Posts Tagged ‘The Big 5’

2013 WFTDA Bracketology #1: Division 2 and the D1 “Regional” Playoffs

Big news, flat-track followers: The WFTDA has released updated league standings and with it the seedings and brackets for the 2013 WFTDA playoffs. This has always been a major event on the roller derby calendar, but this year brings significant changes to the formula for determining who plays where.

The four-region system used in the past few years has been abolished in favor of one “global” region, one where all member leagues are lumped into the same system. The system itself has also gone under a major change, foregoing polled rankings for a math-derived rank based on strength of opponent and point spread of games. There is also the addition of a lower-tier divisional playoff, to give a few more teams exposure to a national tournament experience.

In this two-part “Bracketology” examination of the tournaments, we’ll take a look at who is (and isn’t) in the tournament, how the seeds and playoff sites match up, the methodology behind why the WFTDA dispersed teams the way that they did…and why a lot of trouble might have been avoided with a few simple changes.

Because now that the ranking sheets have hit the fans, it’s clear that there are few issues—a few big issues, actually—that need to be addressed for future playoff editions. One might even surmise that the WFTDA could have avoided some of these issues ahead of time with some forward thinking or careful consideration of their options.

But we’ll get to that in Part 2. First, let’s first take a look at the 20 teams in Division 2 competing for a special invite to the WFTDA Championships in November, and an alternate view on how the 2013 playoffs would have went down had they happened under last year’s regional format.

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WFTDA Creates New Playoff Format for 2013

One of the persistent issues facing the WFTDA over the years has been that of competitive balance. Teams want to play teams that are nearer to them in skills and abilities; fans want to see games that are competitive and entertaining, especially in the postseason. The WFTDA wants these things too, and have taken a step to try and get that to happen.

The WFTDA has announced there will be a new playoff structure in place for 2013. Next year, the teams that qualify for the WFTDA Championships playoff tournaments will no longer be the top ten from each of the four current regions. Instead, all 159 members leagues will be lumped into one group, with the top 40 teams based on performance and ranking invited to play for the Hydra.

The geographical regional playoffs will be no more, to be replaced with four of what the WFTDA is now calling the Division I Playoffs, “Division I” being the new name for the top 40 WFTDA teams. Everyone else ranked 41 and below at the time the championship invites are sent will be considered “Division II.” The WFTDA says there will new tournaments added so another 20 teams in D-II will get more competitive action.

Fans and skaters have been wanting the WFTDA to put teams into competitive divisions for a while, and at first glance that’s what the organization has finally decided to do. But look past the “division” moniker and you’ll notice that the WFTDA has just made sure the true top (inter)nationally ranked teams are guaranteed a shot at playoff glory.

Teams will not be segregated by performance any more than they already have been, as being “in the playoffs” (Div.I) versus “not in the playoffs” (Div.II). However, now comparatively weaker teams in the bottom ten of a region, like the South Central, will not get into the playoffs over stronger teams at the bottom ten of stronger region, like the West.

Since the new playoff format will seed teams without regard to where they are located on a map, it will provide a level of competitive consistency across the playoff season. The inevitable blowouts will likely be limited to the first day of each tournament. As seed numbers get closer together, the probability increases that there will be more competitive games.

Strictly from a competion standpoint, this is a very good move by the WFTDA. This format means all four tournaments are sure to have good matchups, the games will get better as the tournaments progress, and the 12 teams that advance to Championships will definitely be the best 12 roller teams in the country (or the world, as it is) based solely on their performance. This is critical if the WFTDA hopes to grow its platform, making it easier to sell pay-per-view passes to the common fan if they know they won’t see too many bad games.

It’s also great news for the Hydra-have-nots, as more WFTDA-sanctioned tournaments will be added for the teams that just missed out on the Big Dance. This may be a consolation for the handful of teams that would otherwise be squeezed out of the top 40 due to the killing-off of the regional-based invite system, but I think it’s great that the WFTDA is making sure there’s going to be another event where the small guys can have their chance to shine—and to win.

But in thinking about it, there are a few initial concerns that I would hope the WFTDA has taken into consideration.

Immediately, the question must be raised on how the top 40 teams will be determined in the first place. When regions were voting for their own regional rankings, it wasn’t too much to ask of a league to vote for, at most, 40 leagues nearby them. Surely, the WFTDA isn’t going to expect its population to rank all 159 leagues from top to bottom. Perhaps a system similar to (human) college football rankings will be implemented, where teams assign ranked votes to the teams they think are in the top 40 i.e., 40pts for 1st, 39pts for 2nd, 19pts for 22nd, etc. Total points would then determine rank.

