Hot Sports Opinion — Little League screwed up and it’s time for a change

US Little League Champions 2014 – Mountain Ridge Las Vegas

Little League fails to manage a fundamentally flawed program and should discontinue the Little League World Series

Background: I’m a former Dallas Little League President

Little League is one of the most administratively complex sports leagues you’ll ever be a part of. It is insanely time-consuming, and in my first years of being involved, I thought the required paperwork and processes were absolutely ridiculous. However, through all that, I began to understand the underlying goals Little League was driving at, and I was won over by those principles. Without going through them all, the overriding goal is fairness; fairness in team composition, fairness in league competition, fairness in how teams from all over the world basically compete on the same basis.

You’ve noticed that it’s rare for a “big city” team to ever be represented in the Little League World Series. You’d think that was odd, but the base “unit” for a league has traditionally been around the population size of what a small town could put together for a league, say 20,000 people. While that is no longer a hard and fast rule, it is illustrative of what the leadership is after — a competition in which every league in the world has a legitimate opportunity to compete with each other, from small town to suburb to a neighborhood in a major city. Now that balance is governed more by the number of players in the league…once you reach a league size with more than 10 teams at the Little League (11-12) level, it is split, whether into divisions, or into multiple leagues.

That’s why when you consider a market like Houston, you’ll see that it is made up of 8 or more Little Leagues, each typically representing a particular neighborhood or area in the city. In Dallas, we are actually a bit of an anomaly, where Dallas Little League is actually 1 league, but with 3 divisions (each with its own All Star teams) — West (Highland Park and North Dallas), East (Lake Highlands), South (Lakewood). There’s also a West Dallas Little League, and leagues in Garland (North and South), Carrollton. So there are lots of leagues in the Dallas area.

So what’s the big deal and what went wrong?

There is ZERO possibility that a league could unwittingly submit players for All Star teams that are ineligible due to residency. You are required to provide 3 proofs of parent residency. You are required to plot the locations of those players on a league boundary map. Documents are tied back to birth certificates, and if names don’t match up of parents and kids, additional documentation is required to link the player to the guardian/parent. If you have an ineligible player, it is because you WANT to have an ineligible player. So, is the league culpable in the Jackie Robinson case (or any case)? Absolutely! It was a deliberate act to falsify boundary maps and get star players in the league.

Their are thousands of rule-abiding leagues that jump through hoops and spend an unbelievable amount of time making sure that they have their documentation in order from hundreds of parents. They work hard to provide accurate records to make sure their eligible players actually get to participate, as failure to do so results in them not getting to play. It is a big slap in their faces for a team like Jackie Robinson to get all the way to the finals and play before being found to be ineligible AFTER the fact. Think about the Las Vegas team that didn’t get to advance to the International final. What did it deprive them of? Think about the Great Lakes Regional 2nd place team that did not get to experience the Little League World Series at all, because an ineligible team took their place.

Little League

New Albany Little League Great Lakes Region Champions 2014

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While the Jackie Robinson league volunteers, coaches and parents are directly to blame, Little League International carries a lot of responsibility for this as well in my opinion. Here’s why:

There are only 2 valid explanations for the local District Administrator to not catch the league in their use of an ineligible player.

  1. Laziness — Every league’s boundary map is on record with the District Administrator (DA) and the Regional office. If a map is submitted that has been “redrawn” to show players in the boundaries, it should be caught by a competent DA.
  2. Complicitness — Every District would love to see one of their league teams do well. If a District has several leagues that are not very good, and 1 that is very good, one could see how a DA would perhaps “look the other way” to see one of his teams advance

And we see in this case that the District Administrator for that District has been removed along with people in the Jackie Robinson league. Good step.

