South Dakota Amateur Baseball needs a change in a big way

It starts at the top.

Culture starts at the top. Leadership starts at the top. Attitude starts at the top.

Amateur baseball in South Dakota has long been a tradition. For over 80 years South Dakota has had a State Amateur Tournament. And the tournament is an event. It’s been a good run. With teams folding and others struggling to find players some wonder if this storied tradition is slowly dying. With 54 teams across the state in Class B it’s not on life support, however, a change is necessary to re-energize and perhaps save this tradition for the long-term.   

A few weeks ago at a South Dakota Amateur Baseball Association meeting bids were drawn for this year’s Class B state tournament. The 54 teams compete in seven districts with 59% of the teams qualifying for the state tournament. Here is how it breaks down this year:

District 1 (Eastern Dakota League)–7 teams, 4 qualifying for state = .571%
District 2 (Northern Plains League)–7 teams, 4 qualifying for state = .571%
District 3 (Pony Hills League)–8 teams, 5 qualifying for state = .625%
District 4 (Cornbelt)–9 teams, 6 qualifying for state = .666%
District 5 (Sunshine)–8 teams, 5 qualifying for state = .625%
District 6 (SCL)–8 teams, 4 qualifying for state = .500%
District 7 (Stateline)–7 teams, 4 qualifying for state = .571%
*Information courtesy of Jeremy Hoeck, Yankton Press & Dakotan

The South Central League isn’t happy. And it shouldn’t be. After Avon folded following last season the league sits at eight teams and this year lost one of its bids to the state tournament. The two other eight-team districts will send five teams to the state tournament, while the SCL will send just four. It’s head scratching for a league that has sent a team to the state championship game in five of the last eight state tournaments, including an all SCL championship in 2011.

The problem? Much of that success is from out-of-state teams – 2 teams from Nebraska are in the South Central League and 2 teams from Iowa are in the State-Line League. It’s evident this is becoming more of a problem for those at the top of the association and the best way they know to punish the league is to strip away a state tournament bid. If it’s truly a drawing then why even give the districts a set amount of teams? Allow the district champion to qualify for state and complete the field by drawing the rest of the teams out of a hat.

That’s not a real suggestion for a solution but who would really be surprised if it did happen?

For what it’s worth, at least one out-of-state team has made it to the semifinals in six of the past eight seasons with two teams filling half of those slots in three tournaments. An out-of-state champion has been crowned in two of those years (2011, 2014) and finished as runner-up three times (2008, 2010, 2012).

Perhaps the South Central League should band together this year and use “pick up players” to load up their four state tournament representatives and make a deep run as a league. Boy, that would grind some gears.

What needs to change?

Let’s start with the top. The old boys have kept this thing together, but there comes a time when you have been in certain positions for so long that there simply needs to be a change. Some of the decision-makers have a bias because South Dakota teams lose to out-of-state teams in the South Dakota state tournament. Instead of punishing teams from just beyond the border who have strong teams and strong support get someone in position at the top who will welcome them with open arms and realize they are needed with in-state teams struggling to stay together.

The next thing that needs to change is the format. As Class B teams continue to fall, whether it’s next season, in five years or 10, it will be suggested more that perhaps Class A and Class B teams should join as one. Yes, some of the Class B teams can compete with Class A teams. Can all of them? No. However, if all teams operate under the same rules the playing field would be more even than some think. No, this will not be a popular suggestion among many of the Class B teams.

If the idea is to stay with two classes then Class B needs to reduce the number of teams that can qualify for the state tournament. Under the current format you could give each district four bids to the state tournament. That would lead to a 28-team tournament with the top four teams receiving a bye in the first round.

Perhaps with 54 teams the leagues could be realigned to consist of nine teams in six leagues/districts with the top three finishers representing those districts at the state tournament.

Would it be crazy to suggest we combine two leagues (each made up of nine teams) for district tournament play? In this format the top four regular season finishers would go on to districts making an 8-team district tournament. For example: 4 teams from the SCL would meet 4 teams from State-Line League for a district tournament. The teams that finish top four in the tournament would advance to State, creating a 12-team State tournament. This number of teams would never pass because it is a drastic drop from the current 32-team field, but it would surely provide for a lot of excitement by the time teams made it to state.

The reality is you can throw out any number of teams for a bracket; 28, 24, 18, 16, 12, etc. and there will be pros and cons to all of them. The challenge is knowing how many towns will be able to field a team each year. It seems like something changes every year.

You can disagree with the above proposals, but it would be hard to argue that a change is not only necessary, but inevitable. The change has to start at the top. Whether it’s personnel change or ideas changing it has to start at the top.

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2 thoughts on “South Dakota Amateur Baseball needs a change in a big way

  1. Jacob

    I could agree on some levels, but combining will not work for teams in the northern leagues or out west. We just don’t have the same level talent as the teams around Mitchell and down South. I do think that we need some big changes. I think the biggest issue you would have in combining A and B would be that a lot of players wouldn’t potentially get to play. “A” seems to bring in a lot of college caliber players and just doesn’t leave room for everyone to get to play…not to mention nobody wants to watch a team that doesn’t represent their town. Class “B” is nice because you hopefully have a town of players from that town and not all over the place. It makes a difference for your fan base and for the game itself. I think another issue is the “pick up player”. I hate to say it but I don’t think a lot of the teams from down south and around Mitchell are even legal in class B. It makes it hard to compete against teams that are potentially cheating. I would be interested to see how many teams are actually legal on a lot of those squads. As for my thoughts on pick up players, I understand that isn’t really the type of changes you were discussing in your article but this is an issue that has been going on for years with a lot of the teams from the Mitchell area all the way to the cornbelt conference. There isn’t a good way to go about it, but I know that some lie about where they are living or who they are staying with. It is a joke to say the least. Teams potentially stack themselves in class “B” and yet I wonder how they continue to do that when you can only have 3 or 4 released players?!?!? Anyways those are just some thoughts…thanks for writing about this as I do agree that some things will need to change in order to keep the great baseball tradition going in South Dakota.


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