Thursday Mailbag: First Edition

Michigan's Matt Orr at 2013 Great Lakes Regionals.Welcome to the first ever Thursday Mailbag! It’s off to a horrible start by going up on Friday instead of Thursday. But this will become a continuous feature and (I hope) a plentiful source of scattered thoughts and ideas from readers. I spend a lot of time writing a lot of formal articles — here I’ll take a page from Bill Simmons and chat it up a bit.

As I mentioned in the Editors’ Blog, every week, we will be giving away a prize of some kind to the best comment or question. Send in something insightful, funny, smart, or entertaining; win free stuff. It really is that easy.

Let’s quit with the intro and get right into the emails and tweets (these are all real submissions!).

Q: My question is about Michigan MagnUM. They won College Easterns, maybe the third most impressive tournament field in the college game after Stanford Invite and Warm Up, in quite impressive fashion over Pitt, Minnesota, and Harvard who have a lot of potential to go deep at Nationals. On the flip side, they also got thumped by UMass and UNC on Saturday at Easterns and lost pretty convincingly to Harvard at QCTU. Do you think they have the chance to go far at Nationals and maybe make the semis or do you think that their Easterns performance was more of a fluke?

– Greg S.

A: I talked a little bit about this in the Easterns Recap but let me say this a different way: when this team is on, they’re on. They play with an infectious sideline energy and can build momentum very quickly. Their defense is smart and will force turnovers. But, yikes, that offense. Indiana Pacers status.

They just don’t have the throwers to compete with the big boys — the UNCs, the Colorados, the Pitts — on the big stage. They have some very good individual players and at the end of the day they got the job done at Easterns. But not so much due to their O line as much as their insanely efficient D line. I didn’t run the numbers, but they have to have converted more than 75% of their chances on D line on Sunday.

If they can keep that up, they can compete with anyone. But I think they caught a lot of lucky breaks — 50/50s went their way, wild second chance catches — that helped win them those games down the stretch. Don’t forget that Minnesota had that game on ICE and somehow let it slip away. Tiina Booth was probably chanting “mental game” over and over while watching the meltdown.

I think it was a great run for Michigan, and I think they are the clear favorites to advance to Nationals out of the Great Lakes. But — if they make it — they’ll have trouble getting out of the prequarters, I think. With Matt Orr out, they lose their best all-around thrower. I think defenses will stifle their already tenuous offense at Nationals.

Q: I’m curious about where people stand on the fairness of the bid allocation. Over the last couple years it really seems to have created a lot of interesting moments. There’s most recently your article on the six bids to college women’s NW, there’s the common thread that often a region will get an auto bid when they don’t have a strong enough team (more often in d3 but has popped up again this year in d1), there’s last year’s scandal of Rhino/Streetgang, there’s the fact that you could do everything right in a season except one game and not go to nationals because of regionals formats (Rhino and Whitman Sweets have suffered this a lot).

I guess there’s a fair amount of coverage of this, but I feel like from the comments threads and conversations I have, there’s a lot of ill will against the current system, and I’m wondering if you and your contributors have a more overarching argument. I think this system should be especially examined in light of the huge increase in parity we are witnessing across every division.

– August S.

A: The USA Ultimate algorithm doesn’t seem all that great when a team like Brown — who got blown out 15-7 in their only truly high level game of the season — can land in the Nation’s top 20. I’ve long been in favor of having some sort of human component — a selection committee of sorts — to help make the final allocation. Still use the computer rankings, for sure, but weigh the human input as well. Lots of issues with implementing this, obviously, but it would improve “fairness” in my mind.

The Northeast shouldn’t get four bids in the Men’s Division. Simple. That fourth bid should go to the North Central or the Southwest. I would probably lean towards the Southwest because, come on, Stanford played well enough to get a second bid.

But a lot of the talk about the bids stuff is crazy. First of all, let’s take on the common “Metro East doesn’t deserve a bid” refrain. First of all, Cornell just a couple years ago was in the semis. Second of all, THIS IS HOW COLLEGE SPORTS WORK. Every region/conference gets a shot. What makes March Madness great? Upset potential! The little guy up against the big guy! How great would it be if the Metro East qualifier shocked the 1 seed in their pool at Nationals.

And yes, accuse me of Metro East homerism (I graduated from NYU). But please know that I’m the first to admit the Metro East is garbage this year! Trash! But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get a bid.

OK, other stuff. Bid caps, all of this time zone talk, unfair advantages. Stop all of it. It is all trivial compared to the major components of winning — great systems, fitness, local ultimate development, and strong mental game. Do you want to earn a bid? Go win your games. Everything else is just excuses! Do you really think the reason you get blown out by Oregon is that the weather is bad on the East Coast? Many of the best teams in this country train indoors until April and fly all over the country for their tournaments.

