Is double elimination an answer for IHSA baseball, softball?

If I could wave my magic IHSA wand, the Class 3A and 4A baseball and softball semifinals would have started Thursday.

Now, I know this idea has little chance of coming to fruition but just hear me out: A double-elimination tournament among the final four teams would be the perfect culmination of the season.

It kept popping in my mind as I watched last weekend’s double-elimination college baseball regionals. And for years I watched (with joy) the double-elimination summer tournament hosted by the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association.

Single-elimination tournaments, however, are the norm with IHSA team sports. Brackets turn heartbreaking as great teams see their seasons end because of one bad outing.

With most of the sports, it’s simply an unfortunate part of the competition. Double elimination isn’t realistic for sports such as football where the playoffs already last a month and games are only once a week.

With baseball and softball, though, the double-elimination format makes sense and is regularly implemented at other levels of the sports. It works mainly because the games don’t take the same physical toll as sports such as football.

Playing multiple times a day isn’t a huge issue with baseball and softball, which is what it would take to bring double elimination to IHSA play.

A four-team, double-elimination baseball or softball tournament requires six and sometimes seven games to be completed. Divide that over three days, and it becomes realistic.

On the first day, likely Thursday, you’d play the two semifinals in the morning and have the two losers play an elimination game that night. On Day Two, the semifinal winners play and then the loser of that game plays the winner of the game the night before in another elimination game.

At that point there are two finalists remaining, a 2-0 team and a one-loss team. They play on Day Three. If the 2-0 team wins, that’s the state champion. If the one-loss team wins, they play again for all the marbles.

Perfect, right?

I’ve always had a slight issue with the IHSA baseball tournament because it isn’t truly a test of the best “teams.” Two great starting pitchers can carry you to a state title.

It’s the opposite of the regular season, where you need a handful of starters and solid relievers to enter the elite 30-win club.

Implement a double-elimination format, and the best team in the state will be left standing. The depth of a pitching staff, and an entire team, will prevail over the course of three days.

It’s not as much of an issue with softball because you can ride one ace pitcher from the beginning of a tournament to the end. With baseball, double elimination reveals how deep the teams really are.

Alas, I doubt a double-elimination format will fly in the IHSA. A proposal could be submitted and advanced to a vote by the member schools, but would there be any support?

Three full days of games is an awfully long commitment. The four semifinalists would have to arrive to the tournament site on Wednesday. The finalists probably couldn’t leave until Sunday if they played that decisive seventh game.

Possible, sure. Likely, no.

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