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Can the WBC be fixed?

While this year’s iteration of the World Baseball Classic has certainly experienced success, it does not have the juggernaut status that the Football World Cup or the Olympics currently hold. While the Classic will probably never approach the success these two international tournaments have, it does have the potential to spread baseball interest and expand the game around the world, particularly in places like Europe or China. In order for baseball to grow, it has to reach new fan bases outside of the United States, which appears to be at the max of its potential. The WBC is a nice touch to baseball’s international growth, but it needs a few modifications to truly reach its potential.

The problem with the current round-robin format is the attendance figures and interest level with the games involving two lesser-known countries. In pool A, three out of the six games drew less than 5,000 fans, while the other three had more than 10,000 fans each, and two drew more than 25,000. The attendance figures in pool B were even more extreme. three of the games drew less than 2,000 fans, while the other three drew more than 20,000 each. To combat this problem, there have been numerous suggestions about modifying the tournament to turn it into a single elimination format, as Dave Cameron suggested in his post “Fixing the WBC”. This format is definitely the best option for the tournament, as it would increase the interest and attendance in each game given the win or go home nature atmosphere. Hopefully, since all the games would pit a high-seeded team against a low-seeded team, the low-interest games of less than 5,000 fans would be eliminated.

The other advantage to the single-elimination tournament is the elimination of the silly WBC rules and tiebreaking procedures. Run differential would no longer be the difference between advancing out of a pool and going home. The pointless games to determine seeding at the end of the second round would also be eliminated. Perhaps the pitch limits would go away as well because teams would play fewer games. The tournament would no doubt gain some relevancy if the silly rules and restrictions were eliminated.

Most of the potential changes to the WBC involve shortening it to a week or so. While most would agree that the current format is too long, MLB might not bite on a change that shortens the tournament to a mere week. The solution: why not expand the number of teams to 32? The current 16 teams would stay, and all the teams that participated in the qualifier would be added as well. That adds up to 28 teams. I wasn’t really sure what the four other teams could be, so I came up with Pakistan, Russia, Belgium, and Austria. I’m sure there might be better teams out there, but let’s proceed with these four teams to make it easy. To determine the format, I divided the tournament into four conferences: Northwest, Euro, East, and South:

East:                                                    South

  1. Japan                                    1. Venezuela
  2. South Korea                        2. Australia
  3. Taiwan                                 3. Brazil
  4. China                                    4. Colombia
  5. Israel                                     5. South Africa
  6. Czech Republic                   6. New Zealand
  7. Pakistan                               7. Philippines
  8. Russia                                   8. Thailand

Euro:                             Northwest:

1. Netherlands                     1. Dominican Republic
2. Italy                                    2. United States
3. Spain                                  3. Puerto Rico
4. Germany                            4. Cuba
5. United Kingdom              5. Canada
6. France                                6. Mexico
7. Belgium                              7. Panama
8. Austria                               8. Nicaragua

The current March timing for the WBC works OK, but it’s not perfect. The All-Star break doesn’t work either because MLB would never agree to nix the “beloved” event. That leaves the winter. I’m not sure the middle of the winter makes sense because the offseason is in full swing and free agents wouldn’t want to do it in fear of getting injured. That leaves November and February. Both of these times make sense to me, but I think the players would be less than thrilled to participate right after the postseason. That leaves February. The absence of football is a plus, and players wouldn’t have the excuse of spring training to avoid participation. Assuming that Spring Training starts March 1, here are some potential dates:

February 14: 4 East First Round Games

February 15: 4 South First Round Games

February 16: 4 Euro First Round Games

February 17: 4 Northwest First Round Games

February 19: 2 East Semifinal Games

2 South Semifinal Games

February 20: 2 Euro Semifinal Games

2 Northwest Semifinal Games

February 22: East Final Game

South Final Game

February 23: Euro Final Game

Northwest Final Game

February 25: East Winner vs. South Winner

February 26: Euro Winner vs Northwest Winner

February 28: Final Game

The close proximity of these games might require them to be played in a single country as opposed to the international format used now. I’m not really sure how many countries could host the two-week tournament besides Japan and the United States. Perhaps Japan and the US could alternate until other countries become viable alternative solutions. Or the regional tournament games could be held in that specific region and the winners could meet up for the semis somewhere else, like the current format. It would be great if European countries or other big countries like India could host the WBC, but currently it doesn’t seem likely.

Overall, this format offers some significant advantages to the current one. This version of the classic would have 31 games, only eight less than the current format, which would appeal to MLB because the new version could generate a comparable amount of revenue. However, individual teams would play fewer games, potentially attracting the big stars currently holding out. Already, we have seen players like Chase Headley, Jurickson Profar, Gio Gonzalez, and Kenley Jansen join the Classic in the later rounds when there are fewer games to play. Additionally, players competing for a job in spring training would be more enticed to join the classic because it provides another opportunity to showcase their talent to teams. The injury risk would be less because 1. there are fewer games to play and 2. players would have a longer period of time to recover from injury. Yes, baseball would start earlier, but hopefully this format would attract players the same way the World Cup does for soccer. With increased player participation, more exciting games, more teams involved, and a time frame that doesn’t compete with baseball’s own spring training, these changes make sense for MLB, the players, and most importantly, the fans.