The Eighth Man

Tuesday Water Cooler: Tournament Formatting Issues

Credit: <a href="">Rob Williams</a>

Credit: Rob Williams

With this past weekend in the books, I feel confident in saying the season is now in full swing. Every hub in the country besides Los Angeles has had meaningful, if not official, games and telling results are starting to pile in.

But with the announcement of the number of World Cup bids per region, I cannot help but to look into the future. And while I am not going to go as far as to say I am “pissed” about it, I have been left rather unexcited about the prospect of World Cup VIII.

Let us start with the obvious issue that everyone has brought up: the Northwest’s three bids. I am not going to dwell on this for long, but let us just remember that Boise State University looked underwhelming against decent West competition and lower-tier Southwest competition at Crimson Cup, and the Abraxans are easily the region’s best team. Even if you want to credit the continued development of the University of British Columbia as creating a second-deserving team, we are still a team short. And even that is a stretch. Three bids is an awful lot for a region that has not proven anything yet.

But the bigger issue, to me, remains the sheer number of bids. I understand the arguments about letting lesser teams experience a bigger tournament, but the IQA told us years ago that was going to be the goal of regional championships. The goal of World Cup, on the other hand, should be about having the best teams from all over the country playing each other to determine a champion.

Unfortunately, that has not been the case in the current format with the current number of teams. Last season, out of the 211 games played at World Cup VII, a grand total of 25 were contested by teams in our top 20 at the end of the season, just under 12 percent of all games. Even worse, eight of these games–the Sweet 16–were all played in one time slot with minimal film. By comparison, this is what percent of games–using the same format–would be contested by top-20 teams in smaller tournaments:

Number of Teams Top-20 Games Total Games Percent
60 28 155 18%
40 36 103 35%
20 51 51 100%

As you take teams out of the tournament, not only do the number of games between elite teams increase, but the percentage of them does as well. Smaller tournaments would mean more information about elite cross-region play, more high-quality games to broadcast and make our sport look more like a true gauntlet of competition, as opposed to just being the team that gets lucky with their pool, a la University of Texas last year.

Of course, looking at that table again, the number of teams might not be the only problem: the format might be as well. I say that with a heavy heart, as it was originally my baby. But at this point, even with fewer teams, it just does not create enough elite competition, especially on Saturday, which is largely a warm-up lap for the top teams, the pool of death notwithstanding. Why are we wasting an entire day of competition when we only get to put all of the country’s best teams in one place once per year.

In short, it is time for change: both in format and in size. It is probably too much to ask of USQ at this point to reduce the size, because that is their moneymaker, but after three World Cups under this format, it is time for a revisit. Let us increase the number of games between elite games and minimize the number of times the Northwests of the world have to get blown out in one weekend. The end result would be good for everyone.

With that out of the way, here is my take on the third week of play, as always, focusing on the major storylines.

Weekend That Wasn’t
After a pretty underwhelming slate of games that included just one top 20 last weekend, there was a lot to look forward to this week. University of Michigan was officially opening up its season at Ball Brothers Brawl, and with a lot of hype surrounding the team after they managed to retain Andrew Axtell from last year’s Sweet 16 roster, we were all excited to see how they matched up against another regional contender in No. 14 Bowling Green State University. Across the region, we eagerly awaited to see who would rise to contend with No. 16 University of Kansas at Kansas Cup. And a little further east, but still in Big-10 country, top teams from three regions–including No. 6 Ohio State, No. 18 The Warriors, Villanova and RIT–were all set to clash and sort some things out at the Nittany Invitational.

Unfortunately, very few of these things panned out. Michigan and Bowling Green would not have had a chance to see each other until the finals, thanks in part to a weak tournament field, and Ball State University crashed the party by breaking outs its now-patented slow play and upsetting Michigan, 70*-60, in the semifinals. University of Minnesota rose above the rest of the field at Kansas Cup but entered the finals having played seven games to Kansas’ three and, unsurprisingly, could not keep up anymore, falling 120*-20. And right before we were going to get two telling matches at Nittany Invitational–a semifinal match between Ohio State and The Warriors and a final between that winner and RIT–the tournament was cancelled due to strong wind.

Credit: Rob Williams

Credit: Rob Williams

Obviously, some of these problems were unavoidable, but others are things that need to be addressed. First of all, the Great Lakes region–for future reference, that is what I will be calling it until USQ catches up with the region’s actual needs–needs to get less politically correct with its tournament organizing. In a world where more and more invitational tournaments are popping up in other crowded areas, the Great Lakes keeps loading its marquee tournaments up with fourth tier and B-teams. Bowling Green has now attended tournaments with Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State University–who may not even deserve to be included in this tier anymore–and played none of them. Instead, they have used their time and travel resources to play eight of their 11 games out of snitch range. It is about time that the Great Lakes took Bowling Green, Ohio State, Michigan and Ball State, put them alone on a field together, have them play a double round robin and get some results we can actually do something with.

