Wildcard Wednesday: Women’s Edition
With nearly all of the Women’s Club Sectionals completed (just East New England and So Cal remain), we’re in a good position to reflect on some of the results of the last few weeks. While the new bid allocation system based on regular season rankings has removed a lot of the drama from some of the more crowded regions, there are some big storylines from the end of the regular season and heading into Regionals.
Only 30 teams finished the regular season with 10 sanctioned games, which means that more than half of the teams participating in the regular season earned their region a bid to the Club Championships. There are 102 teams registered for the Club Series, although putting aside the Northeast’s 31 teams (mostly college teams), each region averages a hair over 10 teams. In the past, USA Ultimate has tried to stuff these teams into 16-team Regional Championships, although now every region will have 8 teams at Regionals except the Northeast (16) and the North Central (7). Seventy percent of teams will advance from Sectionals to Regionals.
By contrast, there are 212 registered Mixed teams – very few of which are college teams. At this point, it looks like there are roughly an equal number of female club players playing Women’s and Mixed – if not more playing Mixed. Eighty-nine teams participated in the Mixed regular season – more than Open and Women’s combined.
As Joaquin Nagle pointed out last week in his profile of Rally, the buzz in the Southwest Region is about Rally — a team of former Zeitgeist and Mischief players who are angling to snatch the second bid in the Southwest Region from Nightlock and Safari. At Sectionals, Nightlock led 6-2 but ended up falling 7-9 to Rally in pool play. At Regionals, it’s possible they’ll meet twice on their road to the Club Championships.
Rally did not play any sanctioned games during the regular season, although had they played at Labor Day and gotten 3 other games sanctioned it’s highly likely that they would have earned a 2nd strength bid for the Southwest. Because USA Ultimate opens Sectionals up to all teams, Rally (and 72 other teams) are able to participate in the Club Series without participating in the regular season. If regular season participation were mandatory, it’s likely that the final number of teams would end up somewhere between the 30 of this season and the 102 teams registered for the Series. If the Southwest had only won its autobid through Fury, or if Rally had been blown out by Nightlock at Sectionals, this would not be a big deal. Instead, it’s probable that one of the top 16 Women’s teams in the country will be left behind come the Club Championships in October.
Part of why the Rally situation in the Southwest is such a big deal is the Mid-Atlantic getting the last bid, just ahead of a third bid for the Southwest. Pittsburgh’s Hot Metal sanctioned a scrimmage against Philadelphia’s Green Means Go on the last day of the regular season, with Hot Metal winning 13-8 and earning the last strength bid for the Mid-Atlantic. With only nine sanctioned games going into the weekend and sitting on the precipice of a strength bid while their competition played an elite tournament in Santa Cruz, Hot Metal turned to in-region “rival” Green Means Go to get a 10th sanctioned game and qualify for the rankings. With the combination of Safari doing poorly at Labor Day and Hot Metal’s five-point win over Green Means Go, Hot Metal solidified 16th place and Safari dropped to 17th.
The problem with this situation lies with Green Means Go’s perverse incentive to lose the game to Hot Metal. At Sectionals a week later, Green Means Go beat Hot Metal by five points – a ten-point swing! Had Green Means Go beaten Hot Metal by five points during the regular season and Hot Metal had slipped to 17th, Green Means Go would have been faced with the possibility of a Regionals semifinal matchup against Hot Metal and then potentially a game to go against Scandal, a team Green Means Go has never beaten. By losing, Green Means Go basically guaranteed themselves a game to go against Hot Metal — a much more winnable game and one they’ve proven themselves capable of winning.
To refresh: Green Means Go had no incentive to win a regular season game against a regional rival – in fact, they had an incentive to lose 13-6 or worse! By losing, they went from a less than 1% chance of making Nationals to a greater than 50% chance! This is an inherent flaw in the system that can be fixed in the future with changes to the bid allocation system (different than the ranking algorithm), provided USA Ultimate is willing to change it.
Like in the Southwest, a team without a regular season record is a favorite to grab a bid to Nationals from a team that finished in the top 16 at the end of the regular season. Capitals, a semifinalist last year, sat out the regular season after many of their players played on Team Canada at WUGC 2012 in Japan. Bent, sitting at #13 in the rankings, is going to need to fight Capitals and #5 Brute Squad for a chance to make it out of the two-bid Northeast.
But what a lot of people don’t realize is that the Northeast was almost a one-bid region – Brute Squad only got their 10th game via a sanctioned scrimmage against Vice, the #2 Boston team. They sanctioned a scrimmage, quickly won 13-3, and reached their 10-game threshold. Had they not cared enough about getting a second bid (probably worried about Capitals), they would have only had 9 games, not been ranked, and a third bid would have gone to Safari and the Southwest Region.
Part of the problem with this system is that the best teams in a region have the least incentive to participate in the regular season. In the Southwest, Fury is not worried about Rally and wouldn’t struggle in a one-bid region, and same with Scandal in the Mid-Atlantic. In the case of the Northeast, Brute Squad and Capitals can both make Nationals still, but Bent could be on the outside looking in after doing everything right – playing a regular season, finishing in the top 16, and earning a strength bid.
Some regions handled the new system extremely well, and that’s the case with the Northwest. Congratulations on your four bids – you played the right tournaments and beat the teams you had to beat to earn the bids. Good luck in Sarasota!
Editor’s note: this article was written by Ryan Thompson. Maya Ziv was accidentally listed as the author when it was first published.