The NCAC and True Champions

Last year, the College of Wooster had one of the most exciting baseball teams in Division III. They had an electrifying offense, slashing .350/.446/.535 as a team on the year. The team also rolled through the NCAC, dropping only two games.

Despite being on an unseasonably cold night in Chillicothe, Ohio, the team lost in the conference championship 11-5. The loss was the team’s sixth game of the weekend, and its third against Oberlin. In those three games, Wooster outscored Oberlin by 10 runs. Oberlin was below .500, and the team only lodged six wins in the conference last year.

Last year, Wooster won more games by five runs or more than Oberlin won all year. Wooster was clearly the better team by almost any metric. Despite this fact, Oberlin represented the NCAA tournament last year as the Conference Champion, and Wooster, after having a tremendous year, sat at home with nothing to show for its effort.

Appealing to Torch readers’ sympathies by citing the plight of the Fighting Scots does not seem on its face a prudent move. Last year’s NCAC baseball championship represents a significant problem the conference has: Oberlin was rewarded not because they were the better, or even because they are the team which performed better over the course of the season, but rather because their wins came at a different place on the calendar.

If you knew nothing about sports and were attempting to design a system which determined a true champion in the most equitable fashion, most rational people would only do two simple things: every competitor would play the same schedule and the team which had the best one record at the end of the regular season would be named the champion. In essence, you would design the NCAC regular season for most sports. Playoffs and tournaments are fun. But they should only exist to determine champions when there is an unequal schedule at play. The NCAC is total control to ensure a balanced conference schedule.

Crowning a true champion is not only good per se, but also affects the conference’s national reputation and the conference’s pursuit of national championships. Using a post-season tournament to determine which team represents the conference in national tournaments means that inferior teams often steal the conference’s post-season bid. This severely damages the conference’s championship hopes as a whole.

Championships should be determined on the field over the course of a season. While tournament-style playoffs may be exciting, they water down the rest of regular season and in some cases, even make regular season games meaningless.
In football, the one NCAC sport without a championship tournament, each conference game carries playoff-type significance and meaning. I would argue that opting to go to a format which rewards regular season champions creates a more exciting product on the field in addition to being more fair.

Ultimately, the team that wins the most games should be declared the champion. While the conference rules cannot eliminate cluster luck, BABIP luck and other factors of random chance, it should be dedicated to pursuing fairness in the areas it can control such as how champions are determined.

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