The Rich Get Richer: Talent Concentrating On Pro Flight Teams Under TCT

The top teams in the country are getting better at the expense of Elite and Select Flight teams under the new Triple Crown Tour. Get used to it.

Johnny Bravo and Doublewide take the line during the quarterfinals of the 2013 Club Championships.
Photo by CMBT Creative.

Back in 2012, when USA Ultimate announced the creation of the Triple Crown Tour and the tiered flights system, there were some concerns voiced about the possibility of the new format stifling the creation of new teams. That it would crystallize the existing powerhouse teams, making recruitment and sustaining the team far easier. Even with just one season in the books, it’s clear: it’s happening. And that’s exactly the point.

Not every team has announced a roster yet, but a glance around the Pro Flight teams shows a world of the rich getting richer. San Francisco Revolver is as talented as ever. Denver Johnny Bravo absorbed an astounding amount of talent, including stars from the east coast like Sean Keegan and Brett Matzuka. Chicago Machine poached three of Madison Club’s best players, including a captain of last year’s team.

The golden ticket teams get for making the pro flight goes beyond just being a good team. They get preferential treatment all season long in the form of better tournaments against the top teams. Suddenly, playing for a Select team just isn’t that enticing. Sure, you can go to Colorado Cup to play a handful of the upper level teams, but mostly you’ll be battling for bids against a selection of other lower level teams.

This being a Worlds year of course compounds the ‘talent sink’ effect — would Bravo have picked up so many stars if they weren’t headed to Lecco in August? Hard to say, but no matter how you slice it, we are seeing talent begin to concentrate even more at the top, even on non-Worlds teams like Machine.

The same thing is happening in the Women’s Division, though on a slightly smaller scale. Being in the top eight really isn’t enough to challenge for a title, so we see talent pooling on just a handful of teams: Washington DC Scandal, Seattle Riot, San Francisco Fury, Boston Brute Squad, and Austin Showdown. Look at a team like Chicago Nemesis, which had a great year and landed solidly in the Pro Flight: mass exodus. With players mostly heading to the teams in that list.

And notice the effect on teams in the Elite flight — those that qualified for Nationals but finished in the bottom eight. PoNY has become much more invested in development and combined tryouts with New York’s second men’s team, Young Bloods, this season. Ring of Fire absorbed Cash Crop, and the Triangle, while still volatile, is unifying with an eye on development. The teams are positioning for longevity and long-term success.

Don’t forget: this is all by design. USA Ultimate wants to solidify teams in big markets so that fans can get interested and stay interested. No more will you have to understand how Jam gave way for Revolver in the Bay Area. Revolver is the 2013 Triple Crown winner. That team is here to stay.

Does this mean innovation is dead? Of course not. New teams will still pop up and surprises will still happen at Regionals.

But don’t think that the concentration of talent like you see on Johnny Bravo this year is a fluke. As the prize money and the competition increases, the rich will keep getting richer.

  1. Charlie Eisenhood
    Charlie Eisenhood

    Charlie Eisenhood is the editor-in-chief of Ultiworld. You can reach him by email (charlie@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@ceisenhood).

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