Assuming a viable ranking system is put into place, the next question becomes how leagues are going to afford potentially sending their travel teams to a tournament venue that is very far away from their region. Since geography is no longer part of the criteria for who goes to a specific playoff site, you could get situations where a team like Rose City needs to go to Florida for their playoff opener, or London to a Los Angeles playoff site.

S-curve seeding snakes down columns of seeds (numbers) to find the teams that go in each (part of the) bracket. Now you know!

If the WFTDA is going to go with a rigid S-curve draw, you could have a lot of teams travelling a lot of taxing miles due to how the seeds fall and where the tournament sites fall. On top of that, a team won’t know exactly where they are playing until the final rankings (or the brackets) are released, not giving them a lot of time to plan for the logistics of flying and lodging 20 roller girls to a faraway city.

Finally, there’s the matter of fan support and crowd atmosphere. If a team has to travel a long way, will their cheering sections also make the trip? Since events are more likely to have teams coming in from all around the country (or world), it will by default create a more neutral crowd. Also, a lot of derbyfolk like cheering for their region if they can’t cheer for their team. But when there’s the very real possibility that a tournament located in the south may only have one or two teams based in the south participating, that could lead to issues with marketing and/or event ticket sales, or worse, a mostly disinterested patronage.

So there are a lot of unanswered questions from this announcement. Potential pitfalls, too. However, since I’m a guy that only wants to see good roller derby happen on the track, I’m positive on this news. I like the fact that each site will have a mostly equal distribution of top-, middle-, and bottom-ranked teams. I love the fact that there will be an opportunity non-playoff teams to have a shot of taking home a WFTDA trophy of some kind.

The WFTDA will be releasing further details on their new playoff structure following next month’s 2012 WFTDA Championships, so we’ll see if there are already contingencies in place to guard against some potentially big issues with the new format. While no one can know how this, along with the forthcoming rules update, will shake things up for 2013, there is something we can do to get some insight into what we could expect come next September.

We already know who, roughly, the 25 best teams in the WFTDA were before the playoffs, thanks to the DNN Power Rankings. Just for experimental purposes, we can fill out the remaining 15 teams with an in-no-way-100%-accurate ranking of the remaining teams got in to their regionals. (Yes, this is leaving out some teams from other regions that would have been in the new Top 40, but that’s not what this about.) With this quick estimation, we can ask:

Which teams would have likely reached the WFTDA Championships if the new playoff format were applied this year? How competitive would the weekends wind up being? What would each of the four regional brackets have looked like? How much travel would teams have to do in total?

Before we can answer those questions, first things first: The 2012 Pre-Playoffs Forty are…

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WFTDA Westerns 2012 Diary: Simply the Besterns*

I’ve made this admission on Twitter before, but let me make it here, too: In the almost six years I’ve followed modern roller derby, I hadn’t attended a full-on WFTDA-sanctioned event until this year. (Not for lack of trying, it’s just L.A. is all about the banked track.) Aside from Rollercon, Bay of Reckoning, the 2012 WFTDA west region playoffs, was truly the first big-girl flat track derby showcase I had a chance to attend.

Let me tell you: I’m glad I went, and I would go again in a heartbeat.

Though I knew there was going to be an awful lot of non-derby to be had, the fact that so many derby folk were going to be there guaranteed that I would have a good time no matter what was happening on the track. Plus, with such a high concentration of skating talent and team experience out there to see happen in so many games in three days, there was bound to be a lot of good stuff worth watching.

Thankfully, there were at least three great games every day, and not just from the vaunted top six in the west; even the bottom four put on a fantastic show. The venue was rocking, the skaters were (for the most part) skating, and when everything came together during the close games, it was bloody fantastic.

However, that doesn’t mean that everything that happened in Richmond was worth celebrating. In addition to the action and excitement, there was a lot of bad derby and vibes where there maybe shouldn’t have been. I saw a lot of things happen on the bay that I didn’t like, and I’m not one to keep that insight to myself.

As I share my thoughts about both the good and the bad I saw at Bay of Reckoning, I’ll relive some of the moments via the live tweets I put out on the WRDN Twitter. I’ll tell you right now that my overall experience at the event was wonderful…but strictly going by the derby played on the track, there’s still work to do for the WFTDA.

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Into the Great Unknown, Part 1: WFTDA Playoffs 2012

For Part 2 of WRDN’s roller derby tournament season preview, the 2012 USARS Regionals, click here.

This month marks the beginning of the WFTDA Playoffs (neé The Big 5), where 40 qualifying teams from the four WFTDA regions all take their shot at advancing to the Championships in Atlanta this November.

