The Triple Crown Tour has been a hot topic of conversation among players and teams. We’ve heard from a team that missed out on the Pro and Elite Flights, we’ve heard from USA Ultimate, and we’ve heard from an assortment of players, fans, and on-lookers.
But some of the most affected parties are the very top teams that make the Club Championships regularly. They will be playing in the most structured regular season next year, one with more rules and tighter scheduling. So we reached out to team captains from the elite teams to hear their opinions on the Triple Crown Tour. Here is a selection of their thoughts.
George Stubbs, Captain, Boston Ironside:
- As an individual on a team that will (probably) be playing in the Pro Flight tournaments throughout the summer, I like that we will be playing more games against good teams. I think it has much more potential to be good for the team. This past year, I would say that far more than half of our games were against teams that would be in the low elite level into Select. Having more, better games is way appealing.
- I can also see the other side of this — it would suck to not be in the Pro Flight and not have access. I wonder if this is going to keep the good teams good and not really give the other teams as much of a shot. I can see being really disappointed if my team were stuck in either Elite or Select. But at the same time, they are going to have more competitive games so there is an aspect of sense to it.
- I’m really glad that we don’t have to play Sectionals anymore. That was a waste of time for the teams that were just going to beat everyone. We would get more out of a weekend of practice then a weekend with (maybe) one competitive game.
- I like the potential for viewability that the Pro Flight has. It makes a lot of sense if we’re trying to film more games/make it more accessible to fans. I love the potential there.
- One of the main things that I worry about at least for the next few years is the players (and here I’m really thinking about my perspective as a Pro Flight player). For one, this schedule is adding more highly competitive tournaments. While that obviously has an advantage, this sport is really hard on people’s bodies, minds, and wallets, as well as the many other aspects of people’s lives that are all affected.
I worry about the ability to take days off, the expenses that one more plane flight incurs, and most of all, the length of the “competitive season.” In past years, the first really competitive tournament has usually been ECC. It’s very hard for teams to peak physically and commitment wise five different times over five months as opposed to four times over two and a half months. That really is a big difference.
My thesis, as I could go on forever: I think that this structure is going to be harder on players and force players to retire earlier, or opt out of club altogether based on their careers. Ironside is an incredibly committed group of guys, but we’re even more committed to our careers, and I think all these teams could lose players. It’s going to be difficult.
Taylor Pope, Captain, Raleigh Ring of Fire:
The promotion of these Brands will be a natural consequence of the Triple Crown System and one that will help the best teams excel in both recruiting and sponsor/viewership. As a player that values the history and lineage of our sport I think this system will provide a basic framework for people to easily understand.
So for us, established teams, we see only opportunity, but I could understand how teams on the outside looking in would feel out of limelight, especially teams that probably expected to be in the top flight (Johnny Bravo, Rhino, Subzero, Pony).
Tom Murray, Captain, Minneapolis Sub Zero:
I don’t like the rigid cutoff and think their should be some room for mobility during the regular season. Yes, for most teams, not a ton changes between year to year, but for some finishing in the top eight at nationals in one year doesn’t really predict how good they’ll be the next year. I think every big tournament should have some flight cross-over games if that is at all possible.
I really like not having to play Sectionals, this adds two to three weeks to our season to play real competition. This is great, last year we had about five weeks to actually play legitimate tournaments.
I’m also concerned about the choice of tournaments and will be waiting eagerly to see how things shape up. Forcing teams to travel to specific tournaments could be highly contentious and unfair to those teams that live far away.
Rohre Titcomb, Captain, Seattle Riot:
Our team hasn’t officially thought tons about it. We captains have spoken briefly about what this will mean for the team, but until last week our focus was 100% on 2012, so we definitely haven’t processed it much.
Does the tiered system make sense to you — given that you’ll be facing mostly the same teams all season?
Yes and no. Yes because it’s exciting to only play excellent competition. We spend a lot of time playing weaker teams throughout the season. Although the reps are valuable, if we were able to get the same quantity of reps against only Pro Flight teams, the value of each rep increases significantly. No because the division is becoming more and more equal. Parity at Club Championships in 2012 was higher than ever before, and the same has been true for the last couple years. The 8-16 teams are also great competitors, and limiting the top 8 to only playing one another may be too narrow of a competitive field.
Does it present new challenges? New opportunities?
