Ravi argues for a big change to the EUCF!
September 26, 2019 by Ravi Vasudevan in Opinion with 0 comments
The EUCF is coming up and while the level of the tournament has been improving a lot over the years, there is a step that the European Ultimate Federation needs to consider taking: they should move to evenly sized divisions. Right now, the tournament accepts 24 men’s teams, 12 women’s teams, and 12 mixed teams. I believe that it is time to change to 16 teams per division.
To many who are not in Europe, it may seem weird that the EUCF didn’t simply start out that way. For a long time, the EUCF has invited 12 women’s teams to attend the EUCF, and there have sometimes been issues filling even those spots. In 2015, only 10 women’s teams attended, while the Men’s Division was able to find 24 teams willing to compete. While it is certainly true that there are far more men’s clubs right now that could field teams to go to the EUCF than mixed and women’s ones, I still think that it is high time that the Men’s Division takes a hit in numbers to let more women’s and mixed teams play. Let’s get into why.
This is not about fairness
I am going to leave fairness out of this piece. Balancing the support of women’s development with the reality of a much larger player base in men’s right now is an important issue, to be sure. However, I will leave that question of fairness alone for now as it is a very complex issue that warrants its own article. This article will focus on why, from a competitive standpoint, 16 teams each is better for each division.
The women’s division can field 16 compelling teams
As previously mentioned, the EUCF couldn’t field 10 women’s teams in 2015. Back then, the central region did not send a single team to the EUCF. In 2014, Iceni crushed the field giving up only ten points in the final. The division was not very competitive back then, to put it lightly. However, in the last four years, there has been massive growth in the level of women’s club ultimate in Europe. Teams from all over Europe have stepped up in a huge way. Though it is hard to pinpoint exactly where that came from, youth development and initiatives like the EuroStars Tour have definitely pushed the division in the right direction.
Looking at the field this year, the women’s division has more teams than any other that have a shot at competing for gold. Furthermore, the teams that would fill the four additional spots for women’s, if the division was extended to 16 teams, would be very compelling to watch and could compete with some of the better teams in the division. The women’s teams who were the first to fall short of qualifying for the EUCF: FABulous (South), Bristol (West), Troubles (East), Southwest (North), and Aarhus (Central). Aside from Aarhus, all of these teams have competed at least once in the EUCF before, and none of these teams would be out of place competing this year. Even past those teams, there are others like Freespeed (South), box (East) and Woodchicas (Central) who would be competitive as well.
There are more than enough women’s teams that would not detract from the quality of the tournament and would, in fact, add to the drama and storylines of the tournament if they were included. The tournament would, in short, be better if four out of the teams that I listed here were added to the tournament from a competition and fan standpoint.
Men’s does not need 24 teams
It is silly for the men’s division to field 24 teams. There are only 16 teams at USA Nationals, which has a larger player base than Europe and is a more elite event than the EUCF. Looking at the field this year, a reduction to 16 teams would mean that the following teams wouldn’t be attending: Crazy Dogs, Alba, Rampage, Mooncatchers, Mojra, Cotarica, Flying Steps, KFK. (This isn’t totally fair, since those teams may have restructured their strategy at their EUCRs if they knew they were fighting in a region with fewer bids, but those are the bottom eight seeded teams from this year.)
The vast majority of these teams will not be very competitive with the top teams at the EUCF. There are a couple teams in there that may have a chance to make a splash, but I think the tournament seems a bit bloated right now and would be improved if the men’s division were cut down to 16 teams. With only 16, almost all the teams would be contenders for the top eight, which is not the case right now. Furthermore, the best women’s teams being left out of the EUCF right now would be more competitive in their division than these men’s teams that would be left out if the men’s division were reduced by eight teams.
16 teams make for a better format
Recently, the EUF changed the men’s, 24-team format to make six peer pools of four.1 As they only want to move 16 teams to the bracket, this leaves the tournament with a sticky situation where the four “best third place teams” move on, while the other two third place teams move out of contention. The third place teams are ranked primarily on how many wins you have against the top teams in your pool, but then it is based on seeding. This format can lead to some fairly unsatisfying results and flies in the face of this being a new tournament where everyone has a fresh slate and an equal chance to move from each phase to the next. Something about seeding having an effect on how you move from one phase of the tournament to the next just sits wrong with me.
The 12-team divisions currently use two six-team pools, where the top two from each pool move to semis. With the semi-random pool drawings, this format can fairly easily lead to a situation where the third best team at the tournament can be relegated to fifth place because the three best teams are in the same pool.
16 teams makes for a great format: USA Nationals proves this year in and year out. You start with four pools of four and play out pool play on Friday. Pool winners would move straight to quarterfinals and the second and third place teams would play in a prequarter on Saturday morning. Then the tournament could have quarters and semis to finish out Saturday and finals on Sunday. This format is much cleaner and leaves a lot of wiggle room for seeding mistakes since even teams that finish third in their pool are still in bracket contention for the next round.
The elephant in the room: Mixed
If you’ve read this far, you may notice that I haven’t talked much about mixed yet. Mixed is tricky. It was only introduced regularly to the EUCF in 2014.2 It is still the least developed division and the one with the most variance. Favorites this year, PuTi and Salaspils, are basically brand new teams, and it would not surprise me if they didn’t exist as mixed teams next year.3 Teams that have been very successful in the past like SeE64 and Colorado5 chose not to play the series this year. I am also not very convinced that adding four more teams would add much to the competitive landscape of the tournament. Out of the teams that were first out at EUCR this year, I think that Reading (West) would likely be the only really competitive team that could give some of the top teams in the division competitive games.
So I am a little torn as for what should be done with mixed. I think that 16 teams would show up. Perhaps just to make things clean, those spots could be offered even if that doesn’t add much to the competitive landscape. I would also be okay with a transition year with 12 mixed, 16 women’s and 20 men’s teams, though a format with 20 teams in a three day tournament is not nearly as easy as a 16-team tournament.
If we assume a 48 team cap for the EUCF, then 16 teams per division means a more competitive EUCF. By more competitive, I mean that more teams can play closer with the top teams in their respective division. More of the games throughout the tournament will be compelling to follow and intense to play. There are many other aspects like development, regional diversity, etc. that need to be weighed when making this decision. However, from the competitive and fan standpoint, more women’s teams and fewer men’s ones would enhance the tournament. The split would result in better formats for the each division as well. Finally, I’ll let my mask slip a bit. I do think it is better for the development of women’s ultimate to let more women’s teams compete at the EUCF.
With all of this, it seems like a no brainer that the EUF should make a move to evenly sized divisions as early as 2020.
Previously there were two elite pools of four and four challenger pools of four, which made for a much nicer format ↩
Before then mixed was only included every four years in the xEUCF which happened on the years where WUGC, WUCC and EUC didn’t occur ↩
Salaspils did play the EUCF as a mixed team back in 2013, but since then has only played in the men’s division ↩
First place last year ↩
Second place at EUCF 2017 ↩