Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) softball team, Denny’s Grand Slam, is taking its bat, ball and bases and going home, hoping many teams will follow.
Seeking a new tournament structure and a way out of growing insurance costs, Hastert’s legislative director, Anthony Reed, and his team have abandoned the popular Congressional Softball League to start up one more to their liking.
With only two months before softball season is slated to begin, Reed announced that the House Softball League will begin play this spring, with his team among approximately 20 that made early commitments to leave the CSL.
“This is something that people have bantered about,” Reed said. “People were asking, ‘If you were going to do it all over again, what would you do?’ This is what we came up with as a blueprint.”
For Reed, the crux of the changes in the House Softball League is the tournament format. Whereas in the CSL teams are ranked from 1 to 64 but play a more competitively balanced first-round game — each pair of competing teams is separated by 16 seeds — the House Softball League would seed like a traditional tournament, with the top seed playing the lowest in the first round.
Another major sticking point in the break was the new insurance plan the CSL is requiring teams to purchase, necessitated by several on-field incidents last season, according to CSL Commissioner Gary Caruso.
Twice, non-participants were struck with batted balls — one was a spectator, and the other a foreign tourist who was “knocked out cold,” Caruso said. Another incident involved a parked car, which Caruso said had every right to be there and left the CSL with little wiggle room without proper liability protection. Though no lawsuits were filed, Caruso said the experience was a “reality check” for him. “I was dangling at the edge of the abyss there,” he said. Thus, a mandatory, $24-per-player insurance program was put into place.
“If I could turn back the clock to the reality of 15 to 25 bucks for just printing and mailing stuff out, I would,” Caruso said of the old process of coordinating the league’s teams. “But in today’s world, and with last year’s incidents, I can’t do that. It’s just one of those things — the insurance gods seemed like they were just waiting for us to have this happen.
“Softball’s not worth losing the roof over my head.”
Unfortunately for the CSL, softball’s not worth losing the roof over the heads of some of the league’s participants, either.
Ron Anderson, captain of Suspension of the Rules, said one of the main reasons his team (which represents the Congressional Legislative Staff Association and is a three-time CSL champion) chose to move to the new House Softball League was the insurance costs: $340 for a team of 15 players, tournament fees not included.
“Going overboard on the insurance issues was the straw that broke the camel’s back for us,” Anderson said.
But once registration is complete and teams take the field, not much will change. Until the tournament.
Seeding for the House tournament will be determined by a ratings power index, which takes into account opponents’ winning percentage, among other factors. In the CSL, teams that play (and win) more games get an edge in the rankings, regardless of the quality of their opponents.
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