Mailbag: Club Parity, Time Caps, Penalties, And Profanity

Charlie Eisenhood dips into his Club Nationals mail this week.

Rhino's Cody Bjorklund.
Photo by Scobel Wiggins — UltiPhotos.com

I’m catching up on Club Nationals in my Mailbag this week! IF you have questions for a future mailbag, drop me a line at charlie@ultiworld.com or @ceisenhood on Twitter.

Q: This year I felt we saw an increase in parity in the Men’s Division. Time and time again, Worlds and the Triple Crown Tour schedule were given as reasons this might not have been the case. Given the way Nationals played out, do you now think the upsets of three of the top four seeds is more of an increase in parity in Men’s or simply a demonstration of a potentially volatile tournament format that rewards the team that is hottest at that time?

I know that USA Ultimate wants an exciting tournament, but are they in favor of a format that clearly makes it more likely that big, known teams are not playing come Saturday and Sunday? Do you think USAU will tinker with the Nationals format in 2015?

-Charlie C.

A: First of all, let me say this: I unabashedly love the Nationals format as it currently exists. Don’t deny that you were riveted by the action on Friday! Sockeye goes down. Machine goes down. Revolver goes down. It was great drama and really breathed life into a tournament that was relatively low-energy on Thursday.

I think it is also far too early to render judgment on this format aside from your immediate emotional reactions. Does it do the most to crown the best team? Probably not. You’d want a seven game series to do that. Does it work well enough? Probably.

Don’t forget that just last year, all four pool winners in the Men’s Division made the semis. “Pool play matters!” everyone said. This year? Grumble, grumble, pool play is meaningless.

The only truly “shocking” upset from my perspective was Rhino over Sockeye. Seattle has just owned Portland for so long that for them to lose in that game with so much on the line is really a big surprise.

Ring over Machine and GOAT over Revolver? Those just can’t be called surprises. Both of the underdogs had well above average success against those two teams over the past few years. As is now well documented, Ring of Fire has absolutely dominated Machine over the past five years. Machine has never beaten Ring. Ever. That has to tell you something, despite disparate regular season results against common opponents.

GOAT is 3-0 v. Revolver this year and last. The San Francisco team does not know what to do with Mark Lloyd.

Is this is a sign of parity? Sure, of course it is. A team like Rhino is much better now than they have been in the past, buoyed by good leadership and excellent young talent. The win over Seattle was not some fluky, crazy, once-in-a-lifetime win. They played to their potential, and Sockeye didn’t play so great. Simple as that.

But just as much as the overall talent continues to rise across the continent, matchups matter. Some teams are just well suited to beat other teams, even teams that look subjectively much “better” than them in the W-L columns. Part of that is coaching, part of that is simply personnel and style. Just as Revolver has Bravo’s number, GOAT appears to have Revolver’s. Put those three in a round robin pool — it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them all come out the other side with a 1-1 record.

I think part of this year’s Nationals was a level of complacency, a lack of mental preparation, and too much looking ahead. Sockeye’s coach was scouting Revolver, not Rhino, on Thursday afternoon. Beau Kittredge was resting a lot, maybe too much. Machine appears to be mentally weak in a major way.

Would it shock me to see those teams back in the semis next year? Not one bit. They are immensely talented, but, just like every other team, they’ve got to take it one game at a time.

Q: How do you feel about switching the order of the TCT tournaments so that the Pro Flight event is earlier in the year and the Pro-Elite event or the Select-Elite event is the last weekend of the regular season? Pro Flight teams don’t have much on the line at that point, but the Elite and Select teams are fighting for the last few strength bids and could presumably provide more exciting games and hopefully inject some drama into the regular season.

– Patrick S.

A: Something’s gotta give. This year’s club season was just a mess. Partly that was due to Worlds, but partly because of the timing of tournaments.

Having two major tournaments (US Open and Pro-Elite Challenge) in early July is just a recipe for a bunch of boring games between skeleton rosters and tryout teams. The US Open was a little better this year because the US teams in attendance were all heading to Worlds, but it still really lacks fire.

The problem is that the impending move of Nationals towards September or earlier (?!) just hasn’t happened yet. So there’s a wide gulf between regular season tournaments and the all-important Series. I personally like having the Pro Flight Finale late, because teams care more. Right, teams? Right?!

Club’s in a weird place right now with the regular season. I am open to many ideas to improve the potency of early season tournaments. How about an obscenely large cash prize or a free trip to Hawaii or something.

Here’s a random fun idea: let’s create a new tournament — I’m definitely stealing this idea from somewhere but I don’t remember where — in which the final strength bid is reserved and the teams that lose in the game-to-go all get together and duke it out in straight bracket play to decide the last team into Nationals. That would be great TV — we’ll stream it.

