Following poor performances at Centex, Whitman and Washington both took big drops in the USAU rankings released March 21. Whitman dropped 16 places to #22 and Washington fell 9 places to #25. This left the Northwest looking at only a single bid, down from three the week before.
After the rankings were released, both Whitman and Washington quickly began looking into organizing a small sanctioned tournament for the last weekend of the regular season. Whitman already was hosting a mixed tournament, and decided to host the Walla Willa Invite Invite alongside it.
As originally planned, the invited teams were (with ranking in the latest 3/28 rankings from USA Ultimate):
- #2 Oregon – Playing only for seeding at Conferences, Regionals, and Nationals. Big wins over Whitman and Washington could leave the Northwest with a single bid and reduce the chances of Oregon’s making Nationals.
- #19 Whitman – Even a small decline in their rating would cost the region a bid to the College Championships. They would need to win or lose a tight game to Oregon, and win big over Puget Sound. Depending on what happens in the other games, a close loss to Washington could result in the region getting either one, two, or three bids.
- #28 Washington – Probably needs to beat Oregon and win big against Puget Sound. If they lose big to Oregon and play a close game against Puget Sound, a close win over Whitman in the final game would likely leave the Northwest with just a single bid.
- #93 Puget Sound – Locked in as the top Division-III team in the Northwest. Their results at this tournament aren’t going to help or hurt them.*
*A 15-7 win over Puget Sound would be worth approximately 1792 points, slightly below the rating of #4 Tufts.
I expect that every player on each of these teams is going to play hard every time he steps on the field. But coaches always have to balance different goals. If the coaches of Oregon and Puget Sound think only about the best interests of their respective teams, they may decide to play open rotations and try to figure out sets and plays that haven’t been working for them. Meanwhile, the coaches of Whitman and Washington serve the best interests of their teams by calling every point like it’s 16-16 in the final of Nationals.
In reality, Oregon and Puget Sound decided not to attend, and I’m not sure if Washington is still planning to drive five hours to play a single game.
Here’s what sucks: Nobody wants to talk about Ultimate. Nobody is talking about the work Jeremy Norden has done turning a team that didn’t even make Regionals in 2009 into one of the country’s elite teams. We’re not talking about if Dylan Freechild will be able to slow down Jacob Janin, or if Janin can stop Freechild. All we seem to want to talk about is how the results will affect the rankings and bids to Nationals. The Rankings are killing the College division.
We can talk about tweaks to the algorithm. We can rethink the bid allocation procedure. But I’m pretty sure that whatever we come up with will have similar problems, if slightly different from what we have now.
My solution is simple. Go back to 8 regions. 3 bids per region. Earn your way to Nationals by winning games at Regionals. Yes, this means that a couple top 20 teams won’t be at Nationals, but we’re very likely to get all the top 10. We’d also get a number of other benefits:
- We’d encourage teams to play Ultimate. There would be no incentive to forfeit games or drop out of tournaments.
- We’d encourage teams to develop players. It’s better for the growth of the sport if Whitman plays their rookies in consolation games instead of forfeiting.
- We’d get to spend our time talking about players, teams, and strategies instead of talking about mathematical algorithms.