Sports are full of magic numbers. Some are immortal records that any fan worth his salt would know. In baseball, when fans and media start talking about the magic number, they're referencing the number of wins and rival losses required for their team to make the postseason.
The Bassmaster Elite Series has a magic number, too, though it's hardly so precise. For the Elites, the magic number is the points you must earn in order to qualify for the 2014 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersville.
Before I tell you what I think that magic number is this year, let's run down the list of who qualifies for the Bassmaster Classic. Without knowing that, we can't even start to calculate the magic number. These qualifiers come from all over the place, from the Elite Series to the Carhartt College BASS series to the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens and more.
There should be 56 anglers competing in the Classic next year, as follows:
Defending Classic champion - 1
Elite tournament winners - 8
Top ranking anglers in AOY race - 29
Opens tournament winners (who fish full series) - 9
B.A.S.S. Nation regional leaders - 6
Weekend Series champion - 1
College B.A.S.S. champion - 1
Wild Card winner - 1
Most of those classifications are pretty cut and dried, but several have an impact on the Elite Series.
For example, the defending Classic champ is Cliff Pace, and if he finishes high in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year rankings (as he almost certainly will), he'll essentially "double qualify" and create an opportunity for another Elite angler to go to the Classic.
Ditto for any Elite tournament winner who ranks high on the AOY list. And for every Opens winner who fails to qualify because he didn't fish all of that region's Opens, another spot will come from the Elites.
Then there's the chance that an Opens winner will also qualify on AOY points, opening up yet another Elite berth.
So, as you can see, you need a slide rule, an abacus and a pretty fair calculator (one with all the extra buttons and maybe a printing feature) just to keep up. No one said fishing would be easy, least of all when calculating who's going to the Classic.
With the preliminaries out of the way, let's figure that about 38 Elite anglers (maybe more) will make the Classic based strictly on their Elite performance(s) in 2013. We start with the top 28 in the AOY race. Add another because Pace will likely finish in this group. Add eight more because they won (or will win) Elite events this year. Add at least one more on top of that because one of the Northern Opens winners did not fish them all, so his spot falls to the next ranking Elite angler.
Now figure that most of those Elite winners will also rank in the top third or so of the AOY standings and let's round things out by guessing that the top 36 Elites will get an invitation to the Classic.
So how many points is it going to take to finish in the top 36?
About 445 — give or take. This is hardly an exact science.
If an angler already has 445 points — and the top 18 do — it's practically impossible for them to fall out of the race. Ditto for the next seven or eight anglers, who merely need to avoid abject disaster.
And anyone who currently has fewer than 345 points (everyone ranking 57th and lower) can only get in by winning at St. Clair (or by having won an earlier event). On a practical level, anyone with less than 370 points right now is in big trouble if Classic qualification is the goal.
That leaves the guys ranked between 26 and 45 to battle it out for the last dozen or so Classic berths. It's that tight, it's that small a group and it's come down to just a few days in Michigan to settle things.
If history is our teacher here, we can bet that at least one angler in the top 30 will fall out of the Classic hunt at St. Clair and that another currently in the 40s will jump up and make it. But who?
Look out for Takahiro Omori. He's done exactly that in each of the past couple of seasons when everything was on the line at the last event.