Timing will certainly be a challenge for our team, and I expect that for non Pro Flight teams it will be harder to improve with limited opportunities to compete against the top teams. Pro-flight teams will know one another better, so that is an exciting challenge — it may place more importance on strategic analysis of how to beat an opponent.
Ariel Jackson, Captain, Palo Alto Boost Mobile:
Also, are you curious about playing in the AUDL or Major League Ultimate?
Players from Boost have been contacted by representatives from both leagues, but our team has not come together to discuss intentions as of yet. Also, any inter city league format on the west coast seems really ambitious. Consider the the proposed locations for MLU franchises. There are two inside the SF bay area, then the next closest franchise is an 11 hr drive from San Francisco.
Kyle Gill, Captain, Sub Zero:
I believe that, on the whole, it is a very good step towards making ultimate a marketable and, close to, professional sport, at least for the open division. I believe that the system the USAU has come up with is a decent compromise between keeping Ultimate tournament-based and creating structure that legitimizes it in the eyes of sponsors and fans. Sponsors and fans are necessary for Ultimate if we ever want it to get to the size that tournaments and travel can be paid for by teams or organizations rather than individuals. All professional leagues had meager beginnings. This seems like a positive step in the right direction. It is actually very similar to the Dew Tour for skateboarding. Which is to say, it is primarily a system for bringing the best to the same events along with a system of qualification.
The reason I say that it is good for the Open division is because I believe it, rather than Mixed and Women’s, is more ready for a step towards professionalization. The top 15-20 open teams are quite established already. From what I’ve seen, which is a limited perceptive and only an opinion, Mixed and Women’s has a much shorter short-list of highly competitive teams. The 3C has the potential to help push those divisions forward, but may be too quick of a step to handle.
[I'm aware that I'm definitely biased. However, I attended nationals in 2010 with a Mixed team that lost in semis to the eventual champions. Comparing how hard I worked that year with how hard I've worked the last two seasons (in which I finished 15th and 14th in Open) leads me to believe that the commitment level and quality of the elite Open division teams far exceeds those of most Mixed teams. Mixed should be respected for what it brings to ultimate as a whole but definitely seen as a different "ball-game". The 3C makes sense for Open but may or may not make sense for the other two (Mixed because there are so many teams that could be challenging for current year's supremacy and Women's because the disparity among teams is still large).]
The tier system exists in all professional and most recreational sports. At this point, there are some obvious distinctions between teams that are good enough to play at Club Nationals and most that aren’t. These tiers have never been defined in Ultimate even though they exist. The 3C tiers probably aren’t perfect, but they seem to be a decent way to get teams playing against mostly equal competition. I’m glad that there are ways to move between tiers from year to year. As well, keeping the non-tiered ranking system allows teams to fight for their right to move up by qualifying for nationals. Play between tiers is important for in-season measuring sticks/exposure between tiers. I’m sure there will be kinks that need to be worked out, but that’s the way it has to be at the beginning of any new system. The tiers probably help the teams at the top more than the teams at the bottom, but that might just be the harsh reality of what it takes to become and stay a top team (year-to-year consistency, dedication, athleticism, and ability to perform as a team at the highest level on the field).
The AUDL and MLU seem like short-sighted ways to make ultimate instantly into a professional sport. I believe that what the USAU has created is a more legitimate way to move things forward as the sport, potentially, grows into the public’s awareness. I appreciate what the AUDL and MLU are trying to do, but believe that they don’t keep the nature of ultimate as intact as I’d like them to.
Josh Mullen, Captain, Ring of Fire:
Unfortunately, most of the Q&A session about the Triple Crown at the captain’s meeting at the Club Championships was spent answering derivatives of the question: “What if my mixed team changes its name?”, so we know about as many details as the average club team that didn’t go to Nationals.
The pros of the tour are:
The cons of the tour are:
I will say that the NexGen games are some of the funnest games I have played in. The observers have active calls (travels, in and out, etc), the observers are encouraged to keep discussions to a minimum, and the players do not have continued re-enactments in front of the observer. I really feel that if the sport is to be filmed, this is the only way ultimate is watchable. Otherwise it is just a bunch of unexplained stoppages, and no one really likes stoppages or do-overs.
Playing under the lights in front of a hometown crowd is pretty awesome. It also helped us win over some fans this season. When I played for Ironside, before the Boston Invite each year, we would play London’s Clapham, Toronto’as Goat, and other teams under the lights before the tourney started, and that experience was amazing as well. I would structure the Triple Crown to have one game showcase each night (Friday and Saturday) in a stadium.
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