New playoff format puts CPL at risk

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This offseason, the Coastal Plain League went all in with the pizazz.

The league expanded to 16 teams and restructured into a quartet of four-team divisions. Pace of play measures, including an international tiebreaker in extra innings, were implemented.

And if you examine the league’s revamped web presence, the feel is certainly that of a new era in the league.

Included in the changes is a new playoff system. Now, the first- and second-half champions in each division will qualify for the postseason. The only time overall record will be considered is if the same team wins the first and second half, in which case the team with the next best overall record from the division will make the Petitt Cup Playoffs.

But past that? There is now no consideration for overall record when it comes to qualifying for the CPL’s postseason. Imagine how the Wilson Tobs felt in 2013 when they finished with a winning record of 29-24, only to be the first team in the league’s modern era not to make the Petitt Cup Playoffs with a mark above .500.

Now, envision a scenario where a team with the best overall record from a division does not make the playoffs. It’s now fully within the realm of possibility.

For example, a team — we’ll call them the Augusta Hash Browns as a nod to Georgia’s new breakfast love affair with the CPL — can finish one to two games back of the first-half champion. Then, the fourth-place team, more than 10 games back at the midway point, decides to wake up over the second half of the season and barely takes the second half by one game over the Hash Browns.

Thus, the division’s most consistent team sits home crying in its orange juice for the playoffs.

It didn’t use to be this way. In the two-division format last season, the first- and second-half champions automatically qualified, with two to three spots reserved for the top overall records, depending on if there was a repeat winner in each half.

More or less, the CPL, in its flash-and-dash changes, has left the door open for an embarrassment. Maybe, they’ll get away with it. But maybe they won’t.

It’s only fair to point out that the CPL isn’t the most egregious baseball league out there in disdaining overall records in playoff qualification. The Single-A Advanced Carolina League hands out playoff berths to the first- and second-half champions in each division. If the same team wins both halves, then the second bid in a division goes to the team with the next bext second-half record. Overall record only comes into play as the third and final tiebreaker for the second-half champion.

The first two tiebreakers are head-to-head record between the teams in the second half, followed by overall head-to-head.

Granted, the level of outrage can only rise so far. The CPL and Minor League Baseball are transient operations at their core. College kids are released, leave summer teams on their own accord or are flatly ordered off rosters by their college coaches all the time. In the same vein, Minor Leaguers are promoted, demoted or given their outright releases with regularity.

The name of the game in both venues is player development and putting backsides in seats in the name of a good time.

Still, there are diehard fans and hard-working staff members that toil daily in each of these organizations. Just the possibility of having what would be a division champion over the course of a full season excluded from postseason play is not and should never be acceptable.

For the CPL, the solution to stay away from this gaffe is simple. Return to a two-division format, placing the Tobs in the East with Peninsula, Edenton, Martinsville, Morehead City, Fayetteville, Wilmington and Holly Springs. The West would be populated with Savannah, Florence, Lexington County, Macon, Asheboro, Forest City, High Point-Thomasville and Gastonia.

The first- and second-half champions make the playoffs, as well as the teams with the next two best overall records.

Seeding is done for the divisional round of the playoffs by overall record, and if the same team wins both halves, then three teams from a division get in on the basis of overall record.

The four-team divisions put out by the CPL for 2018 can be used for scheduling purposes in the eight-team format. The league is no stranger to unbalanced schedules anyway, and you’ll have to have them in order for the Tobs not to indulge in the food group of crisp, juicy Bacon on a regular basis.

But above all, not having a division champion in your postseason isn’t a good look. Is it possible for the CPL’s best overall record to miss the Petitt Cup playoffs under this format?

Uh oh.