'Elite 8' baseball proposal passes another hurdle

The porposal for an MIAA Division 1A "Elite Eight" baseball tournament for 2014 passed another hurdle this morning, when it passed approval by the MIAA Baseball Committee. In a meeting this morning at MIAA headquarters in Franklin, the committee voted 10-4 in favor of the proposal, sending the proposal to the MIAA's Tournament Management Committee.

Members of the TMC will vote on the proposal on March 11. Should it pass, it will have one final hurdle to go through to become a reality -- the MIAA Board of Directors, which would meet in May.

The format for the proposed "Elite Eight" follows some of the same parallels as the wildly popular Division 1A Tournament in hockey, better known as the "Super Eight". The "Elite Eight" would divide the state's top eight teams, voted on by a 12-person selection committee, in two, four-team, double-elimination brackets, similar to the College World Series. The winners of each bracket would then meet in a best-of-three final at a neutral site.

Lincoln-Sudbury head coach Kirk Fredericks, who initially proposed the idea, finalized his draft last November. We outlined the complete proposal OVER HERE.

So far, the "Elite Eight" idea has been met with little resistance. A year ago, the Massachusetts Baseball Coaches Association (MBCA) voted 75-1 in favor of the plan. Catholic Memorial Athletic Director Alex Campea, who chairs the MIAA Baseball Committee, has publicly expressed full support of the proposal as well.

The committee voted that games in the "Elite Eight" tournament would be nine innings. Some of the other concerns voiced at this morning's meeting included the spectre of putting parochial schools -- particularly, the Catholic Conference -- on a pedestal, while diminishing the state tournaments for Divisions 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Fredericks' counter to those concerns is just that -- Catholic schools, in this current state of MIAA baseball, are indeed "on a pedestal". Since 1999, a parochial school has won the Division 1 state championship nine times -- eight times by a Catholic Conference school, including Xaverian last spring, and once by St. John's of Shrewsbury in 2002.

"When you have a tournament where there's 11 percent Catholic schools competing, but they've won 64 percent of the time the last 12 years, there's something wrong with that," Fredericks said. "We need something. For me, they're already on a pedestal.

"This is something that's going to take many of the top schools, put them into an 'Elite Eight', and now other schools that have a shot...a Braintree, a Silver Lake, schools just on outside now have chance to sneak in, they have a chance to compete."

As far as the diminished importance of other tournaments, Fredericks thought it was an unfair point.

"When a Division 1 team playing in the finals wins it, they don't sit in the dugout saying 'We won, but we didn't win the Elite Eight," he said. "I think they run out and pig-pile the mound, the parents are gonna be taking pictures. When they take their bus home, the fire trucks and police cars are going to meet them at the town line and escort them home. I think the parents that went to the game, they meet in the parking lot and celebrate, the coaches celebrate.

"I think that happens with any tournament. When we won D2 [in 2005] we did that. We did that in D1 with my two there [2007, 2011]. If we did it in the Elite Eight I would, if we were in D1 I would. I don't see how that diminishes anything."

Overall, Fredericks said, with reportedly decreasing participation rates at the youth level, baseball in Massachusetts "needs a shot in the arm".

"I read [an article] that said participation in youth baseball has dropped seven percent the last five years in Massachusetts," he said. "We need a shot in arm, we need something special, something that creates excitement.

"It’s a two-year pilot, so if ends up being like 1992 when we tried an open [division] tournament in basketball they’ll scrap it. If it's like the 1A tournament in hockey, they’ll take 1A baseball and tweak it every year just like in hockey. Football [the new state tournament alignment], I'm sure they’ll tweak it to make it better. If it doesn't work, we'll go back to something else. I'm real happy the Baseball Committee is giving it a chance. I hope the Tournament Management Committee and Board of Directors try it, I think it would be great."