Last weekend, the Northwest Round Robin was held in Seattle, Washington. It was quite a small “tournament” featuring only two teams, Seattle Voodoo and Vancouver Furious George. The teams ended up splitting a series of four scrimmages against each other.
There’s nothing really odd about that at first glance, except for one aspect of these scrimmages: they were officially sanctioned by USA Ultimate.
The reasoning behind this is clear: going into the final two weekends of the season, Furious George had played just a single US tournament, Terminus, and had amassed just six sanctioned games to their name.
According to the modified Triple Crown Tour Guidelines, had Furious finished the regular season with fewer than 10 sanctioned games, they would have been ruled ineligible for postseason play. Seeing this pending issue on the horizon, I asked USA Ultimate’s Manager of Club Competition Byron Hicks about the situation. “Furious missed their second TCT event to attend their national championships which we highly encouraged them to attend,” he said. “They are taking steps to get their ten games.”
This is not a new issue for USA Ultimate, as Director of Marketing and Communications Andy Lee explained.
“At this time of year we typically receive a number of requests to sanction last-minute, intra-region individual games,” he said.
The thorny issue at play here is that despite the round robin being officially sanctioned, none of the games will officially count toward the club rankings — the games are “whited out” on Score Reporter. (See Furious George’s blog for an account of how and why this happened.)
Regardless of the good fortune Furious George has had, this appears to be essentially a quasi-legitimate way for USA Ultimate to waive a mandatory requirement for the Vancouver team so they’d be eligible for the Series.
To be clear, it is not bad that Furious will be competing in the Club Series this year. They are still a high level team and deserve a shot to compete for a bid to the Club Championships. But in a season that started out with USA Ultimate drastically slashing their initial TCT proposals, they are once again catering to the cream of the crop by giving Furious a free pass and allowing them to play, despite failing to meet a requirement that every other Pro and Elite Flight team has met.
Yes, they elected to skip a tournament to compete in the Canadian National Championships, I get that, but is that really so much different than forcing players on Revolver to choose between Potlatch and the U.S. Open? Or forcing Sockeye or any other team to travel to Terminus or Colorado Cup on an arbitrary date?
Other intraregion scrimmages have been denied sanctioning by USA Ultimate this season, including one between San Francisco Fury and San Francisco Nightlock and another between Seattle Riot and Seattle Underground.
“In order to maintain the integrity of the Regular Season rankings, each of these applications for sanctioning are subject to review and approval by USA Ultimate’s Competition Committee,” explained Lee. “Each request is carefully considered, and subject to denial if it’s determined that games are being played for the purposes of artificially boosting a team’s individual ranking to the benefit of its region. If some regions were able to do this to the disadvantage of others, it could impact the fairness of the competition structure. If every region attempted to secure wildcards this way, the end of the season would become less meaningful and nearly impossible to manage.”
That’s a well-intentioned goal, but if you’re just going to sanction the tournament and not count the games towards the rankings (as USAU did in the Furious/Voodoo case) why is there even a ten game minimum (mandatory minimum in the case of the Pro and Elite Flight teams) in the first place? What is the justification for this round robin? Or for any that met the committee’s guidelines versus one that failed to do so?
With Furious going into the weekend sitting at #22 and Voodoo at #25, it was completely possible that their scrimmages would end up being quite impactful in the rankings.
It is clear why USAU doesn’t want a cheap late season scrimmage to cost/earn a team a bid (a la Hot Metal vs. Green Means Go on the final weekend of the regular season in 2012, which earned the Mid Atlantic Region a second bid), but this all brings up the question: what is the true meaning of a sanctioned tournament?
There are plenty of examples of teams taking great pains to make sure that functional rosters are able to travel to the right sanctioned tournaments in order to assure ten games and a bid to Regionals. What’s so special about Furious that they get a pass here?