What could the organizers of the World Baseball Classic (WBC) take from NCAA's March Madness in order to improve its tournament?
That could be one of the questions on organizers' minds as the WBC wraps up later this week. From all indications, the third installment of the WBC has been another success. Still, there are some areas of the tournament that could be tweaked to enhance the overall experience.
Here are several changes that could be made to help enhance the WBC and bring it on par with NCAA's March Madness.
A stronger international governing body is needed to give the WBC legitimacy
One of the problems with the World Baseball Classic is that even though teams participate from all around the world, the two major sport leagues, Major League Baseball (MLB) and Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) hold more prestige than the governing body, the International Baseball Federation (IBAF). As long as that is the case, it's going to be hard for the tournament to crown a true world champion.
That is why the IBAF needs to become stronger and be able to wield governing powers on par with the NCAA. Getting the MLB and NPB owners and players to agree to cede power to the IBAF may be a tough sell, but it would legitimately increase the governing body's influence and power.
The next step: True international play
If the IBAF and the WBC are going to be taken seriously on the international stage, MLB and the NPB need to integrate international play into their regular season schedules. I'm not talking about a high percentage of games. MLB already has interleague play with a plethora of games that some people, including myself, feel are not worth watching.
How many interleague games between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Milwaukee Brewers do we really need to watch?
A solution would be to replace the “boring” interleague matchups with international games against the NPB and other national teams chartered with the IBAF. This would be the first step in developing the measurables needed to develop true world rankings.
What about countries that don't have established professional leagues?
There are 118 member nations that are part of the IBAF. In comparison, there are currently 347 teams in Men's NCAA Division I basketball. Those nations that are not part of MLB or the NPB can create their own national teams to complete in a new global league.
The new baseball league would be sanctioned by the IBAF and broken down by geographic regions.
There would be six regions:
North/Central America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa/Middle East, and Australia/Oceania.
Each nation would play a majority of their games against teams of their home region as well as games against members of other regions and the big two professional leagues. Each respective region would have an undetermined number of teams that would play a 162-game schedule, following standard IBAF rules.
How do you rank teams?
Members of the new global IBAF baseball league could take a page out of NCAA college basketball and rank their teams using Rating Percentage Index or RPI. Without getting into complicated mathematical equations, a hypothetical baseball RPI would weigh factors including winning percentage, opponents' winning percentage, winning percentage of opponents' opponents and wins against opponents from the big two professional leagues.
Crown a true “World Champion”
With the international leagues established and a ranking system in place, there can be movement toward crowning a legitimate world champion at the WBC.
The WBC would become a yearly 18-team tournament scheduled to culminate after the completion of the World Series and Japan Series.
The winners of the MLB World Series and NPB Japan Series would automatically qualify as the teams representing their nations and earn byes to the WBC Final Four. The team with the highest RPI would hold the top seed. The last two spots in the Final Four would be determined via a pool of 16 teams comprising six automatic bids from the champions of each respective geographic region and ten at-large teams (minus MLB, NPB) with the highest RPI.
The 16 teams would then be seeded based on their RPI and compete in a single-elimination tournament with the two remaining teams to be paired against the MLB and NPB world champions.
The WBC Final Four
The WBC Final Four would take place in November and consist of the champions of the MLB, NPB as well as the last two remaining teams from the single-elimination tournament. The WBC Final Four would rotate every four years from a neutral site venue associated with MLB, NPB or a member country of the IBAF global baseball league.
The semifinal games would be structured as follows:
- Lowest Seed (WBC Tournament semifinalist) at Highest RPI (MLB/NPB Champion)
- Highest Seed (WBC Tournament semifinalist) at Lowest RPI (MLB/NPB Champion)
The World Championship Game would also be single-elimination and comprise of the two remaining teams.
Could this plan ultimately work?
Yes, but it would need the complete support of MLB, the Players Union and those who constitute the NPB in Japan.
The addition of two games after the completion of the World Series should not be that much of a big deal for MLB owners and players. The real question is whether or not MLB stakeholders would allow a team outside the home 30 possibly to be crowned “World Champion."
What do you think? Could a global baseball league governed by the IBAF work? Will the WBC ever rival March Madness?