Mailbag: Pro Flight Finale, USAU Rankings, Worlds

Charlie is back from Spain and ready to spout controversial opinions in the Mailbag.

Spain's Sierra Nevada National Park.
Spain’s Sierra Nevada National Park, where I contemplated this week’s Mailbag.

After a much needed vacation, I’m back in New York and ready for the club postseason and the start of college 2015. Here’s this week’s Mailbag!

Q: The Pro Flight Finale was even more wild than last year with big upsets on both Saturday and Sunday and a generally poor showing from top teams like Revolver and Johnny Bravo. Is there more parity than we thought this season?

– Jim G.

A: First, some disclosure. I was on vacation in Spain during the Pro Flight Finale. Much of what I know about the tournament I know from Alec Surmani and Keith Raynor‘s reporting for Ultiworld, some conversations with players, and the little bit of footage I’ve watched. It is not my most informed perspective.

However, I feel very confident in saying that reading much into these results is a glaring mistake. Did you notice something? In the Men’s Division, the three Worlds teams that went deep into the bracket — Revolver, Sockeye, and Johnny Bravo — all had subpar results? Did you notice that Ironside — bitter and motivated after Worlds — reached the finals? That Machine, a team hungry to prove itself, took home the title?

Let’s not forget that the story last year was even wilder, with GOAT sliding through the Sunday bracket to a tournament crown with fewer than 18 healthy bodies. Then they got stomped at Nationals.

If you think that this tournament was significant, from a results standpoint, for the ‘big three,’ you need to take a step back. They are coming off of a physically and mentally taxing week across the globe and surely took weeks off of practice. This was essentially a tune-up tournament for the 2nd half of their season. If you are thinking about fading these teams in your pick-em brackets for Nationals, you will likely pay a heavy price.

So what should we take away?

– Machine is a legitimate semis contender. I do not see them reaching the finals.
– Ironside has significantly improved their defensive playmaking and, despite a quiet year so far, will be very dangerous come October.
– Brute Squad is the real deal and Emily Baecher has to be feeling quite content after winning gold with Riot in Lecco and then stomping out Riot in the PFF finals. I’m waiting for Keith to write the Baecher column. She’s crushing it.
– Johnny Bravo hasn’t really figured it out yet. It’s a bit concerning if you’re a Denver fan. Consecutive losses to Sockeye, Machine, Revolver, and Doublewide to close out the weekend. Reality check. Yes, I am somewhat contradicting myself. It’s sort of like preseason NFL football; it doesn’t mean anything, unless it does.

Q: What do you make of the USA Ultimate rankings and the bid allocation?

– Emma R.

A: Hoo boy.

This topic was very well-covered on Ultiworld last week, with a news piece, a column about changing the bid allocation system to potentially include a human element, a Q&A with USA Ultimate, and a column about using the previously shot-down idea of SUPER REGIONALS.

What do I think? As is often the case, I’ve already run my mouth about it in the past! Here’s an excerpt from a short column I wrote in early 2013 regarding college rankings:

USA Ultimate’s rankings need some human input. I believe there is enough coverage of the sport at this point that journalists, coaches, and experts could put in ballots that would help balance out some of the marginal “mistakes” that the rankings seem to make.

I don’t think there should be an expectation that people need to have seen every team on tape to be able to make a solid top 25 ranking…

While that would be great, and would possibly make a difference in rankings, I don’t think most coaches and players who vote in the BCS rankings are sitting down and watching hours of tape about teams across the country in a different conference. They’re looking at results — game scores and margins — just like the computer.

There would obviously need to be some work done to get the right structure set up to make this work. But a human element in the USAU rankings is critical to the fairest distribution of bids.

I can already hear the howls!

But think about it. Why do people balk when they see Pittsburgh Temper earning a second bid for the Mid Atlantic? Have they seen them play? (Probably not.) More likely, they see their results (uninspiring) and look holistically at results of other teams that could be in the top 16 and say, ‘Hey, Temper shouldn’t get a bid.’ Many other teams have a more impressive resume. How in the world is the Southwest only getting one bid, after the season that the Santa Barbara Condors had?

