For most teams, Sectionals is when games really start to matter. Despite the relative ease with which top tier teams are able to claim bids to Regionals, the majority of squads around the country spend the summer preparing for a fight to make it out of their section.
Sometimes, however, the plans of dedicated teams that spend months practicing together and attending tournaments are derailed by new teams formed exclusively to enter the USA Ultimate Club Championship Series.This has been the case for a number of unlucky teams in the last two weekends of Sectionals tournaments, leading some to question whether regular season participation should become a requirement for the Series.
There is some merit to this argument, at least in terms of fairness. To be honest, it would be tough be on a team that trained and competed all summer just to lose to a squad that was simply thrown together for the Series. It seems like the more dedicated teams should be rewarded in some manner for their efforts. But is banning newly-formed teams from the Series the way to go about doing this? I don’t think so.
Fundamentally, the Series is meant to systematically eliminate teams until only the best 16 are left to compete at Nationals. While it’s disputable that the top teams always make it to Sarasota, it seems rather obvious that a team that has its spot at Regionals stolen by a team that formed exclusively for the Series would not be among those remaining at the end either way. Letting teams of athletic, skilled players start their season with Sectionals adds to the level of competition, and doesn’t undermine the overall process.
It’s also necessary to keep in mind that not every team has the opportunity to compete before Sectionals. What about teams that can’t simply afford to travel to tournaments during the regular season? Club level ultimate continues to be a self-funded venture for the vast majority of teams and players; it doesn’t seem right to punish those who might not have enough income to travel or even take weekends off from work.
Requiring teams to play during the regular season would also disproportionately impact college players. Generally, students aren’t at school during the summer, making Sectionals their first opportunity to play in Club tournaments. Many teams use the Series as part of their tryout process too, giving young and developing players their first look at the skill that exists in the Club division.
This might not be an argument for allowing teams to enter the series that sits well with Club players — especially if they happened to be knocked out of contention by one of these college teams — but the experience gained at Sectionals can be huge for a player’s development and it has become a valuable part of the preseason process for many programs.
While it may be disappointing to have your season ended by a team whose season has just begun, barring newly-formed teams from competing in the series is not the answer. Above all else, ultimate has always remained closely tied to the tradition of non-exclusivity, putting any move that takes the chance to play away from individuals seemingly in conflict with the ultimate community’s core beliefs. Putting restrictions on who can participate might help some teams make it out of their Section but it isn’t a precedent that should be established.