Friday, September 24, 2010

College Redraw: What went okay

As with any plan, some things work and somethings don't and some things fall in the middle. Since I'd like to be more than just a whiner, I'll append solutions to each.

1. Travel time. They helped resolve some of the problems, but left some BIG ones, particularly in the west. In the NW, we no longer have two contenders, UBC (2008 champs) and Stanford (2007 champs) in the same region even though they are separated by an 18 hour drive. Likewise, in the SW, they don't have Colorado anymore which means the teams can probably all drive to Regionals, which is a big savings.

The solution? Twelve regions, the two new regions being formed out of the interior West (ID, MT, SD ND and the four corner.) This of course means creating something out of nothing: two regions that have traditionally had only one team (Colorado) with any national standing. But look at the Metro East. When it came into existence with the last redraw, it was the laughing stock of ultimate, routinely getting multiple bids based on size and then those teams playing in the shit box for 14th, 15th and 16th. This year? Pitt and Cornell made semis. If the USAU is committed to growth, we need a little help out here in the West and having a conference that includes teams 17 hours apart isn't very helpful.

2. Tournament size. The 20 team nationals is a great tournament. The format is a wonderful one and the four days makes for a really lovely event. That said, it's not big enough.

The solution? 24 teams. That allows for the twelve regions described above and also give the tournament a bit more flexibility. I have always been one for the tough cut, the quick cut off into bracket play (should be 40% to 50% of teams), but two recent teams have made me change my mind on this and look for a larger and more inclusive nationals. Western Washington (under Alyssa) and UW- Eau Claire (under Robyn) are teams that went from nothing to contenders in a few short years and really deserved a trip to the show. In Westerns case they had to beat teams like Cal, Oregon and UBC to make nationals. In Eau Claire's case, they had to beat Syzygy. A larger field makes it more likely that these teams will get their trip to the show - a just reward.

3. Someone had to get the shaft. There is no way to rearrange the regions without someone, somewhere getting screwed and this time, it's the California women's division. With five of last year's national qualifiers (Cal, Stanford, UCSB, UCLA and USC), four of whom where quarterfinalists, someone is going to get heartbroken. Oh yeah. Did I mention 2002 National champs San Diego? Or up-and-coming Sonoma State or Arizona? What a mess.

The solution? Practice hard and cross your fingers.

4. Awkward region shapes. There are some weird region shapes out west and a lot of it derives from the USAU's decision to stick to state lines. Makes things a bit easier, but at the same time, splitting huge states like we have out west would have given some flexibility to the design of the regions. It also would have made some regions a bit more manageable travel-wise.

The solution? Ditch the state-line-region-line requirement.

5. Regular season. First of all, let's all quit pretending it's a regular season. When Oregon plays Syzygy in February, that's the preseason, regardless of what you call it and regardless of what it counts for. Second, I don't think we really have a sense of what this is going to do to team's decisions about what tournies they are going to play. Take UNCW for example. They came out west to play Stanford Invite last March and got pounded. It definitely helped them as a team and they were much better prepared at Nationals. It hurt their region by probably costing them a bid. It's unclear to me exactly how the math work, but having the best team in your region get beat by the fourth and fifth teams from the west is not helpful. Had UNCW not come, they would have probably posted a gaudy 25-0 record going into Nationals and that number would have floated their ranking and the ranking of the entire east. The computer ranking system is very dependent on inter-region play and if teams begin to neglect travel in order to boost their rankings....

The solution? Wait and see. I'm not sure it's going to be a problem yet. We are still getting pretty robust rankings, although I think we'd benefit from more tournies like Prez Day and Mardi Gras, particularly in the east.

Next: what went wrong.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

College Redraw: What went right

Despite the huge roll out and years in preparation, the redraw isn't really a very big change. Essentially, the USAU has managed to maintain the sectionals-regionals-nationals format in a way that is flexible enough to support the long-term growth of the sport. (Which is the real focus of the USAU.) With not much changing, I've got to say that not much went right. The system isn't broken, but why go to so much trouble to not change a damn thing?

1. DIII. This is a great idea whose time has come. As a Carleton grad, I never saw the troubles of the DIII schools with a very clear eye. There is a reason that except for Carleton and the New England region (which has only DIII schools) the small schools aren't making it to Nationals; they simply can't compete with the big boys. The players I talked to and the blogs I read conveyed a new excitement and a new commitment to competition. I expect that in the next few years DIII will grow and become its own big deal.

2. Managing growth and maintaining consistency. I'm not sure that this should have been the USAU's biggest priority, but they did a good job with it. The structure is in place to maintain and manage growth without creating huge problems.

In the next few days I'll cover what went okay and what went bad.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

College Redraw: USAU's Goals

I've read and re-read and re-re-read the redraw now and I am starting to piece together what the USAU was after. Their stated goals are

To promote growth in the division and reduce travel times for all teams by
adding regions. Densely populated regions would be broken up so that there
are more available bids to Regionals. Historically large geographic regions
would be broken up to reduce travel times.

