New Tiered YCC Format Draws Criticism

Lower-seeded teams won't have a shot at the title in some divisions.

YCC 2015 Medal Ceremony. Photo: Alex Fraser —

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The new tiered format of the Youth Club Championships is under fire this week because teams seeded below 16th are no longer able to compete for the 1st place Championship game.

The format — which was broadly outlined in a document sent out by USA Ultimate to youth organizers in the spring — places teams into tiered groups of eight (two pools of four) instead of doing traditional snake seeding. Each grouping can play up or down a tier — so seeds 9-16, e.g., can finish as high as first or as low as 16th and seeds 17-24 can finish as high as ninth or as low as 30th.

While this format departs from the traditional idea, outlined in the organization’s format manual, that “every team must get an equal chance and there should be as much independence from seeding as possible,” YCC’s continued growth, lack of qualifying tournaments, and huge variance in team quality have made formatting quite challenging.

“While there are some tradeoffs with these format changes, we are confident of a high net benefit for teams and the event,” reads the document sent out by USAU. “The high quality of games between teams at similar levels will make for a great experience, while the flexibility to move up or down will still give teams the opportunity to outperform their initial seeding. This schedule will also allow for a reasonable time for athletes to rest and recover between games, and provides flexibility for teams to watch other games at the event, including fellow youth teams as well as the best domestic and international club teams in the world. Finally, the schedule allows us to organize the event in a manner that better accommodates growth.”

The rationale has not quelled criticism from many online who see the new format as unfair, especially to new teams (who have been consistently seeded low) and teams who may have underperformed last year (the previous year’s performance is the biggest driver of the current seeding).

Michael Gentile, coach of the Philly Forge U20 Mixed team1, wrote on Reddit, “It is a grueling thing for a coach to witness their players’ heartbreak after a final, tough loss in a competitive environment. It is wholly another to witness that heartbreak a week before the very first game.

“To my mind, this pre-elimination nonsense (i.e. best finish 9th for lower ranked teams) goes against everything USAU claims to stand for, and which USAU demands of its membership: fairplay, sportsmanship, competitive play, mutual respect, adherence to the agreed upon rules, and general inclusion, equity, and checking privilege.”

Former USAU (then-UPA) Director of Youth Development Kyle Weisbrod was also critical.

“Speaking as someone who was involved in the creation of YCC: I think power pools are fine if they are based on league structure but not on last year’s performance,” he wrote. “What I mean is that if USAU has some target structure/relationship that they want to incentive (e.g. fully sanctioned league with over 100 active players) it seems fine to have a Top division for teams from leagues that meet that standard and a 2nd division for teams from leagues that do not meet that standard and B-teams from leagues that do.

“In addition to feeling for the players who committed to attend YCC, thought they had a shot at a championship, and now don’t before they even step on the field, my concern is how it impacts leagues/teams that do poorly in future years. If my team doesn’t do well this year will my league/team draw the best players the following year knowing that they’ll already be relegated to a lower division? It just doesn’t seem like a very growth oriented structure.”

USAU Director of Athlete and Competition Programs Will Deaver explained that the growth of the division is exactly why the changes have been put into place. “The sheer size of some of these divisions this year, and in anticipation of future years, is one of the main reasons we are trying a new approach,” he told Ultiworld. “Our hope is that it will be one that allows us to continue scale up to meet the demand for the event in a manageable way, focusing on groups of four and eight that can be plugged in as demand grows. But we’re going to see how it goes, learn from it, and adjust as needed. Regardless of whether we stick with this approach, an event with 90+ teams and multiple divisions of 16 teams or larger can’t be managed the same way as the much smaller events/divisions we had even a few years ago.”

Deaver also said that the new format effectively creates a Division I and Division II (for Divisions larger than 16 teams, which currently are only the U20 and U17 Boys). The winner of the 17th place bracket in the U20 Boys Division will be crowned the Div. II champion and will get a trophy (9th place is the Div. II champion in the U17 Division since it is smaller).

He added that the dual division structure will also help develop communities.

“Qualification/bid priority for the event is done primarily through local development benchmarks,” he said. “This has helped spur local growth in many places. This approach creates incentives for programs to develop over time, not just to put together a one-off team to play in one event. The idea that programs can work their way up or down through a format like this, from year to year, is in line with this general philosophy of program development. Of course we will continue to build playing structures beyond YCC that will also factor into seeding over time, and likely even qualification. But for now, we have enough data to know that programs almost always work their way up or down over the course of multiple years, and this format allows for and incentivizes that broader approach.”

“We do get that the change is tough, and that it’s an adjustment from the past,” he continued. “We are disappointed that the word didn’t filter out to the teams the way we had planned when we sent the invitation letter and format document. The whole intent of that letter was to make organizers/teams aware of our plans before they accepted their bids. We also sent a reminder out when we were asking for input on seeding prior to finalizing the schedule. We acknowledge that not realizing this was a possibility is a large part of the disappointment of some teams. And we’ll continue to work on our communication with teams as our events and their programs develop.”

The Youth Club Championships start on Saturday, August 5th, and run through Monday, August 7th.

  1. Philadelphia’s Mixed team is seeded 3rd, but the U20 Boys’ Division team is seeded 23rd and is therefore unable to play in the Championship bracket 

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