The New NAH Tourney Structure: Thoughts and Insights

With the Proposed 2013-14 structure from the NAH for the bike polo season comes a new development in our sport. Let’s not mince words here: I think this is a big step in the direction towards a more recognizable legitimacy. The new structure (for those of you who refuse to use the other polo channels to find this information out) basically comes down to these points:

  • Closed Regions for Regional Qualifiers
  • Weighted allotment of slots (three guaranteed for National championship, other slots determined by the year previous NAHBPC performance of region)
  • Shorter window for qualifiers
  • Players can only play in 1 regional qualifier
  • Regional tourneys to be held mid-April to mid-June, NAHBPC and Worlds in early Autumn or Sept/Oct.

You can read the specifics here on the NAH site, I won’t waste your time repeating them, other than this endorsement:

I think the recommended changes are great, and you should too, polokin.

I am excited by the decision making of the NAH in this, and I can tell by looking over the document that lots of consideration was paid to what would work best for the polo community as a whole – making sure to include regions and people based on merit as well as on fairness.

This is something that can really go south on a sport, and addressing that concern early is a solid way to avoid some big trouble down the line. I recognize of course that this isn’t set in stone (it’s only the proposed structure for the next 2 years after all), but it’s a good starting point for getting where we need to go as a growing, vibrant community.

I did, however, have a few questions about specifics in the document, so I got in touch with Ben Schultz (Regional Board Member, Midwest) and Eric Ransom (Regional Board Member, Eastside) to get some specifics:

Crusher: The shorter window for qualifiers will make for much more of a “season” feel for our sport. You list a few reasons as to why, but does the more controlled season also make for stronger NAH control/involvement during the season? (shorter season: refs can be trained and take off for sections of tighter season, NAH can budget more accurately, etc)

Ben: What you’re laying out would be benefits, certainly. The main reason for a refined time frame is so the NAH schedule doesn’t chew up the entire summer. There’s ample room for tourneys like Bench Minor and Ladies Army.

Eric: Yes/no/maybe. I think the principle reason for consolidating the qualifier schedule right now is to get out of the way of recreational tournaments. However, we’re also looking forward to a day when we might be able to do something like have the qualifiers over seven sequential weekends, which would allow an NAH staff to go on something of a travelling show and help out with each tournament in turn, or even truck prefab courts between the locations.

While teams in region can earn slots for NAHBPC, they don’t necessarily have to be the teams that play in nationals, right? 

Ben: Correct. Each region earns a certain number of slots. If a team bails, they can move the next team into place. Obviously though, there’s a clear incentive to send your best teams as this will directly impact the number of slots the region gets the following year.

Eric: Ideally, the teams would stick together.  While that is not a strict requirement in the plan at this point, if players are going to be representing their regions for the purpose of allocating NAHBPC slots, we don’t want to see a lot of recombination between the qualifiers and the NAHBPC. Of course June to September is a long time off and things happen, people will be injured or move, and we’ll have to deal that. Generally, I think we’d like to see teams sticking together for a full year.

Do you believe this proposed format will increase competitiveness between regions (and also make regional identity a bit stronger)?

Ben: I’d say it’s already at that point. Ideally, we use this region-based system long enough to accrue enough stats and move to the next stage: a category-based system where teams play against like-skill on an open circuit.

Eric: YES! Exactly.

Weighted Representation: There is a possibility of “Dynasty Representation”: let’s say Cascadia gets 12 of a possible 24 spots in a year – won’t it be harder to re-balance in subsequent years, as they’ll have a higher chance of having more teams finish in the top 24?

Ben: Sure, that’s a possibility. But as I just mentioned, hopefully we’re using this only long enough to accumulate enough data to evolve the system again.

Eric: There is. Personally, I think it will work out for several reasons. First, if a region were reduced to three slots, at that point they could DOUBLE their allotment with one good year, from 3 to 6.  Second, once you move beyond the top couple teams, my suspicion is that there is more parity than anticipated.  I really don’t believe that the 9th place team in Cascadia is better than the 2nd place team in the Southwest or Southeast. I think that will bear out.

Is it likely that the “home” region (the one with the most representation in NAHBPC) will become the host for the Nationals that year, or would it still be a bidding process? 

Ben: The bidding process hasn’t been something that’s worked very well so far, which makes sense. There are non-financial incentives to hosting a tourney and inviting the community to your city. But it’s a lot of work to potentially come out in the red, which isn’t so appealing. Lately, we just been scouting great locations that are centrally located and then gauging interest from the club in that area. That pretty well narrows the field. Hopefully as NAH begins to provide each qualifier/open, the NAHBPC, and the occasional HBPWC with financial support, cities will be more excited to host because it will become a financial boost for the host city, not a drain.

Eric: Not sure we’ve thought through this.  I would expect to continue with some kind of bidding process.

 

How will the NAH help enforce these changes? 

Ben: With vastly improved communication, a more refined structure, a bigger sponsorship push, and a ton of hard work from our volunteer base. Honestly, our greatest hurdle – universally, not just in NA – is reffing. With a codified ruleset that is all of two years old and has seen multiple revisions, it’s been extremely difficult to create a consistent, credible, critical mass of refs to do the job right. I’m personally very eager to see this area of our organization improve. But this will happen over time, combined with a solid system of training. That said, Jeremy Whitbred (Cas.) is the head of our Communications committee and he’s got some great ideas to improve communication within NAH and to the public. Zach Woodward (MW) is largely responsible for putting together this new qualifier proposal with the help of the rest of the Structure committee. The Tournament committee is headed by Chandel Reyes (SC), also a contributor to the proposed structure. She had a huge impact on last year’s tour and has already established most of the host cities for 2013. And Captain Jake Newborn (MW)is the new head of our Sponsorship committee, which is very exciting if you know his record. All said and done, in the last year we’ve been fortunate to harness the help of these people and many others in addition to our board, and have accumulated a really solid crew of people who have been doing a great job. Commitment, talent, and hard work from these people will be the cornerstone of the improvements we’ll experience in the coming year. It’s very encouraging.

Eric: Enforce?!

 

 

At any rate, I’m damned excited about how the sport is moving. As much as I want to be all Rage-Against-The-Machine against the NAH just on a matter of principle, the truth is they have yet to disappoint me.

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