Normally, this is something I’d be very, very enthusiastic about. However, the run up to this year’s playoff season, to me at least, feels different than the weeks preceding last year’s tournament run. That’s because there are a great deal of unknowns facing the run to the Hydra this year.

The biggest reason for that is because the new WFTDA rules update that was supposed to be released in May of this year … was not. Instead, they were delayed, to be released (likely) this November and to go into effect in January, well after this year’s playoffs are over and done with.

This of course means the playoff games played over the next several weeks will be done so under the rusty 2010 ruleset that began to pop rivets at ECDX 2011, finally cracking open during the west region playoffs last year when That Game happened. Later on we discovered that the there can be no-packs just as often as yes-packs, penalties were being committed at record rates, jammerless jams are still completely possible, and doing “whatever it takes to win” apparently includes taking numerous intentional penalties at the end of a game to guarantee victory.

So that this kind of non-skating, non-derby stuff can happen again during this year’s playoffs—potentially with a higher frequency now that teams understand why it is effective and know it may help them win—isn’t exactly getting my derby juices flowing as hard as last year, or (especially) the year before that.

Still, the optimist in me wants to be hopeful, and there are signs that despite everything there will be a lot of great games, and great stories to come from them.

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WFTDA Championships 2011: Queens of the Mountain

And here we are.

After a month of wall-to-wall regional playoff derby, lots of controversy, lots of action, lots of non-action, lots of surprises, lots of non-surprises, and a lot of waiting…it’s time for the 2011 WFTDA Championships.

Twelve teams will play for the Hyrda, flat-track roller derby’s biggest prize. But let’s not beat around the bush, here: Only four teams have a realistic shot of winning it, and only two of those teams will survive and make it to the final. As for the other eight in attendance, only four of them will have a legit chance of bringing home some hardware with a third place finish.

But between now and the medals ceremony, the brackets are packed to the gills with some amazing games. There’s only one obvious potential blowout in the cards this weekend, but that’s to be expected when you have the best from each region playing each other in a single-elimination format. But there are some surprises lurking, too.

Here’s WRDN’s breakdown of each team’s chances this weekend, starting from the bottom. We are, after all, climbing a mountain to see who will plant their flag at the top…

We’re Just Happy to Be Here

(S3) Nashville, (N3) Naptown

Poor, poor Nashville. For two years in a row, you draw the defending champions in your opening game. Last year, Oly obliterated you in the first round. This year, you’re Rocky Mountain’s warm-up for their Saturday game against Gotham. One of these years, you’re going to get a favorable draw that will put you against the weakest #2 regional seed instead of the strongest, but this year isn’t it. At least you can take solace in the fact that you’re at championships, and everyone else isn’t.

Naptown damn near knocked off Windy City a month ago. That’s pretty impressive, considering they have never been within striking distance of an elite team before their semi-final game against Windy last month. That close game can be attributed to Naptown’s rapid improvement over the last year and the huge home-crowd advantage.

However, besides a 104-78 win over Nashville two months ago, Naptown has never faced a top team outside of their region. Ever. Different regions seem to have a preference for different styles of play, and without this extra knowledge they may find themselves with no way to defend against Philly and their notorious “slow derby” tactics. Though this may actually be a good thing for Naptown if they can crack the code quickly enough (see below), their lack of inexperience against other top teams in other regions may be their downfall.

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Chess, Roller Derby, and Global Thermonuclear War




I’m fine. How are you?


Love to. How about Global Thermonuclear War?


Hmmm… sure, why not? Let’s play chess instead.

We’ll play Global Thermonuclear War later.




I…what? Derby chess? What’s that?


Sounds like fun. Let’s play derby chess.


Okay, I…uh, what? What do you mean sacrifice a piece? We haven’t started the game yet.


That’s not fair.


That’s not fair! Why should you get to start the game with more pieces on the board than I do? I didn’t do anything to deserve that!


Fine, I’ll remove a pawn. I just want to play chess, geez.


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WFTDA North Central Playoffs 2011: My Kind of Town

The playoffs? Yeah, I guess they’re worth talking about.

Monumental Mayhem is the last of the four smallish WFTDA Big 5 playoff weekends. Hosted by the Naptown Roller Girls, this event will be the last chance for teams to get their foot in the door at the WFTDA Championships in Denver.

I know a lot of things about Denver (chief among them: it’s cold there), but I don’t know that much about the city of Naptown. However, after some exhaustive research on my part, I have determined that Naptown is not the name of an actual place but is, in fact, a nickname for the city of Indianapolis, Ind. (That would have been much easier to figure out if they were called the Naptown Colts…actually, that would be a lot more appropriate this year, huh?)