Here’s where LL failed at higher levels and needs to do something. For a team to make it to the Little League World Series, here’s the progression of levels they have to win:

  1. Win your District tournament where you compete against other local leagues — run by the District Administrator
  2. Win a Sectional tournament in your state against other District winners
  3. Win your State tournament
  4. Win your Regional tournament — compete against 7 other State winners

That gets you IN to the LLWS where you compete against other Region winners for the American championship and finally the International Championship. So by the time you’ve made it to Regional champion, you’ve eliminated the chance for about 28 other deserving teams to advance to that level.

From the original paperwork submitted at the District level, there is not much (if any) of a re-check at the Sectional level. At State level, it should be reviewed, but I don’t know to what level of scrutiny each individual state actually does so.

Once a team reaches Regional competition, it is now squarely in the hands of a much higher level of administration in Little League — the Regional offices with paid personnel. Administrators are now getting background information and photos of players put together for television — all the things you see aired about them during broadcasts. It is at this point that absolute fine-tooth comb scrutiny should be getting performed on a team’s documents, precisely to eliminate the local league / local District incomptency or cheating. As a highly visible International organization, you REALLY want that to happen before teams start getting on television.

That’s where I think there’s been a fundamental failure…that checking is not effectively taking place at the Regional or higher level. The ESPN report says:

Little League said that it wasn’t until meetings in January that local league officials acknowledged that they knew of the violation but had never reported it to Little League International.

“Unfortunately, no allegations against Jackie Robinson West Little League were made until well after the tournament ended, contributing to the difficulty of resolving these many complex issues,” Keener said. “As an organization, Little League has faced issues similar to this in the past, and we felt that we must take the appropriate action set by that precedent.”

Allegations from other local leagues shouldn’t have to be the way this gets found out. Everything LL needs is in their hands at the Regional level to vette a team.

Little League made $25 MILLION in revenue in 2012, and likely much more since 2013 with a doubling of ESPN’s broadcast fees. Of that money, $7.5 million is paid to the 100-person staff at Williamsport headquarters and regional offices. None is paid to the over 1 million volunteers at the local level. That’s why thorough vetting of teams should be taking place at the Regional level…at that point you have paid staff running the tournament to its conclusion, not overworked volunteers at the local level.

I am tired of what I perceive as the relentless money-grab and exploitation of kids by a small, national staff who purport to be custodians of a “great American institution”. While at the same time, this staff ignores or doesn’t bother to police the abuses taking place at local levels (and I believe there is FAR FAR more abuse than sees the light of day from anecdotal stories and observations shared with me during my tenure.)

Finally, there is a fundamental conflict in the operation of Little League. It tries to do 2 things at once:

  • Be the All-American apple pie, inclusive, fair playing time, run-a-draft no team has a decided advantage, learn the game sport
  • Be a top-level competitive baseball (select) organization that has an incredibly lucrative and exploitive World Series tournament

I’ve come to believe those goals are mutually exclusive and cannot effectively be run within the same organization. If you go look at the rosters of ANY of the regional qualifying teams, you will find they are stacked with players whose resumes include 50-100+ games a year with different Select traveling teams. A Little League season is typically 12-25 games a year. It represents a blip in a Select player’s year. And a player only need play in 60% of those Little League games to qualify for “All Star” play. How well does the 65mph pitching, 6’1″ 180pd, home-run blasting, 100 games a year player fit in with little Jimmy who’s playing in his 2nd or 3rd season of Little League only baseball? He doesn’t at all. It’s almost fundamentally unsafe for those players to be on the same field. And yet that is the dichotomy Little League has created for it’s regular season teams.

That’s why Little League has become irrelevant to most Select-level players. They don’t even bother with it, nor should they really. In my view, Little League should return to its well established roots of being the place where kids learn to play the game and develop. Remove the LLWS component, keep competition at a local level and almost all of the pressure that creates the friction and abuse in the current system goes away. Once a player’s skills grow beyond that level, there are good places for them to “graduate” to and play.

In conclusion, it’s not likely the LLWS is going to go away, and with it, $7.5M in salaries voluntarily walk out the door. So if it’s going to continue…those in charge need to do their damn jobs and develop new procedures to prevent abuses in their organization.

