Sunday, October 20, 2013

Quick Thoughts on USAU Nationals

As I sit here on a Saturday afternoon at home, freshly off the plane from Frisco, I wanted to put down some quick thoughts from this year's USAU National Championship.  For a little context I have served as Chain Lightning's consultant this season.  It isn't really a coaching position, but for USAU Nationals I was listed as a "coach."  My role was really to chirp in the ears of the captains with ideas and occasionally talk to the team.  I showed up to Nationals on Thursday in the middle of Chain's second round game against Machine and stayed until Saturday morning before all of the Semi-Finals.  That schedule left me in the dark on some things, so the following opinions are not entirely informed opinions.  I will apologize in advance for any facts I get wrong.  These are just things that popped in my head during the flight.

-First, the site was very good.  Each field getting its own small soccer field was excellent and provided ample room to move through and between fields.  Having them in a grid was much better than in a long line for getting from field to field.  Since I was spending my time between games trying to find friends and catching up that was appreciated.  There was plenty of room for vendors and other things around the fields.  This was probably the best tournament site I have every been to.

-Having five rounds on Thursday seemed fine.  It was a little strange that there were people on byes wandering around, but that was generally nice because you could see your friends.  It was a little strange that not everyone was playing because some people left when they were done playing.

-There were a handful of elements about that tournament that weren't about the tournament.  At some point USAU was touting a group of middle (?) school kids that came in on a bus to watch games.  While I think it was cool that these middle schoolers came in on a weekday to watch it felt like I was hearing about it from USAU a little more than would casually happen.

-In general USAU felt (or perhaps feels) a little to self-serious.  There was apparently some tiffs about the captain's meeting that seemed silly and unnecessary.  There were multiple times that it felt like the level of seriousness was getting ramped up faster that I personally was ready for.  

-Playing a game that starts at 7:30 pm felt strange.  While the game was still "important" for reasons I'll get to later, one of the really strange elements was what it meant to end so late.  The game wasn't over until 9:30, which meant we didn't get home until 10:30 so our clocks were all sorts of messed up.  Not that it really mattered, but after a little bit at home we realized it was already 1 am and we had just finished "dinner."  Late games are not fun.

-I don't think my earlier argument that Thursday games had less value was supported as the day wound down.  It looked and felt like everyone played hard every game.  While there were some major movement in the pools I don't think anyone did that intentionally.

-Interesting fact:  In each division the pool winners advanced to the semis.  I don't know when the last time that happened, but it feels really strange and has a unclear significance.  I think you could look at this two ways.  On one hand it lends more significance to Thursday's games because finishing at the top of your pool (Henry Thorne will deservedly be happy about that) has a distinct advantage.  On the other hand, does it give too easy a road to the pool winner and therefore force more accurate seeding going into the tournament?  It feels pretty clear that the advantage of playing an easy pre-quarters by winning your pool is pretty strong.  Not a single quarters game had an upset and usually the pool winner won by 2-4.  Was this because the 2 seeds from each pool (or 3 seed in case of Machine) were so gassed from their pre-quarters?  Hard to say at this point.  Still, all quarters games going to chalk in all divisions is strange.

-Non-surprising fact:  The consolation game format was, for lack of a better word, dumb.  While it had been argued about since it was originally released (only a handful of weeks ago) once teams were eliminated from the quarters it again came into light how strange that format was.  The losers of the quarters were segmented by their regular season rankings.  The top two would automatically play a 5-6 game, while the bottom two would get a by in a quarter-final bracket for 7th.  I don't remember the last time previous data was used in the middle of a tournament to decide placement into a bracket.  In this case Chain and Sub Zero were immediately placed behind Machine and Doublewide based on regular season results.  Actually, not even on regular season results, but regular season rankings.  If it were based on results Chain was 2-1 against Machine at that point.  So Machine and Doublewide are automatically in the Pro Flight while Sub Zero and Chain both had no chance to fight for a potential 5th bid to Worlds.  Maybe looking at it this way will help: once Chain and Sub Zero were set in the quarters, there was never a way for them to finish 5th or 6th.  The options for them were 1-4 or 7-10.  That feels strange.

-Seeding REALLY matters:  The last two items make me feel like they have to get seeding correct going into the tournament.  I don't think they did a bad job this year, but since it plays such a role in determining who is likely to make quarters and then again who is going to get placed where in consolation brackets, there can't be the common mistakes with tournament seeding or regular season ranking.  Both of those systems are going to need some reworking because their failsafe mechanism (power pools for nationals ranking gaffes) has been removed.

-I'm fairly positive that USAU achieved what seemed like its #1 goal: visibility.  I'm confident that there were more spectators at this Nationals compared to last year, although I would love to see numbers to back this up (and have no doubt that USAU will be tweeting those out if the have them and are "good").  That there were more people and press paying attention to ultimate is great.

-Mike Couzens is much taller than I thought.  The height difference between he and Evan Lepler is significant and now I see it every time they are on TV.

-Seeing all of the U23 players at the tournament was great.  I think Ian was the only person I wasn't able to find.  They are wonderful people and I love them all very much.