Train. Harder.

Q: So with the bids being finalized, we see that Southwest gets 1 bid to regionals. With 6 great teams in the running (UCSD, ASU, Las Positas, Stanford, Cal, UC-Davis), who do you think will take that 1 spot?

– Steven M.

A: Poor Southwest. This has to be the year they recognize they are killing themselves with early season mediocrity, right? These are some fun teams to watch, but they cannibalize each other EVERY YEAR.

I really don’t know who can make it out of there unscathed. You’ve got the dynasty (Stanford), the recent star (Davis), the confident one (UCSD), the up and comer (ASU), the darkhorse (Las Positas), and the spoiler (California).

I’ll put my money on Davis to pull it off again. Nathan White and Eli Kerns are gonna dominate at Regionals.

Q: If Rhino had made nationals and had a game on ESPN3 where Dylan Freechild had dominated, would the Callahan big board be different?

– Gregory W.

A: I don’t think Dylan Freechild has a name recognition problem; he won the award last year. He’s got a couple problems this year: a) he wasn’t nominated for the award (pretty big one) and b) he hasn’t been the best player in college ultimate this year (also tough to overcome).

Relax, Oregon fans, he already got the award. He is in an elite group of players forever. His talent is unquestioned.

Q: Early predictions of final four for each division?

– Joline C.

Who are you picking to win the College D1 and D3 Championships? Why?

– Austin E.

A: I have been running Ultiworld for almost two years. One thing I have been consistently not great at is picking winners. I wish there were point spreads in ultimate (we might start making them).

My mistake has been consistently the same thing — I lean too much into recent results and not historic excellence. Middling success for Revolver during the regular season shouldn’t mean as much to me as it has in the past.

So, with that in mind, here are my Division I Final Fours for the Men’s and Women’s Divisions:

Men’s: North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Colorado, Oregon
Women’s: Oregon, Ohio State, Central Florida, Washington

Six of those eight teams were at least quarterfinalists last year at the College Championships. The two who weren’t — Colorado (M) and Central Florida (W) — have been building, had a huge regular season, and are playing some of the best ultimate in the game.

I’m most skeptical about my outside picks — Oregon (M) and Washington (W). Neither has had a stellar year. But this is where I always go wrong! I pick the hot team instead of the strong program and I get burned every time. So I’m picking programs.

OK, so for winners? Whoever comes up against Pittsburgh better be ready to play, because they have been outclassing, outplaying, and outcoaching everyone the past two years deep in the Championships. I do think UNC has the most top to bottom talent in the division and should be considered the favorite. If Colorado can get Jimmy Mickle going, he can legitimately carry that team to a title. But Colorado hasn’t been past prequarters since 2011. That concerns me.

I’ll take the team that has been growing and looks ready to win a title: North Carolina. But Pittsburgh has a very good chance to threepeat. At full strength, they will be very tough to beat.

On the Women’s side, it’s very, very hard to pick against Oregon. That said, this year’s team is just not as good as last year’s. And Ohio State was all business at the Northwest Challenge. UCF has been right there as well. All three teams have played each other in tight games.

I’m going with the program again: I’ll take Oregon.

Q: Something that I think will be interesting to see unfold next season is how Colorado fares after essentially “throwing all of their marbles” into this season.  Without any rookies getting that big-game experience, is it possible that we will see a huge dropoff in their performance?  At the very least, they will be very beatable next year.  I think the same may be true with Texas, but to a much lesser extent (I think they still have rookies, but they also have a few fifth years who have played big roles on the team for many years). Yes, rookies are getting much more playing time with a fairly strong Colorado B-team, but they aren’t getting the same big-game minutes against top teams that they would have gotten otherwise, and that may show next year.

 Anyways, the SC could look very different next year depending on how some of those big name teams are able to bounce back from big losses.

– Joe M.

A: I love the way Colorado has attacked this season: go lean, go experienced, go for a title. Last year they had 30 guys on their A team roster. This year? 21 or 22. Do those extra eight guys (who rarely play in big games, if at all) really get more out of being at A team practice than getting reps with a very solid B team? I think that’s not clear.

That said, I do think Texas and Colorado are likely to dip a bit after this season. It’s simply hard to lose some the best playmakers in the division (Will Driscoll and Mitch Bennett for Texas; Mickle and Hidde Snieder and Tim Morrissy and…on and on…for Colorado). But, hey, that’s college sports.

Would you rather Colorado try to develop rookies and perhaps reduce their chances of a title this year? If I’m a Colorado fan, no way. Go for the gold. They’re not gonna have a problem remaining excellent.