My Sports Rule Changes for 2013

  • Football: Eliminate pass interference as a penalty. If you’re man enough to catch a ball while people are knocking you all over the field, then you’ve got my attention. As it is now, football has become a crapshoot and frankly, boring
  • Football: Remove all pads and helmets.
  • Baseball: Eliminate the Home Run. Hit it out of the park and you’re out. Runners return to bases.
  • Hockey: Eliminate offsides.
  • Basketball: Move the goal up to 13′. Allow each player only 2 fouls before they are out of the game.
  • Soccer: Eliminate fouls. Man up.
  • Soccer: Any player who lays on the ground for more than :30 shall be removed from the game permanently. Man up.

There. I’m sure all League Commissioners will come running to my door for further advice on rule changes for 2014 🙂

Fiscal cliff agreement…disappointing

I grew up a Reagan Republican. I believe in fiscal conservatism, a balanced budget, and limited government. At one time, I was a coordinating member of the Concord Coalition to reduce our federal debt. I also believe in the Bill of Rights, economic freedom, and moral tolerance. So during the GW Bush years, I lost faith with the party of my youth as I saw huge contradictions in what my party said it was about, and how it acted. Irresponsible tax cuts when facing huge deficits caused by vain, misguided war mongering. Patriot Act laws that cast shame on all the moral principles this country ever said it stood for. Individual privacies…gone. Torture of prisoners. Detention without formal arrest or cause. Fascism started with far less ammunition.

While I’ve never endorsed the Democratic party, I’ve certainly voted for them in the last several elections to try and bring balance back to our country. The social liberal part of my character also embraces the values of providing for the less fortunate, for universal health care, and equity for all regardless of sex, race, religion, or sexual identity, qualities I typically find lacking in Republican talking points.

In the aftermath of the fiscal cliff agreement, I expected to be happy with the outcome. Increased taxes on the wealthy appeals to the social equity vision, but unfortunately, there is nothing, so far, to address the spending side of the equation. It’s not enough to simply increase revenues. If there’s no discipline to also restrain and cutback on spending, taxes will simply be a further drain on long-term economic activity.

And for those clapping your hands that you finally socked-it-to-the-wealthy, you didn’t get away without collateral damage. Neither party was willing to use up negotiating chips defending the expiration of the payroll tax cut, which means you got a 2% tax increase as well. Worse than that, businesses will be encouraged to continue and accelerate plans they’ve been executing for years…to reduce payrolls and use independent contractors that don’t cost them payroll taxes or healthcare benefits. See Igor Greenwald’s Forbes article for more details.

Nobody wants higher taxes for themself. We would only do so to support a higher purpose. So what is the higher purpose now? To pay for our past sins of spending irresponsibly? And will we learn from that, or will we continue to spend recklessly making not only this rise in taxes permanent, but insure a future tax raise as well. Obviously, the cycle can’t continue indefinitely as economic growth disappears.

So we have made one hard choice…seeing the need to raise revenues, we have raised taxes. Now we MUST finish the job and address the spending side of the equation, or it’s cutting off our nose to spite our face. I encourage everyone, elected officials and those who influence them, to keep working until we have equal results on spending.

In wake of Sandy Hook, it’s time for gun control

For years I’ve been tolerant of the people who argue against gun control. I’ve understood the constitutional argument, the argument that only criminals would have guns, the ability to protect yourself. But no longer. We’ve seen too many incidents like Sandy Hook. It’s time to act.

“With all the carnage from gun violence in our country, it’s still almost impossible to believe that a mass shooting in a kindergarten class could happen. It has come to that. Not even kindergarteners learning their ABC’s are safe. We heard after Columbine that it was too soon to talk about gun laws. We heard it after Virginia Tech. After Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek. And now we are hearing it again. For every day we wait, 34 more people are murdered with guns. Today, many of them were five-year olds. President Obama rightly sent his heartfelt condolences to the families in Newtown. But the country needs him to send a bill to Congress to fix this problem. Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough. We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership – not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today. This is a national tragedy and it demands a national response. My deepest sympathies are with the families of all those affected, and my determination to stop this madness is stronger than ever.”

