This weekend starts one of the greatest traditions of summer: the Little League World Series.
Eight teams from across the United States and eight international teams will descend upon Williamsburg, Penn., for the next couple of weeks, fighting it out to determine which group of 11- to 12-year-olds is, in fact, the best team in the world.
It’s a great experience for the kids that make it as they get to live out every kid’s dream and be on ESPN and basically live like rock stars during the tournament.
But the tournament isn’t without it’s flaws.
For one, kids these days have outgrown the two-thirds-sized fields. Nearly every ground ball in the infield is almost an infield single, which isn’t exactly realistic and balls hit to the outfield can very easily turn into triples.
But fixing that across every Little League in the world would be very difficult. So instead, I’ll focus my attention on the format of this tournament.
In it’s current format, half of the sixteen teams to make to Williamsport are American. They come from the eight different regions in the U.S. The rest come eight different regions in the world. And playing field is tilted even further in the Americans’ favor as the eight U.S. sides play each other to determine who plays in the championship game, while the other countries have battle each other to get to that game.
This format made sense back when Little League wasn’t such a big phenomenon, but with the sport growing internationally, it’s time to shake things up.
With the growth, the U.S. should have just one team in the World Series tournament. It would make it more like every other international sports tournament out there and would open up seven more spots for other teams to join in on the fun. And that’s a big need too. Yes, there’s always a team from Japan, Australia, Canada and Mexico in Williamsport, but then there’s the Europe-Africa region that has one spot for the entire continent (this year filled by Uganda). That hardly seems right.
So instead, you would now have a team from the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Japan and Australia directly qualify for the World Series, followed by two Caribbean teams, two South American teams, two teams from Africa, three from Europe and two from Asia, making this a truly global tournament.
From there, teams would grouped into four groups of four, similar to that of the World Cup, and the top two from each group advancing to the knockout round to determine the champion.
Now what about determining the U.S. champion? It’s simple. About a week or two prior to the Little League World Series, the eight regional champions convene at Williamsport to play an eight team tournament to get the U.S.’s winner, just like every other country. Yes, this means everything would have be moved up on the Little league calendar, but the eight regional winners still get a trip to Williamsport and the World Series itself becomes more international.
Don’t get me wrong — I love the Little League World Series and I like the current format. But the tournament can be enhanced and gain more global clout by limiting the U.S. to one team and increasing the international participation.
In essence, be more like the World Cup — just without the corruption.