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Air Force hampers MWC baseball

This is a problem: At one point this season, San Diego State’s baseball team played five league games in a week, went 5-0 and watched its RPI plummet from 88 to 120.

This is another problem: Texas Christian could subtract five Mountain West Conference victories from its total and have its RPI improve from 38 to 19, which would greatly strengthen its chances of hosting an NCAA regional.

If the league’s biggest hindrance continues to be laughable officiating, this model of an unbalanced schedule in certain sports is at least as absurd. It has become ludicrous in baseball, in which one of seven teams involved might struggle winning your Little League championship.

(Although it would be funny to see an Air Force uniform with a Spearmint Rhino sponsor logo on the back.)

“There has to be something done because it’s a travesty,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “I can promise you that if a last-place team in our league kept BYU or TCU from going to a BCS game in football, something would be done.”

You could say that.

Cars would be burned. Stores would be looted. Missionaries would be summoned home. MWC commissioner Craig Thompson’s hair would move. UNLV athletic director Mike Hamrick would give lectures on how it never would have happened at East Carolina.

That’s the kind of supremacy football holds in all Division I-A leagues and, as the chief source of revenue for most athletic departments, such partiality is warranted.

But in a sport such as baseball, in which the Mountain West begins its tournament today at Wilson Stadium, philosophical mistakes are treated with the seriousness of a paper cut. Presidents who originally enacted rules they believed best served a league’s overall mission obstinately refuse to change or can’t relay their displeasure because of poor cell reception on the golf course.

What it has done is make the regular season in such sports meaningless. How can you take seriously a conference baseball schedule in which each team plays four opponents three times and two others six if one of those programs (Air Force) has a league record of 8-123 the last five years?

How can you consider legitimate a league in which that same terrible program is granted a waiver to play 12 non-Division I games in a season when it’s mandated the other six teams can’t play more than four without having RPIs negatively affected?

The Mountain West is a bad baseball conference, having never earned an at-large NCAA berth. It appears No. 1 seed TCU has done enough this season to deserve one if upset in the tournament this week, but only after the Horned Frogs won a school-record 43 games.

“It’s a matter of the league, including the presidents and athletic directors, finding a way to elevate the sport in this conference and not put up road bumps,” Schlossnagle said. “No disrespect to the Air Force coaching staff — it’s doing what they can — but we have unlimited potential in this conference for baseball. If the conference sponsors a sport, each school that participates should be held accountable.”

A solution: Presidents should revisit the rule that states if you field a sport sponsored by the conference, you must participate within the Mountain West. It makes sense most of the time. It’s completely stupid in this particular case.

Many within the conference tell you it’s more important to keep a seventh baseball team as a cushion in case another encounters serious academic issues and the league’s automatic NCAA berth (for which you must field a minimum of six teams to keep) is jeopardized, but is it really fair for a program such as TCU (which actually cares about baseball) to possibly lose out on hosting a regional because five of its league wins came against a program that should either play as an independent or drop to a level such as Division II?

“I don’t know if I would describe it as making the best of a situation,” said Carrie Wolf, associate commissioner in charge of baseball. “I don’t think a decision of not letting Air Force play baseball because of a few years of very poor play is the intention of (the presidents). The intention is for all the teams to get better. All need to improve across the board. The situation can be resolved in other ways than just not having Air Force play baseball in the league.”

Look, there are bad teams in every sport in every league in America. But when you go 5-0 in conference a certain week and three of those wins are against Air Force and your RPI in baseball drops more than 30 spots, something needs to be fixed.

Unless those presidents prefer that Mountain West baseball continue to be viewed as a joke. If that’s the case, don’t change a thing.

Ed Graney’s column is published Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. He can be reached at 383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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