There are two goals in here that they did address well: handling the too-big sections and reducing travel time in the West. Whether this will promote growth or not remains to be seen, but it will certainly help manage growth. The travel situation in the west is better (certainly for the SW losing Colorado,) but not that great for the Pacific NW. (Do you know how far it is from Vancouver to Salt Lake City?

There is a hidden goal here as well: consistency and conformity. The USAU wants to have everything controlled and standardized; they want to end the Wild West era of ultimate development. Not really a bad idea from an organizational standpoint, but it does make creative developments more difficult. The six-month introduction to enactment of the Callahan rules couldn't happen today; it would have to go through committees and process and approval and maybe, finally, enactment.

Notice that despite the supposed flexibility (4-14 teams, geographic hardship) the USAU has already put every team in a conference. Notice that the USAU has continued its recent policy of dictating Regional formats and structures.

A final note, which I'll discuss more in the next post: the biggest change in here is the leveling of competition. While the structure of competition: Sectionals, Regionals, Nationals is essentially maintained in Conference, Regionals, Nationals, who is in your conference is very different from who was in your section. At Oregon, we traded Lewis and Clark and Portland for UW and UBC.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


New regions.

Carleton and Madison split. This is a tragedy. It was bad enough to split them out of the same section in 99, but to take them out of the same region is brutal. CUT-Hodags have met in the Regional final all but 2 years since 1991. It makes me sick. Not my-daughter-marries-a-Hodag-sick, but still pretty sick.

SW women get the shaft. You're going to add Stanford and Cal to a region that already features UCSB, UCLA, USC and UCSD?! And cap total bids at four?! The silver lining is that they ditch Colorado, which will make travel a lot easier.

TX and CO together. This makes sense. These teams have to travel forever no matter what region they're in so there's no point in making too many other people suffer.

More later...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Labor Day

I went to Labor Day and hung out with the kids while Mizu played. Her team went 2-4, which was respectable for a team that never really practices and certainly better than I had thought was likely. Hanging with the kids at the tourney was easier than I thought it was going to be, but a lot of that was the function of a tourney format that had Mizu's team done at 1 Saturday and 3 Sunday. It also helped that the Eugene women were relaxed about the whole tournament and didn't really mind (I hope) being tackled, hugged and wet-willied relentlessly. The kids were cooked by 3 Sunday so we left before the Finals and I saw only a smidge of the semis, but here's what I learned.

NW women's division is clear going into Regionals. 1. Fury, 2. Riot, 3. Zeitgeist, 4. Traffic 5. Underground 6T. Slackjaw 6T. Further 6T. Schwa. Fury continues to distinguish herself from the rest of the teams in the country and it is depth that is making the difference. They are able to play 20 deep to a talent level that most teams can play 10 or 12. What that means is that the Fury players can play harder and faster than their counterparts because they are playing far fewer points. I still think they are turning it over more than they need to, but they are winning because their defense (particularly in the lanes) is so darn tough. Zeitgeist is inching closer and closer to the top and further away from the second tier of women's ultimate. I don't think they are going to challenge Fury (too mental) but they will make Nationals and very likely make semis. Traffic and Underground will likely be playing for fourth again at Regionals, while Schwa, Further and Slackjaw are all hoping to beat each other and pull off an upset over one of the higher ranked teams.

Men's division is still wide open...sort of. Revolver and Sockeye have established themselves as the clear 1-2. Rhino, Furious and ECU are too young in too many places to be consistent and anyone of them could beat the other on any day. More generally, youth and turnover is the story in the West this year. With the wholesale collapse of the Jam, widespread retirements from the Fish, the continued rebuilding of the Monkey (Lugs told me it was his last year) and the ongoing attempt to resurrect Rhino you have a West that on the surface looks the same (SF, Seattle, Vancouver) but actually is anything but - all the players are different.

Sockeye: high risk, high reward. In this age of boring ultimate, it is nice to see someone still playing with a little verve. The take chance after chance after chance strategy (on O and D) has worked great for the Fish. Two silvers this year (Worlds! and Labor Day) is much better than anyone (including the Sockeyes) expected going in to the season.

College Gossip. Cal will return everyone but Cree, UW will return everyone but Shannon. Weird to have two teams in the same region lose their best player and no one else in the same year. Still, I'd expect both those teams to be better than last year as everyone gets another year under their belt and younger players begin to fill into the void left by the superstars. UW will be getting its fourth head coach in four years; Cyle will not be coaching again. Carolyn Finney will be back for the Skirts, but I don't know anything about the rest of the team. In typical Clown Tent fashion, Oregon has no idea who is returning - it could be a mere 6 players or it could be 13. This time last year Molly, Tina and Shannon were all going to move on and all three came back...