Note: This isn’t a post hinting at Lancaster not hosting ESQ2014. We are. Promise.
A Qualifying Series Lends Credibility, But Not When There is Nothing to Qualify.
The NAH Qualifier series is certainly something that I look forward to every year. Not because I necessarily play in it (I skipped the Eastside Qualifier last year), and not because I necessarily watch them…
Wait. Why do I look forward to them?
I guess I look forward to them because they mean polo is happening, but as far as my day-to-day polo life goes, the Qualifier series is kind of beyond my scope. It’s just another tourney to either be a part of or aware of, but not much else.
In recent years (read: the past 2), I’ve noticed a bit of a drop off in attendance to the Eastside Qualifier, and I think that trend is felt in a few other regions as well. I’m not saying that this is a sign of the decline of bike polo here in the states (just the opposite, I’m in firm belief that bike polo is growing), but it does point to something.
The Cart Before The Horse
The NAH was originally created to investigate and gain sponsors for the sport (NOTE: I was told this a year or so ago during a phone conversation with an NAH official. I can’t verify it and, futhermore, have received an email saying it’s false. So feel free to ignore this line while I try to verify). The idea was, if I am remembering my history correctly from The NAH and other Magical Creatures, the idea was that money would help the NAH take care of rules, running tourneys, and solidifying the sport throughout North America.
Well, as it turns out, that didn’t quite happen. The market of support simply wasn’t/isn’t around for bike polo, and the NAH as it stood needed to fall back to what it could do, namely create rules and orchestrate a qualifying series.
From the point of inception, the NAH has been dwindling, however. Through a mix of payless work and hours of stress, the core of the NAH is down to just 4 people, and those folks are often the only line of action when it comes to organizing the sport nationally.
What does this have to do with the NAH Qualifier series? To put is succinctly, I think bike polo isn’t big enough in the US to justify such a large series. Furthermore I think you, dear reader, probably know this in your heart as well.
It only takes a passing glance at a few of the regions to how this argument can be worked out. Hell, just look at the SC regional lineup as it stands at the writing of this piece:
That’s 5 teams registered for a tournament that is coming up at the end of this month. 10 days away.
If the Qualifier was a big deal–if it was something that people just couldn’t wait to be part of, why can’t an entire region manage to get more than ten teams to register and pay up?
If we look at all qualifiers so far :
- Cascadia: 23 confirmed teams (out of a potential 24)
- Mexico: 13 confirmed teams (out of a potential 24)
- Great Plains: 7 confirmed teams (out of a potential 24)
- South West: 7 confirmed teams (out of a potential 32)
- Eastside: 24 confirmed teams (out of a potential 36)
- Heartland: 19 confirmed teams (out of a potential 24)
- Great Lakes: 18 confirmed teams (out of a potential 24)
- Northside: 12 confirmed teams (out of a potential 24)
- Southeast: 34 confirmed teams (out of a potential 34–the only full qualifier, at this point in time)
Clearly there are a bunch of things to take into account with these numbers. Maybe the amount of potential teams is too high for some regions, maybe folks are just waiting to register because they know they have time, etc.
But one thing is clear: the qualifiers are a very big process that simply isn’t drawing in people as quickly as it should, and maybe the way around that is to simplify the system.
Two Tourneys, One North Americans
The thought I keep having is that we’ve over-complicated something that needn’t be complicated. Here’s my suggestion for the NAH (which I’m sure they’ll deeply consider because damn, I’m just that important to the world, right?):
- Keep the regions, but
- For qualifying for NAs, split the NAH regions in half.
- NAH West qualifier, NAH East qualifier
- Top teams go to North Americans.
I think regional tournaments are still fun and a great way of sharpening skills/playing bike polo. Futhermore I think having a good idea of how individual regions perform is good. I’m not suggesting that we completely eliminate regions.
Well, okay, maybe I am. But it doesn’t matter either way in this suggestion.
Outside of the complaints coming from the folks who are directly on one side of that line or the other, this would effectively make it fair for players to play in this bare-bones style qualifying series. While I was tempted to suggest that we just have North Americans, I realize that it would be entirely too large to manage for any one club (and maybe this would be, too); but by splitting North American Polo in half, we could create 2 qualifiers, West and East, to figure out who goes to North Americans.
The NAH West and NAH East qualifiers would also need to be more days, obviously, maybe something closer to Worlds in that it’d be 4 days long instead of a weekend. Furthermore, more teams would qualify this way (rather than figuring out how many qualifying spots are provided based on regional affiliation).
In my mind, a few clubs (and the regional reps) would help put on these tourneys, and they’d have a whole year to set it up. This allows for a great concentration of effort by a large amount of polo players to find a well placed location, get it polo ready, and plan.
Outside of the complications coming from 9 qualifying tournaments (if my hand counting is correct), we’re also concentrating the focus for players, removing some of the headaches that the NAH faces, and creating a larger event where more players are able to come together. Yes, we’ll need to request off of work for more time, but you’ll be able to do that almost a year in advance, and if your company won’t give you off for 4 days with a year notice, you shouldn’t be working there anyway.
Futhermore, regions aren’t so dependent on how many teams sign up–being one of those organizers this year, I can tell you that I’ve been sweating bullets waiting for the money to drop so we can keep working on what we need to work on. Instead they can focus on…well…helping all the regions around them put on this mega-tourney.
I really have no idea if this would work or not. I feel like it would, if we step out of our “this is the way we’ve always done it” mindset and start thinking of how we can streamline the process of qualifications and make our events a bit bigger & a bit more sponsorable.
I think one of the biggest risks is making sure that teams all have a fair shot at going to North Americans. Surely we limit the dream-killing destructiveness of some teams by keeping them locked up in regions, but opening the series up to just 2 qualifiers (East and West) means lots of teams are going to get thrashed pretty early on, and that might very well be disheartening.
But, if I can be Machiavellian for a moment: conducting the tournaments like this is a hands off sort of way to make sure that the North American championship only has the best teams, as the weaker teams will be knocked out during the larger qualifiers. We’d save time and travel expenses for folks who really weren’t going to make it very far anyway.
(I’m one of those people. I can say it because I’m one of them. Isn’t that how it works? I have lots of not-going-to-make-it-through-North-Americans friends.)
So give this some thought and let me know what you think yourself. I’ve just been spitballin’.