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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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How did youth sports get this messed up?

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Where to begin today? It’s Wednesday, right, which is usually our “take apart some sanctimonious sons of guns” day. So that’s what we will do. Read on.

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• You know the biggest problem with youth sports more often than not? Nope, not the youths (or as the judge in “My Cousin Vinnie” was fond of saying, “utes”). It’s the adults who run the organizations. My favorite whipping boy in this is the folks at Little League International or whatever they call themselves. Before we get too far and tar everyone with the same bristle brush, let’s just say most folks who volunteer their time and effort with Little League are doing it for the right reasons. They want to help kids have an enjoyable, learning, edifying experience. But Little League is big business. A huge business actually. A multi-million dollar, worldwide enterprise. And like all multi-million dollar, world-wide enterprises, it is infected with a few bad apples and some really convoluted rules to keep them in line. There have been a handful of recent scandals on the boys side recently, all in the name of winning. So imagine my surprise yesterday morning when I read a story about the latest “scandal.” This one was at the organization’s softball World Series in Portland and it was about losing. Really.

• By now you probably have heard about it. (This story gives the best explanation of the conundrum facing the Washington team heading into Monday’s game with North Carolina.) You may even have read a story or seen a video about how evil the Snohomish coach was and how awful it was the Washington team lost on purpose, just to eliminate the poor Iowa team it was afraid of. Hogwarts. (I know the term is “hogwash” but when speaking about an Iowa team, I’m afraid that might be considered a pejorative, thus the change.) The reason the Washington team was not afraid to lose was simple: by losing, it won. And that’s where the sanctimony – and the idiocy – comes in. When you enter a tournament at any level, the goal of every team is to win the tournament, right? From the real World Series to the World Cup, the idea is to take home the final trophy. And if the rules say you don’t have to win every game to do that, then you don’t have to. You use each game as a way to get better for the games you have to win. If the Giants had a 3-0 lead in the World Series and didn’t throw a tired Madison Baumgartner in Game Four, no one would complain, would they? Nope. They would understand they are trying to improve their chance of winning the overall prize. Winning individual games isn’t the goal. Winning the series is. Doing whatever the rules allow to reach that goal is fine. Except when it isn’t. Thus was the case this week. See, the tiebreaker rules the folks in blazers developed for the girls’ softball World Series are so convoluted as to be almost incomprehensible. They are so wacky I read three stories today on the subject and still am not sure how many runs the Snohomish team could have given up Monday and still moved on. And all the stories, one from the Oregonian, which is the hometown paper, and the others, with input from the on-site Associated Press reporter, seem to draw on information directly from Little League. But no matter. Any tiebreaker rule that penalizes a team for trying to win an individual game is so flawed as to be unworkable anyway. It should be thrown out – as should the people who put it together. This is what, basically, the Washington folks faced Monday: If they won, they won their pool and moved on. As did the team from Iowa. If they lost and were shut out, they moved on as well, but the Iowa team was aced out of a semifinal berth due to the tiebreaker rules. But if Washington lost and scored a certain amount of runs – the stories differ here, with one saying one or more runs, others saying three or more – the kids from Snohomish would have been watching the nationally televised semifinals instead of playing in them. How stupid is that?