The Kansas Cup format was its own problem, and a problem that just about everyone saw ahead of time. The double elimination format put loser’s bracket teams through a gauntlet of back-to-back-to-back games while giving the winner’s bracket teams an incredibly light slate. Sure 11 teams was not the easiest thing to schedule for, but a pool of five and a pool of six would have been better than a schedule that ran Minnesota into the ground before their marquee matchup in the finals with Kansas.

The Nittany Invitational is more difficult to fault. It was an invitational tournament with a lot of marquee teams and a format that pitted them against each other, and weather is uncontrollable. Still, from an outside perspective, you cannot help but to hope that they had just tried to wait out the wind a little longer, especially with the weekend’s most interesting games still to come.

Still, it is hard to point fingers in this one, so we will just have to throw it on top of the pile. Still, what had the opportunity to be a marquee weekend, with nine ranked teams in action, ended up missing the mark. Luckily for us, the quidditch season never slows down, and Diamond Cup and Oktoberfest Invitational are both on the slate for next weekend.

Changing of the Guard
Since the inception of regions, we have always held two truths to be self-evident: that Boston University would win the Northeast and that University of Miami would win the South. Three weeks into the season, it is hard to imagine either of these streaks continuing, and a string of poor results over the weekend did nothing to curb that.

Boston University’s grave seems deeper, if only because of the level of in-region competition. Sunday’s Terriers squad looked nothing like the elite teams of years past. The team did not just lose its stars–Max Havlin, Katrina Bossotti, Brendan Stack and Michael Powell–they also lost their role players and top substitutes as well. The team they trotted out was athletic, but incredibly raw, leading to a lot of wasted possessions and unnecessary fouls. They also struggled to do basic things, including manning Kedzie Teller behind the hoops, where he scored at-will on passes from Jayke Archibald.

There were high points, including beater Peter Cho, an aggressive player who could be a real threat with a bit more honing, but the low points far outweighed them. And because of Boston University’s aversion to travel, something that never mattered when they were the best of the best, it is going to be nearly impossible for them to improve quickly enough to compete in Rochester in just over a month.

Miami, meanwhile, is still probably the South’s second best team, but the gap between them and Florida’s Finest seems larger than ever. In three official games against each other last season, Florida’s Finest failed to outscore Miami in quaffle points once. Now, three weeks into the season, the Flamingoes have already put the Hurricanes out of range twice, including an unofficial 110*-0 shutout and a 240*-150 win this weekend.

Miami’s biggest issue is figuring out its offense in the wake of losing Sean Beloff. That 150-point total is misleading, as it came in a 35-minute game that included plenty of quaffle play with minimal bludger presence. Last season in Florida Quidditch Conference play, Miami scored 90+ quaffle points in 11 of their 19 official games. This year, they have managed that in just three out of nine.

Of course, offense is always the last thing to click when building a new squad, and Florida’s Finest has the benefit of returning most of its players while adding more experienced veterans, but the offensive troubles are still a concern. Miami lacks a good answer at male beater, and with Sean Snipes disconcertingly missing this weekend as well, filling the hole Beloff left seems more difficult than ever.

When it comes down to it, Miami is still clearly the South’s second-best team, and that means all it will take is one good regional finals performance to retain their title. But it is going to be an uphill battle, and between that and Boston University’s woes, I am expecting new winners in both regions for the first time ever.

Hopeful Requiem for Slow Play
For a brief moment, Ball State was on top of the world. With the same dosage of slow play that had successfully taken out No. 14 Bowling Green and No. 6 Ohio State two weeks earlier at the Tournament of the Stars II, the Cardinals took down Michigan, who up until that point in the tournament had looked like the region’s best team, with a 70*-60 semifinal upset at the Ball Brothers Brawl.

Unfortunately for us, that means that following Kansas using slow play to outscore then-No. 1 Texas A&M University in quaffle points and take Lone Star Quidditch Club to overtime at World Cup VII, Ball State has now used it to take out the Great Lakes’ three best teams in succession. Queue the rants about slow play being an abomination to the sport and calls for a shot clock in quidditch.

Luckily for us, Bowling Green, the first one of the three to get a rematch with Ball State, pummeled the Cardinals on their own field, taking the tournament with a dominant 160*-40 victory that showed they had learned a thing or two from their first game.

The most shocking thing to me about all of the outrage over Ball State’s tournament victory was that many people acted like the slow-play plan is indefensible. Sure, it might force you to make some adjustments defensively, but any good strategy is going to require that. If you pressure ball carriers high with bludgers to actually force a decision, instead of leaving them sitting back in the defense like Texas A&M did against Kansas, you can force bad decisions and take advantage of them.

So what can we take away from this one result? Is slow play dead? Of course it is not, it will, from now on, always be a strategy that a lesser team can test a better team with. But any good team should be prepared to break it down by now, and Bowling Green gets a lot of credit from me for proving they could make those adjustments.

As for Ball State, all is not lost, as long as the Cardinals can prove they are not a one-trick pony. The onus is back on Trevor Campbell–probably the Captain of the Year through three weeks–to figure out where the team goes next. If he succeeds, Ball State might sneak into the region’s top tier. But if he cannot, they may be on the outside looking in once every top team has had a couple cracks at them.

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