Indy is my kind of town. I’m a huge racing fan, and the world knows of no more an iconic racing circuit than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s 100 years old, and still looks as beautiful as the day she was born. One of the things on my bucket list is to travel to this racing mecca and take in ‘The 500’ live and in person; a little roller derby on the side wouldn’t hurt, either.

Racing and roller derby. Two things I love, one town to see them in.

There’s a lot of derby to be played this weekend, and with a lot of teams in the North Central closer to each other in terms of relative skills and abilities, don’t expect an automatic 1-2-3 podium finish for the top three qualifiers heading into the tournament. While one team should get in pretty easily, once you start looking behind the leader you may find another upset run in the making…the question is, who might it come from this year?

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WFTDA West Region Playoffs 2011: Westerns are the New Westerns

Well, that was an uneventful start to The Big 5, wasn’t it? Let’s get this playoff train back on its tracks.

Next stop: The West. Destination: Portland, Oregon.

Woah, woah there, Mr. Conductor! Wait a second. The West? Portland?? That’s not the first place that springs to mind when I think of the Wild Wild West. If we’re going to be previewing the roller derby “westerns,” then we’ve got to talk about the men (and women) that made the west what it is today. I’m talking about cowboys. Real cowboys. Jesse James. Billy the Kid. Wild Bill Hickok. Wyatt Earp. Calamity Jane, too. That’s the west that comes to my mind.

Unfortunately, I don’t know all that much about the history of the “real” west, or real cowboys. But I do know quite a bit about the fake real west: Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Roy Rodgers, other Hollywood cowboys and the films they starred in contributed much to society. Or at least, enough for me to refer to these fine pieces of historical work in an attempt to preview Bridgetown Brawl, the 2011 WFTDA West Region playoffs.

After all, with how closely matched so many of the top teams in the west are, it’s to be expected that a lot of games will wind up being shootouts. And what self-respecting western wouldn’t have a hell of a great shootout?

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In Defense of Dutchland’s Forfeit

The biggest story at Nightmare on 95 wasn’t who won the East Region playoff tournament. Gotham was simply on another level from every other team in attendence, and that they took the gold medal was a surprise to nobody. Gotham’s victory was so obviously inevitable, I wrote this sentence six hours before they were scheduled to beat play Philly for the regional title.

That Gotham is so good says everything about their individual skill and teamwork. They are so good, in fact, one of their opponents saved themselves the trouble and didn’t even bother playing them.

That decision turned out to be one the biggest controversies in modern roller derby’s young history.

Citing strategic reasons, Lancaster, Pa.’s Dutchland Derby Rollers forfeited their quarterfinal game against Gotham Girls Roller Derby. The game was not played and was recorded as a default 100-0 Dutchland loss. To fill the scheduled two hours lost by this non-game, Gotham scrimmaged against Maine and Carolina in two 30-minute play-arounds.

Derby News Network spoke to Dutchland coach Merv the Perv for an explanation behind the team’s decision:

Dutchland chose to forfeit because they felt it was strategically better for their final placement in the tournament to not play a game that they were likely to lose to by a significant margin and to go into the consolation rounds with a fresher team.

Later, Merv commented on the DNN post to provide further explanation. “I made the decision that having a chance to moving up a rank or two was worth missing one blow out game,” he said. “Sports teams often pull starters from a game that has no meaning to them. It, too, is not a fan favorite, but they do it to protect there [sic] players.”

While the coach is saying he made the decision, there is no way this was a decision made lightly or without the consultation of the team. We can never know what was discussed internally at Dutchland, but I’ve seen a second-hand report that there was some “convincing” being done within the team. Ultimately, we can only speculate. Had a majority of the players wanted to play the game after weighing their options, would they have played the game? Probably. Maybe. Who knows? But in the end, the team decided not to.

And the shitstorm of criticism started immediately.

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WFTDA East Region Playoffs 2011: The Juggernaut in the Room

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Playoff season, baby!

This weekend marks the first of four regional playoff tournaments to see which three teams from each of the four WFTDA regions will earn the right to compete for the WFTDA championship this November in Denver.

But before we can get to the biggest of the Big 5, we need to start with the first one. Nightmare on 95 (or if you’re from my neck of the woods, Nightmare on the 95) will feature the top ten teams from the WFTDA east region battling in a full-play tournament that will determine the region’s end-of-year rankings. The two finalists and winner of the third-place game will advance to face off against the other nine regional qualifiers for the whole ball o’ wax at championships later this year.

So who’s got the best shot to advance? Where might the surprises come from? (How can I get the edge in my brackets?) Read on to find out…

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