• This is wrong in so many ways I can’t go into them all. According to what I've read, such an occurrence wouldn’t happen to the boys, because Little League treats them differently, bringing in enough teams to have a true double-elimination tournament. The idea that you have to have a runs/innings ratio formula as a tiebreaker in pool play for the three-way tie seems overly convoluted but is easily remedied (see preceding sentence). Then to sit in a meeting and accuse a coach of cheating because he followed the rules you set up seems the most hypocritical aspect of the whole thing. You can say he didn’t try to win or have the team do its best, which violates the basic pledge of the organization, and I can see that argument – to a point. But the pledge – “I will play fair and strive to win. But win or lose, I will always do my best.” – was already corrupted by the organization’s unfair tiebreaker rules. Look at it. Fair to whom? The ways the rules were set up, scoring four runs (a good thing) and losing meant the tournament was over (a bad thing). That seems unfair to the Snohomish team. Playing fair seems hard to define in a situation like that. Striving to win the tournament, which is the ultimate goal for every team there, was only possible if the team moved on. Not scoring ensured that. And doing your best? That was already out the window. The organization didn’t even adhere to that. If it did, it would have enough teams in the tournament so that the tiebreaker was unnecessary, as it is at Williamsport. Think about this. The Snohomish coach didn’t put his best players on the field. He rested his best pitcher. Should those actions alone have disqualified the team? If not, why not? The team wasn’t doing it best. The Iowa coach mentioned those decisions in every interview I’ve seen and said he knew right away something was wrong. Why? Giving everyone a team a chance to play a lot is unfair or immoral? Isn’t that the basis of the darn event anyway? Maybe that didn’t seem fair to the Iowa coach because his team had already lost. It seemed fair to the Washington coach. After all winning an individual game wasn’t the ultimate goal, was it? Winning the tournament was. The Washington coach was striving to win the tournament. I get that. They lost the game 8-0. I didn’t see it. You didn’t see it. Only a few people did. But Little League determined the Snohomish team didn’t try to score, that they violated the spirit of the rules. OK. There were two-strike bunts (this isn’t as bad as most baseball fans would think; it happens a lot in high-level fastpitch, a game in which bunting is as important as any aspect other than pitching). There were accusations of striking out on purpose. It looked bad. It is bad. But so was the remedy. The Little League official who runs the tournament stated the Washington team could have been kicked out of the competition, but that didn’t seem appropriate. Maybe it didn’t seem appropriate because they realized the tiebreaker rules were illogical? So instead other rules were changed (broken?) and an extra game was added to appease Iowa. Washington, which already had defeated Iowa in the tournament proper, lost. Iowa won, but was eliminated later Tuesday. Little League lost ages ago.

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• WSU: The Cougars were back at practice yesterday, though the venue was different. They were back in Pullman. So was Jacob Thorpe, who will celebrate today by holding a live chat. He celebrated yesterday with a story on the newest receiver and blog posts of interviews with Mike Leach, Graham Harrell, Gabe Marks and Kyrin Priester, the subject of his story. He also has a summary of practice – spoiler alert: a good day for the offense – and a morning post with links. ... The Times has hired a former Spokesman-Review intern to cover Eastern Washington’s colleges and Stefanie Loh has this piece today. ... WSU seems to have the easiest football schedule of any Pac-12 school.

• Gonzaga: The WCC released the conference schedules yesterday and there are a few dates that are certain to be circled on your calendar. Jim Meehan has more in this story and blog post.

• EWU: The Eagles’ Jordan West continues to move forward as the quarterback as Eastern preps for the opener at Oregon. Jim Allen has this story on the new starter.

• Idaho: Practice continues in Moscow as well and Sean Kramer has this post from yesterday’s workouts.

• Shock: Andy Olson is out as the Shock coach. The team is this close to being out of the AFL as well. And former coach Adam Shackleford will be back soon as the head coach. All of that is contained in Jim Meehan’s story this morning.

• Indians: Spokane pulled even in the series with Everett with a come-from-behind 11-9 win.

• Seahawks: Earl Thomas was back at practice yesterday. Feel free to celebrate. He did. Though he had some thoughts about never coming back. ... ... One of the sad stories yesterday came via the cut list. On it was veteran – the military kind – Nate Boyer, who was trying to win the long-snapper job. ... How did the practice go yesterday?

• Mariners: So there wasn’t a no-hitter this time for Hisashi Iwakuma. Only another solid start. And it was good enough for a 3-2 M’s win over Texas. ... James Paxton says he’s ready to move forward. Danny Hultzen is not.

• Sounders: Seattle’s set pieces should improve with the talents of the new players mixed in. ... Champions League play resumes tonight with Seattle hosting Honduras team Olimpa. ... Real Salt Lake shook up its front office yesterday.

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• I know I’m probably in the minority in this Little League argument, but the relentless breaking of the rules has made me jaded. I also understand the motivation behind the Snohomish coach’s actions. He read the rules, figured out the best way to ensure his team moved on and acted on them. Was he right? In some ways yes, in other ways no. But the biggest problem was the rules themselves. Let’s see if they are changed before next year’s tournament. Until later ...



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