The Eighth Man

University of South Carolina Got a World Cup Bid, and You Should be Pissed About It

Credit: USC Club Quidditch

Credit: USC Club Quidditch

World, meet the University of South Carolina.

The Gamecocks are part of the South Region, a member of the Carolinas Quidditch Conference and the de facto home team of World Cup VII. What they are not, is a World Cup-quality team.

This is in no way an insult to South Carolina. They are a young team – this is only their second competitive season – growing in an under-developed part of the country in terms of quidditch. There’s no expectation that they should be a World Cup level team. And yet here we are.

I’m going to be blunt: The Gamecocks have a single win in an official IQA game this season. Their overall record is 1-11, good for a win percentage of .083 that ranks 142nd amongst official teams, according to Quidditch Reference.

There are the blowout losses to the likes of Miami, South Florida and Florida’s Finest, which are excusable, but there is also the 180-110* beatdown at the hands of East Florida State College. The high point of the season was a 120*^-100 overtime to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. In total, South Carolina was in snitch range for 6-of-12 games, outscored their opponents in 3-of-12 games, and won just one.

Luckily for the Gamecocks, that one victory was worth the World. After an 0-3 pool play record on Saturday of South Regionals that would have eliminated them from some regionals right then and there, they were put in a bracket play-in game against a familiar foe, the College of Charleston, who they had lost to twice already this season, including the previous day. This time, South Carolina got the better of them, winning 120*-40, but then suffered back-to-back-to-back blowout losses that eliminated them from World Cup contention.

Well, eliminated them briefly, at least. A few weeks later, South Carolina was awarded a bid, the result of the gigantic 80-team World Cup field and a host of dropouts. The Gamecocks, off an 0-5 regular season and a 1-6 regionals tournament, would be headed to Myrtle Beach.

I don’t resent South Carolina. Nor do I blame them. They got a bid within the system in place, and that bid means they have every right to be playing quidditch on the first weekend of April, and honestly, I hope they perform well and show me up. But that bid, based on their performance so far this season, makes a mockery of the both the tournament itself and the teams who worked so hard just to try to make it.

Last season, 60 teams qualified for World Cup VI. It was the same sized field as World Cup V, and the biggest field ever used for a World Cup before this season. Even with a field 20 teams smaller than it will be this year, much of Day One lacked competitive or entertaining games. Here are the negative quaffle point margins of Pot Four and Five teams from World Cup VI in games, broken down by what percent of games had that margin or greater :

40+ 70+ 100+
Pot Four 56% 33% 14%
Pot Five 75% 63% 52%

 

To clarify, what this chart is saying is that pot five teams couldn’t stay in snitch range in 75 percent of their games, and couldn’t even stay within 100 point in more than half. Pot four teams, meanwhile, could generally avoid absolute blowouts, but still only managed to be in snitch range of higher pot teams 44 percent of the time.

What’s perhaps scariest to think about is that the World Cup V and VI Pot Four and Pot Five were made up of the teams ranked 37-48 and 49-60 in the field, respectively. This year, Pots Four and Five are the teams ranked 49-64 and 65-80. Last year’s Pot Five is this year’s Pot Four.

What this leaves us is diluted gameplay. We all live to see games like last year’s quarterfinal between Bowling Green and the Lost Boys, but the glory of games like those are blocking our memory of the endless trog of the previous day. Games had to go to all hours of the night Saturday just to get pool play in. Both referee and snitch staff were stretched thin, leading to a drop in quality that wasn’t rectified until the best of each could be consolidated onto three or four pitches at the end of Sunday.

And for what? So that teams whose chances of winning the Cup were lower than a meteor landing on Austin-Tindall Park that weekend could be blown out for four straight games? I can’t imagine a world in which that’s worth it, other than one based on padding the bottom line.

There are numerous possible fixes to this system. The size of the tournament can simply be reduced, either by adding an intermediate tournament – think college baseball’s “Superregionals” – or simply by cutting down on how many teams qualify from Regionals, which will actually give Regionals some relevance back.

The division-based system could be brought back, but that would involve more teams committing to playing in Div. II of World Cup to avoid a repeat of last year, in which Div. II was largely just made up of local and semi-local competitors. Alternatively, the tournament itself could switch to a format that is in some way tiered so that we can have more games between elite teams without punishing them for having to play the more difficult games.

It obviously took a lot for South Carolina to end up in the World Cup, including a large number of international dropouts, another pressing issue but not one I’m qualified to debate in a coherent manner. But just the fact that there was a scenario in which a 1-11 team could not just enter but actually qualify for our sport’s championship is a slap in the face to the competitive side of quidditch.

 

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