To be frank, I don’t think you need full information to make informed and reasonable decisions about those final few bid cutoffs on a subjective ballot. I think combining those ballots with computer rankings would create a more fair allocation of bids. It’s that simple.

I’m definitively NOT saying it’s easy. I quickly sat down to try to pick a top 16 ballot that I might have submitted — it would have taken me more time than I was willing to put in for this mailbag. There are a number of teams on the bubble that have mixed results that could be interpreted in a number of ways. It will never be “perfect” (whatever that even means). But why are we settling for bizarro outcomes with perverse incentives right now? Just so we can throw up our hands and say, ‘It’s the computer’s fault!’?

Q: As ultimate grows, do you expect to see super regions or a larger Nationals team pools to accommodate the growing # of teams?

– Jonathan M.

A: I do expect some changes to the Triple Crown Tour. There are some pretty glaring holes. This has been a hugely disappointing club season, I think, in terms of having big, meaningful regular season games. Two of the “best” tournaments — the US Open and Chesapeake — were so early as to be tryout tournaments for some teams. The Pro Flight Finale was stunted because of Worlds and I think should have some sort of qualification aspect (maybe the Elite-Select Challenge winner gets to play at PFF?).

But growing Nationals doesn’t seem like the right solution right now. Maybe you can make the case for the Men’s Division. But certainly not for Women’s or Mixed, where teams 16-20 just aren’t at the level of the teams above them.

Fix the regular season first, then worry about the postseason (which continues to be drama-filled and exciting, especially with the new Nationals format).

As a side note, lumping in the Mixed Division into the TCT needs  a rethink. The Northwest has three (!) bids. What?? Even they know that’s ridiculous! There’s not enough interregional games. That’s where the algorithm goes to die.

Q: Given all of the complaints about Worlds (and rumors about it being a financial windfill for the TDs), should WFDF and/or the tournament organizers open the financial books?

– Alan R.

A: No brainer here. 100% yes. I think WFDF should disclose as much as they possibly can. The rumor mill has been buzzing about what looked like significantly over-priced aspects of the tournament.

Even if the pricing structures for things like food and housing were reasonable, there are way too many questions for this to just go away quietly. With many teams spending many thousands of euros to attend the tournament, the community deserves to know how that money is being used.

This is supposed to be a marquee international event, and even WFDF admits it was really quite poor.

But WFDF does not control the pursestrings (although that will be changing). So it may be out of WFDF’s hands. Pressure to release the financials would have to then fall directly to Max Vitali and the tournament organizing committee, UltimatEvents.

Q: What did Michelle Ng do to anger the rain gods?

– Jen B.

I don’t know, but she should probably starting hosting all her tournaments in California to at least create some positive externalities.

For those that don’t know, Michelle Ng is one of the tireless tournament organizers in the United States. She runs Without Limits, an organization dedicated to growing women’s ultimate by improving access to tournaments for smaller, less-developed teams. She also ran Heavyweights, a huge club tournament outside of Chicago.

It has been a comedy of weather errors for her throughout 2014. Listen to this interview I did with her during the college season.

Q: Was it wrong of Morgan Hibbert to leave Furious George to play with GOAT during the Series?

– Jon S.

A: Well it was certainly surprising. Hibbert’s been the face of Vancouver for many years and looked totally locked in with Furious at Worlds.

But he wants to win. You can’t blame him for that. Furious is years away from winning again; GOAT is probably as good as they’ve ever been. Hibbert only has a couple more years of elite level play in him.

In many ways, it feels like a midseason defection, and I’m sure there are many in Vancouver who are very upset about his move. But the run-up to Worlds is its own season, with its own finale. Just as we saw with the Pro Flight Finale, the Worlds teams are basically starting a new season. It doesn’t seem inappropriate to leave at that point.

***

Be sure to email me your Mailbag questions at charlie@ultiworld.com or hit me up on Twitter, @ceisenhood.

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