Q: Assuming that this type of cap structure stays in place during televised ESPN games, how do you envision clock management coming into play for future Nationals games? Do you think teams were actively thinking about clock management this year? It seems like there are lots of ways for teams to exploit this strategically, whether it is trying to draw out conversations about calls (obviously not a fair strategy), or running a more “clock killing” offense like NFL teams do.

– Jeanette C.

A: I already talked at length about the cap rules on a recent podcast — go check it out.

The short version: the soft/hard cap system is archaic. Why pretend we are playing a game to a score total when in fact we are playing a timed game. Let’s stop the charade, put a clock on the game, make any necessary tweaks (like soccer’s ‘stoppage time’ to avoid intentional delays), and play to the clock strikes zero.

If this creates new “clock killing” offenses, fine! There are risks to that strategy, just as there are in the NFL. Are you going to be content to dump it back 50 yards into your own endzone? That puts a lot of pressure on the handlers.

I would prefer thoughtful clock management to the more ad hoc, “now the hard cap is on!” zaniness we have right now. From a fan/media perspective, I prefer the pressure of a ticking clock to the random anticipation of an air horn.

Q: At Nationals, observers seemed quick to penalize teams for profanity (3 TMF’s in semis for Bravo?), but not-so-quick to penalize teams for bids that led to dangerous collisions.

An example of the observers’ misplaced priorities occurred in the GOAT-Bravo semifinals. During the first Bravo O point in the second half, Sean Keegan makes an in-cut that leads to a collision with a poaching GOAT defender, who has to be helped off the field. Keegan muffs the catch due to the dangerous bid, and calls a foul that the observers overrule. Someone on Bravo gets a TMF for profanity.

To me, this is completely backwards — USAU Observers should be using TMFs to prioritize protecting player safety over the far-more-trivial pursuit of cleaning up player language for their ESPN broadcasts. An argument could also be made that other bids in this game should have warranted observer warnings. Even when a player was clearly injured as the result of a slightly late bid (Peterson/Lloyd), TMF’s were holstered. What are your thoughts on the way that TMF’s & PMF’s were handed out at Nationals? What role do they play in promoting player safety?

Disclaimer: I don’t think of any of the players in the incidents cited above did anything “unspirited” or intentionally dangerous.

– Peter K.

A: 100% agree. 100%.

I’m not a big fan of the profanity TMFs generally, as you shouldn’t be miking players during broadcasts to catch that kind of language in the first place. You don’t get penalties in pro sports for language unless it’s maliciously directed at a referee or an opponent. Secondly, the directive to make profanity TMF calls came only at Nationals and frustrated everyone because it was out of nowhere and far too punitive.

I’ve been a long-time advocate of more policing of ‘dangerous’ fouls — I think there should be swifter consequences and a quicker whistle, or card in this case. Frankly, you should probably get some sort of penalty even for making a crap call. I still feel that the lack of real penalties continues to enable dangerous plays and bad calls.

How often do you see yardage penalties happen during games? It’s extremely rare. At Nationals, there were some, but mostly because of language! That’s ridiculous.

From Tad Wissel’s write up of a pool play game between GOAT and Ring of Fire:

GOAT receiver Justin Foord got fouled on a huck going downwind. He was a little shaken up and cursed. The foul was upheld, but the observers get him on a profanity technical, the team’s third.

So Toronto has to walk the disc back 80 yards to the middle of their own end zone — after getting fouled.

This happened a couple other times to Toronto for big yards. They were about 15 yards out of Ring’s upwind end zone but got sent back to their own end zone on an F bomb.

“I get that [USA Ultimate] wants the language cleaned up. I respect that. But to impose it on the final tournament of the year without precedent in-season is a little bit offputting,” said 10 year GOAT veteran Phil Watanabe.

When asked if he’d ever seen anything like it, the 43 year-old Watanabe gave a quick, “Never. Especially in a self officiated game.”

Yuck.

Q: After seeing the Nationals results, what city is the best at ultimate in the country?

– Jack D.

A: I’ll still take San Francisco every time, even if they ended up with a disappointing 2014. The depth of talent there is outrageous, and there are dozens of players you’ve never heard of that are great. The city supports two top women’s teams including the most dominant team of the last decade, the most dominant men’s team of the last five years, and more than a handful of very good mixed teams with a lot of hardware between them.

Seattle is up there, Boston is up there, Toronto is rising fast, Boulder obviously very good, Chicago. Lots of good ultimate cities. But where Brooklyn at? 🙁

Send me questions for the Mailbag at charlie@ultiworld.com or @ceisenhood on Twitter!

  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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