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Tanking in Little League softball

Aug 18, 2015

The Des Moines Register broke a story on Monday that has been circulating around the national media outlets this morning, and I guarantee it is one of the craziest tales you will hear all week.

The story is about a tanking controversy at the Little League Softball World Series. If you’re not familiar with the term, “tanking” means losing the game on purpose.

I know what you’re thinking. That sounds almost fake, like it should be a sitcom episode, but it actually happened. Here is a little background on what went down.

Iowa’s little league softball team is really good. The team is from Central Iowa Little League in Polk City and they are basically the 1927 Yankees of softball in the Midwest.

The “Central Regional” to advance to the Softball World Series was held in Indianapolis in late July. The regional featured the champions of nine states; Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin.

The Iowa team went undefeated in pool play and in the elimination round to take the Central championship. During that run, they outscored their opponents 53-3. That’s not a typo. They really outscored their opponents 53-3. Remember, these are the very best teams from each state. These were stacked teams, and Iowa had no trouble beating most of them (although they did only win the championship game 2-1).

So, we’ve established that the Iowa team is a force to be reckoned with. Well, nobody told the Western Region champions from South Snohomish Little League in Washington, because they beat Iowa, 4-3, in the second game in pool play at the World Series. It was a big slip-up for Iowa, but two teams from the pool advance to the elimination round, so they had to be pretty confident they could still get through.

The Iowa team managed to breeze through the rest of pool play. Just as long as the Washington team (the team they lost to) didn’t get upset in their final game against the Southeast Regional champion from North Carolina, or at least score three runs if they did lose, both Washington and Iowa would advance on.

Because of tiebreaker rules, Washington was already through to the semi-finals, and as mentioned in the previous paragraph, Iowa would be joining them if they either won, or scored three runs. In every single one of their regional or World Series games, Washington had scored at least three, so there should really be no problem. Also, Washington beat Iowa and Iowa beat North Carolina (3-1), so if you use the transitive formula (this is a quick math lesson), Washington is the easy favorite in this game.

Except there is one little problem. Washington’s coaching staff knew how good the Iowa team was. So why would they want to help Iowa advance to the knockout round where they could possibly face Washington in the championship and knock them out?

If you’re a regular old little league softball coach, you probably just tell your girls to go out there and try and get a win and just worry about Iowa if you have to face them again. But, if you’re an evil mastermind that knows a blowout loss would technically help you in the long run, you throw the game on purpose, effectively knocking Iowa out of the tournament and giving yourself an easier road to a championship.

And that’s exactly what they did. The Washington coaching staff benched their four best players and told those who were playing to lose on purpose. The players swung at pitches in the dirt, bunted with two strikes and purposely got no-hit in an 8-0 thumping, all while the poor Iowa girls watched it unfold through their teary eyes.

So, as the Iowa coaches sat with their crying players and watched a team lose on purpose just to kick them out of the tournament, they simply smiled and tipped their hats to the smart strategy of the Washington coaches, right? Of course not! Of course that wouldn’t happen! The Iowa coaches were furious! You don’t just sit there and watch with folded hands as your title chances go down in flames because of some tanking plan. So the Iowa coaches filed an immediate complaint.

What the evil geniuses in the Washington coaching staff didn’t realize, is there is actually a rule put in place specifically to deter coaches from telling their teams to tank.

According to Section I Article P in the official Little League Softball Tournament rulebook:

When a manager or coach instructs his/her players to play poorly for any reason, such as, but not limited to the following, such action may result in the manager’s removal by the Umpire-in-Chief, and/or removal of the manager, coach(es) and/or team from further tournament play.

1. Losing a game to effect a particular outcome in a Pool Play Format tournament;

So now, the big wigs that run the Softball World Series had a decision to make. Do they just shrug their shoulders, ignore the rule and let Washington and North Carolina advance on, or do they disqualify Washington and let Iowa take their place? Well, the tournament directors had a different idea.

Almost as if the tournament directors thought they were writing a screenplay for a Hollywood motion picture instead of directing an actual tournament, they decided the controversy would be settled with a one-game winner-take-all grudge match between Washington and Iowa, with the victor advancing to the knockout round.

As luck would have it, the directors set 9 a.m. Pacific time (the tournament is in Portland, Oregon by the way). If you get out your time zone maps (we had math earlier, now it’s time for geography), that means the game starts at 11 a.m. central time, which is right about at press time. To find out who wins the grudge match and advances to the knockout round, you can visit www.llbws.org/llbbws/llsbws/worldseries.htm.

Do you think the Washington coaches were just using good strategy? Do you think they’re pure evil and should have been disqualified? Or do you think the tournament directors handled the situation the right way? Email me at sports@mpnews.net and tell me what you think should have happened.

 

UPDATE: The Iowa team defeated the Washington team 3-2. They will advance to the knockout round starting today, Tuesday, Aug. 18.

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