– Michael Bloomberg, 12/14/12
http://www.mayorsagainstillegalguns.org/html/media-center/pr013-12.shtml

Titanium Appcelerator and Zipfile module

I was working on an Titanium Appcelerator project yesterday where I needed to download a zip file to a mobile device, then extract its contents. After doing a little research, I found the Titanium Zipfile module out on Github. Ultimately, this is exactly what I needed, but there were some stumbling blocks along the way so I thought I’d document them (and the solutions) here.

First off, the latest Zipfile module (as of this writing) is version 0.1.21. This version is not available as a binary download from the Github repository. Fortunately, this post led me to a download for it.

I found this nice piece of code Dan Tamas posted in an answer to a question about downloading image files. I promptly copied that off to a FileManager.js file to ‘require’ into the app.

As I started testing, it wasn’t working and I didn’t know whether the file wasn’t getting downloaded or wasn’t getting extracted. By default, my simulator run configuration was setup for INFO. Turning to DEBUG revealed that it wasn’t able to locate the zip file. After checking that paths were being set correctly, I found this note at the Github project’s issues tab that applies to the 1.8x SDK codestream.

Replacing the following example code from the documentation:

  1.  

with this:

  1.  

did in fact solve the issue and everything works great from there.

IBM Sametime 8.5.2 and Growl

We’ve recently completed a full Sametime 8.5.2 installation for ourselves and it’s really powerful. Chat, group chat, screen sharing, audio and video calls, instant meeting rooms, web meetings, chat gateways to other IM services, lots of great stuff. We’ll probably do a screencast on it at some point in the near future. As a long-time Skype and Mac user though, I miss Growl integration. If you’ve not used Growl, it’s a notification system that allows many applications to register with it and post notifications through it. For Skype, this takes the form of a little grey bubble that appears in the bottom right corner (for me) of the screen when a new chat comes in. It’s visible for about 2 seconds, can be clicked to take me directly into Skype, and then it goes away.

It’s great for monitoring conversations as they go by without necessarily having to command-tab over to that application all the time.

Anyway, I’d like to see a Sametime implementation of notifications to Growl. Growl has an API they call GNTP (Growl Network Transport Protocol) http://growl.info/documentation/developer/gntp.php#intro, that has many language bindings, including Java with jgntp, http://code.google.com/p/jgntp/ Sametime has a Java API so it shouldn’t be very difficult to build a client plug-in to add Growl capability preferences. I don’t think anyone’s done it yet, so there’s your roadmap and ping me when you’ve got it done 🙂

6 miles today and the miracle of the 5-1

It’s been a long time since I trained for a marathon, but I can’t tell you how beneficial it is to have done it before.  As I’m getting into the swing of things this time (even though just a half marathon) , all those memories flood back of what it was like to train for it, and perhaps more importantly, that it just CAN be done.  When I ran it last time, I trained with the Jeff Galloway program through Run On.  Here are the keys that stick with me 10 years later:

1.  Run a pace you can run forever.  Which means run about 2 min per mile SLOWER than what you’re capable of doing for 1-2 miles.
2.  If you can’t talk while you’re running, you’re going too fast.
3.  For me, if my heart rate climbs too much over 150, I’m going too fast.
4.  All it takes is a little luck (to avoid injury), and commitment.
5.  Do a long run once a week, and increase the distance 2 miles every week or two until you get to longer distances (10+)
5.  And most importantly, the 5-1 rule.  Run for 5 minutes, walk for 1.

