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New Formats at Regionals Seek to Reduce Total Games Played

Reducing the number of games played at tournaments may be a permanent change.

Action From The USA Ultimate Pro Flight Finale.
Photo by Micah Tapman — CBMT Creative.

A much-discussed wrinkle to this year’s Club Regional Championships has been the introduction of new formats. Some regional tournaments — most notably in the Northwest and Northeast — had teams playing “mini-brackets” with crossover games to determine Sunday’s championship and back-door brackets, as opposed to the traditionally used pool play or double elimination brackets.

USA Ultimate’s Formats Manual, last updated in 2008, offers tournament organizers specific formats to use for almost every postseason tournament scenario, but many of this year’s formats deviated from the published formats. The goal, says USA Ultimate Director of Communications Andy Lee, was to reduce the number of games played in order to reduce the risk of injury as players ramp back to competition coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lee provided this statement to Ultiworld about this year’s approach to formatting Regional tournaments:

We’ve been considering the idea of reducing the maximum number of games suggested for tournament formats for the last couple of years. During the pandemic, we started an internal review process to evaluate our Formats Manual and determine potential areas for adjustment and improvement. We already have recommendations for reduced numbers of games for youth formats, which have existed for a number of years, and we planned to consider similar concepts for scheduling at all levels.

In our return to play from the pandemic earlier this year, our Medical Working Group recommended that players, coaches, and organizers take a phased approach to returning to activity. With this in mind, we created schedules for summer events that took into account the need to return to activity slowly, to account for reduced conditioning among our athletes and to help reduce the risk of injury. This is consistent with the recommendations in our Return to Play Guidance. Players and organizers at this summer’s events will likely recognize the experimentation we did with formats, motivated in large part by a self-imposed max limit of three games per day in our schedules.

As we prepared for the fall series, we revisited this issue with our medical advisors. While there was less focus on the COVID return to play issues, they still made a general recommendation to consider scaling back the amount of scheduled play prescribed in some of our series formats. As a result, we specifically focused on formats where 5 games were required in a day or 8 games required in a weekend, looking to reduce maximums to 4 games per day (leaning towards 3 where possible) and to 7 games on the weekend (leaning towards 6 where possible).

Our staff and a group of volunteer formats experts (Adam Tarr and Florian Pfender, to whom we owe a great deal of gratitude), who helped write the current manual, spent an enormous amount of time and energy identifying the formats to focus on and working through alternatives that balanced the focus on reducing the heaviest playing schedules while still maintaining competitive fairness and creating an overall positive event experience. During the series, competitive fairness is especially important, as qualification is on the line, and consideration was given to many details, including but not limited to the impact of seeding, point totals, the order of games, the scheduling of byes, and the various points at which teams would qualify for the next level or be eliminated.

Knowing that anything new can be a challenge, and that many of these changes were going to come as a surprise to both teams and organizers, we tried to bring specific recommendations to event organizers that had been pre-vetted. However, we also took feedback from organizers to further adjust and make compromises based on that feedback and based on event specific circumstances, such as field availability and other logistical issues. We recognize that a lot of this came relatively late, and that was not ideal. However, there’s a lot about this year that has required flexibility on everyone’s part. We also believe that building on our experience from this summer, and taking advantage of that work, offered an opportunity to make progress in line with health and safety recommendations and with a direction we are intending to go with our formats for the future.

We plan to do the same kind of work with the College Series, which has been communicated to college coordinators. We look forward to hearing feedback about the schedules and will continue the work in the coming year to make more comprehensive changes to the manual and our scheduling standards, not only with health and safety in mind, but with other ways in which we can improve the tournament experience for participating teams, spectators, and organizers.

Feedback on the formats from players and teams has been mixed. Changes were not communicated until the release of the formats, in some cases less than 48 hours before Regionals started. Additionally, USA Ultimate’s Score Reporter page is inadequate at displaying the atypical schedules in a way that makes sense, and the mobile app — normally great for viewing tournament schedules — simply didn’t show some games’ results, leading to confusion about how the formats worked.

Riot coach Gwen Ambler tweeted yesterday about the unusual schedule in the Northwest women’s region:

The typical format for a seven-team Regional with three teams advancing is full round robin (six games per team) and then bracket play (finals for the top two teams, both teams qualify; the next four teams play in a semis/finals bracket with the winner taking the third bid). That would mean every team would play four games on day one and some would play four games on day two. In the 2021 format, teams played four games on day one and a maximum of three on day two.

Schedules for this weekend’s Regional tournaments — Southeast, Southwest, and Great Lakes — have not been posted as of press time.

  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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