Tuesday, June 12, 2012

NMAA to go to computer rankings, wood bats to stay

  Computer rankings are in, coaches’ polls are gone and wood bats are going to continue to be a part of Land of Enchantment prep baseball.
  The New Mexico Activities Association board of directors gave the green light Thursday to using the MaxPreps Freeman Rankings, replacing the New Mexico High School Coaches Association poll in the selection and seeding criteria for state tournament events.
  The NMAA also approved the continued use of wood bats for the near future, but I’ll get back to that later.
  My first thought when I heard the NMAA was going to the MaxPreps Freeman Rankings was of disapproval – that is until I did a little more research and remembered how the coaches’ polls had become more political than objective over the last year or two.
  Some coaches appeared to try and improve their own stock by ranking teams in their district and/or those that beat them during the season higher than they should be so their schedule appeared tougher.
  In all honesty, it was becoming a mess.
  The biggest plus to the MaxPreps rankings – which is still just one of the many criteria the NMAA seeding and selection committee will use, given no more importance than any of the others – is its objectivity.
  While I couldn’t find the exact equation for the rankings, MaxPreps said it takes into account the number of wins and losses, who those wins and losses are against and strength of schedule. It has nothing to do with tradition, where the team is from or who the coach is.
  The strength of schedule aspect is something that’s been missing in the NMAA selection process, so this is where it will come into play – something needed to be accounted for.
  Coaches will still have their say, however, as part of the selection process is an input form submitted to the NMAA where coaches can rank teams prior to the state tournament.
  I had reservations about the MaxPreps rankings because in the past they’ve been far from accurate. I actually thought this column was going to be against the use of MaxPreps when I first heard about it.
  As I researched, however, those inaccuracies in rankings were mainly due to incomplete schedules and results. With the NMAA using MaxPreps as part of the selection process, coaches should be incredibly motivated to keep their team’s results updated and accurate.
  Football rankings will be updated once a week while other sports will be updated three times a week during the sports season, according to MaxPreps.
  I’m not convinced this is THE system to use (I’m sure there are issues that haven’t come to surface), but it’s better than what has been in place and is a step in the right direction.
  We all just want a system that will help put the correct eight, 12 or 16 teams into the state tournament (depending on the sport) in the right seeding. Next year at this time we’ll have a much better idea if the MaxPreps Freeman Rankings was the right way to go or not.
  While I’m not sure how the MaxPreps rankings will go, I am excited to see wood bats used for the next few years as coaches voted in favor of keeping them.
  Gone in the NMAA’s first season using wood bats were the cartoonish numbers being put up thanks to the potent metal bats and were replaced with a heavy emphasis on execution. Fielding, pitching (particularly throwing strikes), base running and other aspects of the game that were being overshadowed by three-run aluminum bat bombs over the last two decades came to the forefront.
  This season, those who could hit and had power still hit homers, drove doubles to the gaps and so on. The wood bats’ smaller sweet spot is far less forgiving and those who couldn’t consistently put the good part of the bat on the ball struggled.
  Wood bats also produced a game more enjoyable to watch and much more fan (and media) friendly. For the most part, gone were the double-digit scoring games that led to three-plus hour contests – leading to six-plus hour doubleheaders.
  Pure is what comes to mind when watching prep baseball this season in New Mexico. Glad it’s going to be that way for at least the next few years.

This column appeared in Sunday's sports section of the Hobbs News-Sun. To read more coverage of your favorite Lea County teams, subscribe to the News-Sun's print or online edition by calling 575-393-2123.