I’m terribly out of shape, yet I ran 6 miles today.  A lot of people who train for marathons aren’t in very good shape, yet they finish.  Why?  I can only guess how others have done it, but the 5-1 rule is critical for me.  The 5-1, or 3-1, or even 2-1, is a ratio of how many minutes running before taking 1 minute and walking.  This is huge.  If you’re sitting in your chair reading this today, you might think you could never run for 2 hours or 3 hours or 5 hours.  But anyone can get to the point where they can run for 2, 3, 4, 5 minutes at a time.  You wouldn’t believe the psychology of that.  You’re going, you’re hurting, you’re lungs are puffing and shins are hurting.  Focusing the mind on it will only be another 2 minutes before you can take a break makes all the difference in the world.

Now any distance is just a bunch of manageable segments.  It’s a giant reset button.  Sometimes we find ourselves feeling good and starting to run a pace that’s too fast.  Hitting that 5 minute mark and taking a break helps you reflect during that 1 minute about whether you’re going too fast and lets you start back at a good pace.  Or you’ve just been running up a long hill and thinking you’ll never make it all the way up.  Guess what, you don’t.  You just have to go for 5 minutes and then you can rest a bit.

Perhaps just as important is the break it gives your muscle groups.  Running and walking use different muscle groups.  If you find your muscles tightening up, walking for a bit relaxes those muscles and gives them a chance to recover and increases your chances of moving on through it.  Take advantage of the 1 minute walks to stretch a bit when it will help.  For me that’s usually about 15 minutes in.

So what happens come marathon time (actually I think it happens somewhere around when you can go 10-12 miles) and where are all these people doing 5-1s.  Your fitness level will definitely go up on this plan.  Sooner or later you find you don’t need the forced discipline of the 5-1 (or at least it was true for me).  You may end up doing 10-1s, or you may just find that you take a 1 minute break when you need it, or you take a little break every time you hit a mile marker or water stand.  So yes, a lot of people don’t actually do much walking by the time they get to marathon distance.  They no longer need it.  But a lot of us would never have gotten to that point without the initial training to get the body used to running long distances.

One last thing, I’m not doing it now and it may come back to bite me.  Train with others.  Guaranteed I wouldn’t have taken off 4 days this week if I’d had someone waiting out in the freezing dark to meet me at 5:30am.  My marathon year, I trained with a group of about 6.  Best thing I ever did, and best group selection I could have made.  One girl was my age, and the rest were her mother and mother’s friends.  They were running a pace several minutes slower than I was capable of (for short distance).  Training with them where the pace was easy and manageable made it extremely easy to keep increasing the distance.

Bottom line:  Do you really care if 20 years from now someone says you ran a slow marathon?  Or would you rather say, “I was going to run a marathon, and I could run a 7 minute pace, but I pulled a muscle training. Or, I just couldn’t make it past 8 miles”

Since he made such a big difference for me, I guess I should point you to the source, Run Injury Free with Jeff Galloway.

Missile Launcher and back on the track

My daughter, Lauren, has been waiting 7 years to have a little sister.  Now she has the next best thing, a 2nd grade girl living next door,  Megan.  Once they both got over the idea of going over to see each other, this last week has been great for both.  Last night, they had a sleep-over at Megan’s house along with another of Megan’s friends, who we also know through the Lakewood community.

At 7:30 this morning, they all came be-bopping over to come play on the trampoline and snark some chocolate chip muffins, pancakes and bacon.  After breakfast the girls had me play, “momma in the middle”, and I introduced them to “missile launcher” which is where I lay down under the trampoline and as they are bouncing up, I push up on the bottom of the trampoline sending them an extra 2-3 feet up in the air.  We used to do this at the old house, but hadn’t done it in awhile.  Lauren’s gotten so big that if she takes a really good bounce she can certainly reach me unless I’m lying completely flat underneath, (maybe I’ve gotten bigger as well).

I can’t believe I didn’t make it running again after Monday.  We went today, and it was pretty painful.  At least we could do it, that wouldn’t have been the case if we lived back east where friends are getting 24″ of snow and more.  But that’s another 3.5 miles behind me, and I’ll see if I can do the 6 miler tomorrow.  Only 37 more days until the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half.