HALFTIME — Watch my favorite Callahan video of 2014:

[youtube Kg26w49S9ns 600 337]

Q: I want your opinion on the benefits of various rules for USA Ultimate, AUDL, and MLU, and your thoughts on which is best in a general setting vs highly competitive setting (e.g. The Callahan rule in MLU seems to go overboard; Having no observers at worlds lets games like Canada vs Japan happen). I don’t necessarily want you to get in the red zone with USAUltimate, MLU or AUDL by saying their rules are bad, but highlighting the benefits and drawbacks of the rule changes across ultimate in one article would be interesting.

– Ryan S.

A: I like this question. I like this question a lot. The pro leagues are doing a lot of experimenting with new rules, some of which are really cool to watch. Here’s a list of things I think the “official” rules of ultimate should include (most of which have been developed outside of USAU play). This all presumes that a third party official is on hand (whether observer or referee):

– Full subbing during timeouts
– Yardage penalties for infractions
– No stopping after infractions; players can freely move
– Whistled restarts of play; no more countdowns
– A bigger impact for TMFs and PMFs — stricter penalties
– Official-counted stalls
– Immediate referral on EVERYTHING; contested foul? Official makes a call. No more discussing or reenacting what happened
– All calls made by officials (except foul calls in observer system)

Notice that this retains the major facet of player control over the game — foul calls — but otherwise puts the burden on observers/referees to manage the game. Basically, I think the MLU/AUDL have a lot of good ideas about how to improve the rules. And I also have to shout out Mike Gerics and the UOA — he’s been harping about some of these changes for years.

I don’t think the bigger field is a great improvement. I’ll reserve judgement on the Callahan rule but it could be fun.

Q: Has the AUDL officially wrested front-runner status away from the MLU for professional Ultimate supremacy?

– Jeremy Z.

A: Got a lot of questions similar to this one, but Jeremy asked it on Twitter so he gets into the mailbag.

The diplomatic answer: both leagues are doing cool things in different ways. The controversial answer: the AUDL has way more momentum right now and may have more buzz and interest than the MLU heading into the season. The real answer: it doesn’t matter one bit.

Think about how many times people have said “the [     ] is in trouble” — fill in the blank with your choice of league. The AUDL was all but written off in late 2012 when the MLU spun off and the league was embroiled in a lawsuit with two of its teams. Then the MLU was the big dog but made some PR gaffes like the handling of the critical-of-the-Pulsar Brandon Malecek blog post. Then they went direct to the public with some questionable criticism of USA Ultimate and now the MLU is “in trouble.”

None of this matters — the fundamentals are clear: do these leagues have the money to survive and grow over the next ten years? Would you have guessed the AUDL would be where it is now two years ago? No. No chance. This stuff is complicated. The MLU still has much better overall teams on the East Coast. But the AUDL has the buzziest signings. What wins out? Beats me.

You know where players are going to go long-term? To whichever league pays them more. We’re already seeing that starting to happen.

Now for the question of the week and the winner of a free Ultiworld disc:

With the end of NCAA tournament, I got to thinking about the USAU championships. What would it look like if instead of the current format the national championships were just one big single elimination bracket. Not only would this make every game more exciting, but there could be more teams at the tournament. If each team only played 6 games, there could be a pool of 64 teams at the tournament. Wouldn’t it be awesome for some team like Northern Lights to upset Oregon in the first round and knock out the favorite?

Since USAU probably doesn’t have the field space to host 32 games at once, what if we made it so that the top teams get a bye into the second round and the botton 2/3rds have to play into it (similar to the qualifications tournaments for the NCAA tournament). This format seems like it would make every round more exciting, and it would make the tournament more accessible for everyone who doesn’t obsessively scour score reporter and Ultiworld.

– Zach S.

Can you imagine this? This would be pure fun. Do a seeding announcement show, game previews for every game, Cinderella stories, win-or-you’re-done.

Now I don’t think this is really a realistic event for USA Ultimate to put on for a variety of reasons. But consider this: the Ultiworld Invitational.

Here’s the vision: a relatively early season club tournament that tries to bring together as many of the best club teams in the country as possible for a seeded, straight bracket play tournament. We would stream as many games as possible, have a great party on Saturday, and offer fat prize money for the winners. We would use observers and experimental rules like the ones suggested above.

USA Ultimate will have to start calling it the Quadruple Crown Tour!

Seriously, though, how fun would that tournament be? Club captains, contact us if you would do this tournament. Not joking.


OK this was fun. I saved some questions for next week, but I need more, more, more! Send me questions at [email protected] or hit me on Twitter at @ceisenhood.

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