The evolution of the NAGAAA divisional structure is fairly well-known and with that comes the question of whether certain divisions are more recreational in nature than others. While NAGAAA has adjusted and added divisions over the course of its existence, one can argue that all of those changes and adjustments were ultimately at the behest of NAGAAA’s number one priority, the Gay Softball World Series and not necessarily the player experience within member cities.
Are any NAGAAA divisions truly “recreational”?
The answer is no.
The moment that a person’s team participates in a division within a NAGAAA member organization that sends it’s best teams to the Gay Softball World Series every year…you’re no longer a recreational team (even if you think you are). You now just fall into a team that isn’t as good or skilled as other teams within your competitive division. Now, it was mentioned earlier in this post about NAGAAA emphasizing the GSWS. To be fair, that’s the whole ball game for NAGAAA. Everything revolves around the GSWS, just read the NAGAAA Instruments of Governance if you’re not sure.
Let’s break it down shall we? We’re not talking about the true definition of recreational meaning something you do for fun in your spare time. We’re talking about the term recreational within the softball community. A word meaning “non-competitive” or something to the effect of a team being “less serious”.
What happened to recreational softball? Quite simply, it has died a slow death as the GSWS has grown stronger and stronger. The GSWS has grown into this monstrosity of competition. It’s billed by NAGAAA as the best of the best from each member city in the country. You’ve seen the looks on people’s faces when they find out your city didn’t send a team to the GSWS (insert eye roll/side eye here).
It may be time once again for NAGAAA to push forward in the evolution of the divisional structure and as luck would have it, we’ve got an idea.
NAGAAA Divisional Structure Timeline
- 1977 – 1st NAGAAA Gay Softball World Series in San Francisco – No Divisions
- 1988 – 12th NAGAAA GSWS – 1st GSWS with an Open & Recreational Division
- 1992 – 16th NAGAAA GSWS – 1st GSWS with Lettered Divisions (A, B, C)
- 2002 – 26th NAGAAA GSWS – 1st GSWS for the D Division
- 2011 – 35th NAGAAA GSWS – Master’s Division competes for the 1st time
- 2016 – NAGAAA Delegation votes to split Master’s Division into 2 sub-divisions
First, for this idea to work we have to scrap the notion that we currently have a recreational division. Now, for the A & B division players out there, and probably some C division players too, there will be a habit to say that the D division is recreational. And….you would be wrong.
As one NAGAAA delegate told us while researching for this post, “I was at the first D division games at the 2002 GSWS and they cared more about how they looked and how good their cheers were, than how they played. That’s not the case anymore.” To say that the D division has changed over the years would be an understatement and it’s not just that one division. One can see a higher level of competition across the board in each division, a larger appetite for victory and a want to qualify and win the GSWS. The point being that a higher level of competitiveness is one of the byproducts of putting so much emphasis on the GSWS.
How do we fix this issue? It’s not a matter of fixing. It’s a matter of NAGAAA and it’s member organizations adapting to what has become the norm. The current system of emphasizing the GSWS and qualifying for it has created what we have now. It would be a huge step in the right direction to make divisional adjustments to catch up with the changing face of our competition landscape.
First, a baseline recreational division could be made up of players rated up to 8 within the current NAGAAA player rating guidelines. Why 8? Why not 7 or 9? Both are fair questions, but we need to look at if a player performed just under an average skill level at every rating category (throwing, fielding, base running, hitting) that person could stand to get 2 questions in each category, which equals a player rating of 8.
One thing that NAGAAA has not done the best job of in the past is in showing the ability to separate skill level from competitive nature. It seems that every divisional ratings threshold change, player rating change or ratings question change fails to separate the two, but that is nothing new. The old adage that “knowledge is power” should factor into the equation when setting up player rating questions. It’s not accurate to say that a person with the skills to be rated at a 9 has a below average or average knowledge of the game, rules or strategy.
Just like it is currently, there is nothing stopping a player that would be rated 8 in this pipe dream mythical system from playing in a competitive division. It would be no different than if a C rated player wanted to play for a team in the B division. That’s a manager’s decision and always has been.
So, if we now have a baseline recreational division there has to be one stipulation. By playing in a member city’s recreational division, the team automatically knows that it will not qualify for the GSWS. As we discussed earlier, recreational within the softball community would lend itself to not being as serious about qualifying for the GSWS. Therefore, there would be no automatic bids to the GSWS for winning the division or placing in a certain part of the standings. Would a trophy be awarded? I’m sure one would be and why not? If a team in the recreational division wins the division they should be rewarded, just not with a bid to the most competitive and sought after tournament of the year.
Now to move on to the current divisional structure that we have now. The D division would change to players rated 9, 10 & 11. The C Division would keep the same upper threshold with players rated 12, 13 & 14. The A & B divisions stay the same.
It’s a shift, but not a big shift and it doesn’t balloon the amount of teams that attend the GSWS. However, let’s be clear, if your event is popular and it is THE most important tournament of the year for so many teams the event is going to grow and it has by roughly 4 to 6% annually for the last 7 years.
Could this work? Almost anything can work if there is support and dedication to a cause to make it work. Several leagues around North America have adopted recreational divisions in different forms over the past several years. The change is for NAGAAA to recognize a recreational division and not have that division factor into the GSWS.
HYPOTHETICAL CHANGES TO CURRENT DIVISIONAL STRUCTURE
“A Path Forward”
Rec Division – No player rated above an 8. No team rated over 75. *Doesn’t qualify for GSWS*
D Division – No player rated above an 11. No team rated over 105.
C Division – No player rated above a 14. No team rated over 135.
B Division – No player rated above a 19. No team rated over 175
A Division – No team rated over 270. No teams rated lower than 170.
One thing is for sure. We can change player rating thresholds and tweak the wording of questions, but it is all smoke mirrors in the grand scheme of things. The above restructuring does not hurt the GSWS and it’s not a huge shift in the overall divisional structure. However, what the above idea most definitely is, is a way that we can address the overwhelming gap between recreational teams and competitive teams in our member city leagues thereby stopping the slide of “player displacement” that we are beginning to see. Let’s do right by all of our players, not just the higher skilled players. Member cities and their members deserve to have a ratings structure that benefits everyone and that still keeps the integrity of the game intact.
*The Diamond Dish is a blog site devoted to amateur slow pitch softball across North America. This site nor the posts on it are a reflection of the views of NAGAAA or its members.*