"I think the sectional format needs some revising, to be honest," Mystic manager Jeff Joyce said after team eventually lost to Madison 6-3 Wednesday night. "Maybe it's sour grapes on my part. But we really did everything we were supposed to do, and it comes down to a winner take all. Everywhere in the journey of the Little League process is double elimination except for the sectionals. I just don't feel like that's in the spirit of the Little League philosophy."

Hence, it's time for our state Little League poohbahs to awaken and understand the concept of equity: a fair baseline of competition. Note the difference between equity (fairness) and equality (where everybody achieves the same). Equity ought to be sacrosanct. Equality is impossible and leads to the "everybody should get a trophy" drivel.

This is about equity. The undefeated team gains no advantage from being undefeated. The one-loss team has no disadvantage for losing. Now I'm all for the vagaries of the counterintuitive lifestyle, but where's the equity in benefitting by losing?

And please: don't bother with the "both teams played by the same rules" act. Duh. Also irrelevant. The rule needs to be changed for the aforementioned reasons. Once again: If you can possibly lose a four-day, three-game tournament by allowing one entire run, you have a flawed system.

Not to mention how such "sectionals" are formed. This particular "sectional" featured Wethersfield, Madison and Mystic. Wethersfield and Mystic are 54 miles apart. What "section" of Connecticut do they share?

Jim O'Neill, who coached summer baseball for decades around here, said this once: "Little League exists to keep the parents off the streets." Loosely translated, O'Neill meant that adults are quite adept at ruining games for kids. In this case, the adults weren't the parents, but the people concocting and applying lopsided rules that don't pass the laugh test.

The solution is simple: The undefeated team in the championship round of the sectional should have to lose twice to be eliminated. Would it have been such a hardship for Madison and Mystic to play a winner-take-all game after Mystic actually lost a game?

This needs to be fixed.

It won't help the Mystic kids of 2019.

But maybe another group in 2020.

Equity.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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