On Monday, December 8th, USA Ultimate adopted new rules for the selection procedures for the USA National teams for the World Flying Disc Association’s (WFDF) World Ultimate and Guts Championships (WUGC). Starting in 2016, the national champion from the previous club season will no longer be the team which represents the USA on the world stage, as has been the precedent. Instead, to select the USA National teams for the Open, Mixed and Women’s divisions, there will be an application and tryout process; this is the exact same process that was used for the World Games team of 2013, U-23 and U-19 teams, and will be used for the upcoming WFDF World Championships of Beach Ultimate.
Cool, I have no problem with them moving to this format. No doubt the teams will now look much better on paper than in year’s past, and some of the other points that USAU uses in their press release will hold true. Competitive advantage? Probably, so check. Allows for participation of a wider selection of players, and more fairness? Check; now all players will be considered and not just those fortunate enough to be living in the cities that win the championships (see: San Francisco, usually). They also reference the fact that this will be a net-benefit for the greater ultimate community within the country, which I don’t know how you could disagree with. Locally, yes, there may be some negative side-effects to this, but overall this will be great for the country’s greater ultimate community.
One point that the press release makes is that this move “minimizes conflict between the WUGC event and the regular season of the Triple Crown Tour by removing an event from champion’s schedule.” I think this may have been a bigger deciding factor in this entire decision than USAU, or anyone else, is letting on. Now instead of, say, Revolver or Fury missing a huge portion of the TCT because of their participation in WUGC as Team USA, all teams can participate while their results may suffer because they’re missing a Beau Kittredge or an Alex Snyder. The release goes on to say that this move also helps the TCT because it is, “reducing the motivation for top players to migrate to a handful of top teams in a WUGC year.” Well, considering how many players migrated to Johnny Bravo this past season to win a championship and the fact that it succeeded, I’m not too sure how much of this migration is going to be reduced. Maybe the top players won’t have the money to migrate now? Who knows, but more on the money factor in a bit. The first point, I think, is definitely a much stronger one than the second; if USAU can ensure that the previous year’s national champion has to compete in all of the Triple Crown events, while simultaneously being able to field the best team at (and hopefully winning) WUGC, that’s a win-win.
Does this hurt the ‘chemistry’ factor that is so often talked about with the all-star international teams versus the club team picking up the slack? No, I don’t think it hurts the chemistry factor at all. That was perhaps the biggest talking point surrounding Team USA Basketball before the London Olympics, but the team showed us that under the best coach in the country, with the best players in the country, the team is going to win. It does bring in an interesting discussion that our northern friends have every Olympics for hockey though; do you bring in a player who would normally be on the fringe of making a team like this because of their great chemistry with star players? In the case of Team Canada, the question was surrounding Sidney Crosby’s partner-in-crime Chris Kunitz because Kunitz plays so damn well with Crosby. The answer for team general manager Steve Yzerman, was ultimately yes. Kunitz ended up scoring one of three goals for Canada in the gold-medal game over Sweden, and played a great group of games for the team leading up to it as well. Similar decisions will now have to be made in ultimate.
Does this have the potential to take away from the club season and the Triple Crown Tour? Josh Mullen, captain of Ring of Fire, tweeted at me with the idea that this move actually devalues the Triple Crown Tour and Club Nationals. The 2015 Club Nationals no longer has the value of being both the crown for the season and the opportunity to represent the USA, he said. I’m not sure if I agree, but having never played at that level, I’m not sure if I would be able to see it that way. Still, if players for elite-level club teams perceive this as an issue with the new process, than it is an issue.
However, the biggest question I have is, who the hell pays for this? Athletes within the USAU club system are already dishing out thousands of dollars to cover the costs of playing for their respective team within the Triple Crown Tour series. Now, on top of that cost, our most elite athletes are going to have to pay to (presumably) attend the tryout camps, training sessions, and then to attend WUGC (though I believe part of this cost is covered by USAU and the Foundation). This new system may be creating an unneeded and unnecessary cost burden on players that wasn’t there before. Will USAU seek sponsors for these teams, outside of jersey sponsorships that is? Or will more of the dues of recreational league, high school, and college players go towards supporting the most elite athletes within the USAU system?
Now, I do think this will severely hurt the professional leagues. Bullet point time:
- First, now the professional leagues have to schedule not only around the Triple Crown Tour and the college season for their events, but around the camps and training sessions for this event every four years. That’s going to make scheduling a helluva lot harder.
- Say they don’t take into account scheduling around the training weekends, then how does a league that all of last season was billing match-ups as a “Come see player X’s team face player Y’s team this weekend!” do that when player X and/or player Y are now not attending a large portion of events, or even not playing for a professional team that season, in order to play with Team USA?
- Now professional leagues can use this as a selling-point, something like “Come see player X who plays/played for Team USA!” so it can’t be all bad.
- Also on the good news for professional leagues, is that the rules state that you only have to have played in the USAU series for college or club the year prior. Meaning, random team that plays only in sectionals would qualify players who choose to only play in the professional leagues, for Team USA. It’s gaming the system. I could play for Team XYZ at sectionals, and lose out, and spend most of my ultimate playing time that year with one of the pro-leagues; that would still give me eligibility for the national team.
- Still, I think the scheduling aspect of this is the most hurtful for the professional leagues. While it may only be a handful of players nation-wide for these leagues, they are going to be the star players. Ultimate may not have reached the point that simply having a star player is going to be filling the seats as Lebron James may do, but it certainly isn’t going to help them by not having those players in attendance for all games.
A smaller question is, do other countries that don’t employ this method follow suite? (See: Canada.) My only Canadian friend, Tushar of IAmUltimate.com, chimed in on Twitter that Canada may not follow and change their rules, because their current rules allow for the best talent to be chosen. The talent across that great country, he says, is no longer based in one or two provinces, but across a larger majority of them. I guess we’ll take his word for it, eh?
Another smaller question, does this hurt mixed? Not sure, but it could be argued. The new system says that anyone who has played within the USAU college or club division the previous season as part of a men’s, mixed or women’s team can qualify to make that roster. So there is a chance that no mixed players make the final Team USA Mixed roster, and instead it is only comprised of players from the men’s and women’s divisions. Though looking at the U-23 roster from 2013, this was the exact opposite of the way that gold-medal winning roster was chosen. Sure there are men’s and women’s players in there that could have made those rosters, but placed on the mixed team they fit in perfectly and helped to deliver the win. There may be reason to worry that this is another move that could potentially hurt the division, which seems to be trumpeted by USAU and others at times as the golden-ticket, but history tells us it shouldn’t be.
We’ll have to wait and see what kind of effect the changes truly have. Especially any affect on the professional leagues or the mixed division.