Little League Scandal Calls For Future Format Change
The 2015 Little League Softball World Series was rocked by controversy when a team out of Washington was accused of intentionally losing a game.
The girls softball team from South Snohomish, Washington was accused of intentionally losing during a semifinal-qualifying game in order to eliminate a tough competitor from Polk City, Iowa.
During the game in question, Washington benched its best players, frequently bunted, and eventually lost the game to their opposing team from Salisbury, North Carolina with a score of 8-0.
At the time of the controversial game, Washington had already secured their placement in the next round. However, a win for North Carolina would cause the U.S. division to end in a three-way tie that would eliminate the Iowa team.
Polk City’s Response
Iowa officials believe that the team was playing poorly against North Carolina in an attempt to avoid facing a rematch in the championship game. Washington won against Iowa in their preliminary game by only one run.
Iowa filed a protest to the Little League Softball World Series officials – where the outcome of the controversial game was not overturned. Iowa appealed again to the Little League International organization, which ruled in favor of a special tiebreaker game.
Snohomish, Washington eventually lost the tiebreaker game 3-2 against Polk City, Iowa.
Although it may appear that Washington was trying to avoid a rematch, a deeper examination of the Little League rules reveals that the team may have been acting in the best interest of their own team rather than in spite of another.
Little League’s tiebreaker rules inherently placed the teams in a moral dilemma.
There are ten teams competing in the tournament, which are then divided into two groups, each containing five teams. The teams compete against the other four groups in their pool and the top two teams in each advance to the semifinals.
Before the controversial Washington-North Carolina game, Iowa had already finished it’s pool with a record of 3-1. Washington was 3-0 and North Carolina was 2-1.
A win for Washington against North Carolina would have earned them the first-place team from their pool.
However, if Washington scored more than one run against North Carolina and lost they would automatically have been eliminated from championship consideration.
North Carolina’s win would create a three-way tie between Iowa, North Carolina, and Washington. With no team being unbeaten against the other two, the guidelines determined the first place team by dividing the number of runs each team allowed by the number of innings they played defensively. The second place team was determined by the head-to-head result of the two remaining teams.
Washington would be unable to win the ratio tiebreaker had they made runs and still lost, making their safest option to ensure North Carolina won the ratio tiebreaker and then advancing as second-place team with their head-to-head win over Iowa. Scoring more than one run and losing against North Carolina would’ve left Washington as the third place group.
Thus, scoring zero runs against North Carolina, Snohomish ensured their second place win.
The current tournament format presents coaches with a mathematical incentive to stray from the code of conduct presented by the Little League.
A possible change that may appear to eliminate this situation from surfacing again in the future is transitioning to a double-elimination bracket. The double-elimination format is currently used by the Little League Baseball World Series.
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