Many managers and general managers of National Baseball Congress teams and leagues agreed Thursday that a change was necessary to inject life into the floundering NBC World Series.
It might take some time, however, for them to agree that the changes announced Thursday are the right ones.
Immediate reaction included more complaints than praise, but most lauded the NBC for taking risks in an effort to improve the tournament. An audit by the city this month showed the Wingnuts, who operate the tournament, were more than $250,000 in debt and behind on their lease payments for Lawrence-Dumont Stadium by two years.
"I think, the way they were going, something needed to happen, something needed to change," Derby Twins general manager Jeff Wells said.
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Officials from the Wingnuts and the city, which owns the tournament, announced the implementation of a two-bracket format that will feature 16 teams participating in the first eight days.
Then a separate 16, made up of league champions, the previous year’s finalists, the top two finishers from the first week and two at-large teams play in a double-elimination "championship week" over the final eight days.
The changes come with the idea of reducing expenses for teams and enticing non-regional teams to participate. Last year, 22 of 32 teams were from Kansas or a bordering state. With attendance and interest suffering, the NBC wants to expand, even at the expense of leagues such as the Jayhawk and Wichita-based Walter Johnson, which will see their bids decreased dramatically.
"We’re awful prejudiced in the Jayhawk League," Hays manager Frank Leo said. "We feel like we’re a very strong, competitive league and we do show well at the tournament year-in and year-out. I understand their point of getting an overabundance of Jayhawk League teams, but they’re good-quality teams and they’re representing maybe this part of the country, but players are still coming from all over the country to play on our teams."
The NBC seems on its way to making good on its promise to expand. The Alaska League, which reduced its participation recently because of travel expenses, may have renewed interest. The timing of the format changes, however, could eliminate the possibility that Alaska will participate this summer.
"It’s always tough when traveling that far when it could be two days and you’re knocked out, or it could go all the way up to 14 days," Anchorage (Alaska) Glacier Pilots GM Jon Dyson said. "This makes it easier to plan, because ... if we know, worst-case scenario, that it’s going to be a seven-day tournament, it keeps costs a little more manageable."
The NBC has also contacted leagues not previously affiliated, such as the Perfect Game League in New York. Its schedule will probably prevent its participation at least the next two years.
"Any organization that’s trying to prove what it does and make the adjustments to accommodate their customer base is heading in the right direction," Perfect Game president Jeff Kunion said.
Coaches, general managers and owners didn’t find out about the changes to the tournament until Wednesday and Thursday — another point of contention for representatives from local leagues.
"Not to poll us, and (not to) have a (general managers) meeting over some things where we could have put our heads together, I think the sum of us are smarter than the one of us," Walter Johnson League president Barry Newell said. "I think any organization that has legitimacy has a board and runs it. It’s being run autonomously and being forced upon us.
"I’m not saying it’s not a good system, it very well may be. But this is one man’s idea of how to fix their problems, not necessarily our problems."
The elimination of the Midwest Regional, which includes Jayhawk and Walter Johnson teams vying for an automatic berth near the end of the regular season, also drew the ire of some representatives.
"That really screws up our summer schedule, because now I’ve got a week that I’m not going to be playing any games," Jayhawk League president J.D. Schneider said.
Leo said it would be difficult for teams who automatically qualified for championship week to stay together for eight days during the first week of the tournament, and that expenses would mount for Kansas teams who couldn’t drive home between games and had to stay in hotels.
Bill Pintard, who manages defending champion Santa Barbara (Calif.), was upset by the new rule that waives a five-transaction limit, allowing teams unlimited roster changes during the tournament.
"A manager that cares about players, they’re not going to do that," Pintard said. "Owners that just care about winning a trophy are going to do it. Personally, being old school, you dance with who brought you to the dance.”