07/07/06 — Opinion: This engine really needs an overhaul

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Opinion: This engine really needs an overhaul

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on July 7, 2006 2:11 PM

American Legion baseball desperately needs an overhaul.

Not just a tune-up, but a major reconstruction.

Someone needs to step in and grab the toolbox from the current administration before any more damage can be done to an engine that already looks irreparable.

For the past three years, Legion baseball has sputtered and broken down when postseason play approaches. Coaches have entered the final week confused on playoff brackets, the making up of missed games and other issues that seem to surround Legion programs each summer.

Not a single mechanic has fixed the problem -- yet.

This past spring, coaches met in the preseason and made minor changes to the schedule. Area I commissioner Joe Tobert decreed that teams who did not complete their 20-game division worksheet would not qualify for the playoffs in the East or West.

But that declaration needed patching like a slow leak in a worn-out tire.

Graduation, a longer calendar school year and the N.C. High School Athletic Association prompted coaches to postpone games to later in the season. With that done, despite Tobert's warning not to wait until the last week to make up games, the coaches approached the commissioner with their concerns.

Suppose no team completed its 20-game slate? How would the playoffs work then? Tobert conceded and said that when regular-season play concluded, he'd make a decision regarding "lost" games.

I could regurgitate information from previous News-Argus articles about the late-season circus here, but wish to change the oil filter and rev up the engine a little bit.

Area I East teams played a split-division schedule in 2003 and 2004. Rainouts were few and rescheduling issues were basically null and void. There were one or two games that got canceled I recall, but nothing as significant as this season.

The two-division format worked well. It's only downfall was that the traditionally-stronger programs comprised one division, while the other division had some weaker teams. Once the 2004 season ended, coaches vetoed division play for 2005.

But division play could work again ... with some tweaking.

Legion officials could divide the Area I East geographically and put the northern-most teams in one division and southern-most teams in the other. Granted, one division is going to have six teams while one will have five.

Teams can play doubleheaders within their division and have more room for non-division play -- if they so choose. With a less-crowded division schedule, that opens up playing dates for postponed games.

Instead of playing one nine-inning game, teams can propose playing seven-inning doubleheaders. The games become more manageable and challenging. The only issues are who gets the home doubleheader and who gets the gate receipts? Do you split any profit?

A friend of mine who coaches in the college ranks suggested playing a weekend round-robin involving three teams. Team A plays Team B, Team B plays Team C and Team A plays Team C. This could easily take care of six division games -- two each for the participating teams.

In other words, find a way to make the regular-season schedule less laborious to everyone associated with their respective Legion program. Cramming 20 games into a five-week period is like hammering a circle peg into a square hole. It just doesn't fit.

Legion baseball needs a tune-up.

That poor engine is suffering and certainly won't get the mileage needed to make Legion baseball succeed again unless somebody steps in and replaces those worn-out parts.