Saturday, February 13, 2016

Bridging the Gap for Quidditch Cup Bids

By Jaxon Matheny

Editor’s Note: The following is the opinion of the author and does not reflect the opinion of the Quidditch Post. 

Update, 2/13/2016, 10:48 PM EST: The Quidditch Post would like to clarify that this article was written prior to NWRC and the author reviewed the post before it went to publication.

Trying to understand the national picture for quidditch is like trying to build a volcano for your little brother’s science project: it is difficult and tedious, and just when you think you have finally gotten it right, it explodes in your face. Seeing as how quidditch is primarily played by college teams, and there is only one tournament that annually pits the best teams from across the nation against one another, there is too much annual turnover to make accurate predictions about future seasons. In addition to this conundrum, the sport is young, there is little film footage from throughout the regular season, and we as a community are generally a bunch of poor young adults who cannot attend tournaments outside our respective regions.
All of this leaves us with the few numbers US Quidditch uses in its Official Standings Algorithm to determine where teams stand against one another. And even that is not consistent, seeing as how USQ is usually behind on updating its standings. There are no current sources for standings within regions or national standings without time and research being devoted by individuals willing to put forth the effort. 

The Quest for Parity

My point is this: why, then, are we using results from last season to determine the participants for US Quidditch Cup 9? And why is it fair for the West region to receive 11 bids to the Northwest’s three? The simple answer is that it is not. While the West gets to send 11 of 27 registered teams in the region to Columbia, South Carolina this year – 41 percent of the region’s teams – the Northwest is only sending 3 of 11 – only 27 percent. I understand that the West has more teams than the Northwest and bid allocation was also based on regions’ USQ World Cup 8 performance, but how does our governing body think the sport will advance if a majority of the teams from certain regions cannot even hope to luck into a spot? Likewise, the South has four qualification spots open to 18 teams. Other than inTENNsity, what other squads outside of Florida can even hope to qualify? How is that supposed to build the sport?

The West Region’s strong USQ World Cup 8 performance will allow them to send 11 teams to US Quidditch Cup 9. | Photo Credit: Isabella Gong Photography
While there are no easy solutions to these very serious problems, there are some ideas out there that USQ could build on:

1. Create a March Madness-style field of 64 teams

As of this moment, there are 173 teams registered with USQ. Having a set, 64-team field to compete for our national championship would give teams a chance at qualifying for  US Quidditch Cup without watering down the competition. Here is how I could see this happening:

Draw regional lines that create more parity

This would involve balancing out the number of teams per region. Say we have 180 teams next season. That would leave each region with 22-23 teams if the teams were divided evenly between regions. This could be done by drawing lines that match teams close to one another in the same region, as opposed to simply using state boundaries as regional lines.

Each region receives four automatic bids to Quidditch Cup.

This can be done quite easily. Either all four teams who make the semifinals of a regional championship receive a bid, or a region could emulate the recent Midwest Regional Championship and give two bids to the finalists, and the other two are given to two consolation bracket victors. With this method in place, every team in USQ would have an opportunity to qualify for US Quidditch Cup, and there would be set goals in place for each squad at the beginning of the season.

The 32 remaining bids are awarded by a selection committee.

The idea behind this concept is to reward the teams who consistently excel throughout the season. Say an excellent team goes into a regional championship with a depleted roster, be it due to injury or simply the inability to fill a second or third line, and has a bad tournament. Why should that team be punished for the rest of its season based on a couple of bad games? As an example, Marquette University Quidditch (MU) finished with a 10-2 record after the Midwest Regional Championship. However, both of its losses came during the regional championship with a depleted roster to the same Mizzou Quidditch squad that qualified for bracket play at USQ World Cup 8. Is it really fair that MU is missing out on US Quidditch Cup 9 with only two losses to a quality opponent? A selection committee appointed by USQ could prevent that by choosing the best non-qualifying teams based on criteria such as overall record, strength of schedule, record against qualified teams, and the all-important eye test either in person by USQ officials or from film. This would ensure to maximize the quality of teams and competition in every US Quidditch Cup.

2. Separate community and school teams at least for the national championship

This is the popular choice right now, and for good reason. It is a simple and obvious way to level the playing field. As of USQ’s rankings on Jan. 7, 2016 , the Top 25 teams consist of 11 community teams and 14 college teams. The Eighth Man’s Feb. 10, 2016 rankings have an even split of 10 community teams and 10 college squads for their Top 20. Given the fact that only 49 of the 173 teams are community teams, those numbers show that community teams tend to be better than their school-affiliated counterparts.

The Eighth Man’s February 10th Media Rankings, graphed. | Credit: Dan Howland
The biggest problem I can see with this idea is restructuring regions for both community and university teams. This situation would leave the current Northwest region with seven schools and four community teams; meanwhile, the Midwest only has two community teams TC Frost and Minnesota Nice within the region. This would leave the two Minneapolis teams isolated from all other community teams, with the nearest being a 700-mile drive away in Ohio. That being said, it would still be possible to figure out reasonable community tournaments; for example, the Bat City Showcase, which was held in Austin, Texas, brought community teams and quidditch fans from places as far away as Boston and Los Angeles.

Splitting up the community and college championships could also open doors for teams that would otherwise be unlikely to qualify for their respective national championships. If the community team championship consisted of 24-32 teams and the college team championship had 48-64 teams, a minimum of 72 teams would get to compete for their respective titles while minimizing the clutter and confusion of a single, larger tournament. Giving more teams an opportunity in postseason play is an excellent way to promote the growth quidditch needs in order to flourish. Furthermore, it would not be outside the realm of possibility to have a 16-team super-tournament sometime after the two championships have been decided.

Realistic Goals

There is no quick fix to the current system, and the 2015-16 season is too far along at this point to put any major changes into motion. However, there are some signs suggesting we are moving in the right direction. Cutting the field for this year’s US Quidditch Cup from 80 teams to 60 ensures a more competitive tournament and lessens the chance of having teams dropping out at the last minute. Texas State’s Consolation Cup I is a wonderful idea, and I hope it is built upon the belief that more teams and players should experience large, competitive tournaments. Events like these have potential to become the lifeblood of quidditch.

The bottom line is that a major change can become reality within two years. There is no reason that a better system to choose the participants of our nation’s championship cannot be in place for the 2017-18 season. As the sport of quidditch becomes more and more legitimate, so must our showcase events. Therefore, it is up to our leadership to steer US Quidditch Cup in the right direction. It may not be easy, but things worth doing rarely are.

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