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Divide and Conquer: Bonnie Thunders on WFTDA Rankings

Last week, we brought you the inside track on the rankings calculator, courtesy of Teenie Meanie and Bonnie Thunders. This week we’re just looking at divisions and the new playoff structure. We spoke to Bonnie to put some of our questions about the system to her, as well as some concerns raised by DNN readers.

This is how it went.

DNN: Most people know you as a skater, rather than for your work with the WFTDA. Can you tell us a little bit about your background in the WFTDA and what you’ve had to do with this project?
Bonnie Thunders: I started as a member of the WFTDA tournaments committee and had a specific interest in divisions.

It was introduced back in 2009 at one of our annual meetings and sparked my interest from then on. I later became the director of the tournaments committee, under which divisions fell, and then we came up with some more basic ideas about divisions.

It fell into a more full proposal for a ranking system so that we could better rank the leagues in the membership of the WFTDA, and it grew from there. Now I’ve moved into more of an oversight role where I’m the gameplay manager, so I oversee the rules committee, tournaments committee, ranking committee, and some of the other gameplay specific committees within the WFTDA.

What question was the creation of divisions the answer to?
It really grew from having a lot of uneven play within the WFTDA and knowing that there were a lot of leagues at various levels. Even back in 2009 that was an issue, and we wanted to find a way to focus competition a little bit more evenly and encourage people to play teams more like them in skill level, rather than just geographically based.

And definitely for the fans because it’s much more exciting to see a close game at tournaments, so constantly trying to find ways to even up the competition, specifically at tournaments as well, as that’s the highlight and the showcase.

How well does the divisional structure, as it’s currently proposed, deal with that as you’ve still got the same 40 teams competing at division one tournament level as you did in regional tournaments?
Not talking at all about rankings, and just speaking to divisions, we all knew for a long time that all regions are not created equally, and there was definitely a skill difference between the regions, and having equal regional distribution at the regional tournaments was somewhat problematic when you would look at the teams that would qualify for championships based on simply their region and doing well in that specific tournament.

Knowing that we needed to have more fair representation of teams across tournaments, I do think this system does do that. The big thing that it’s reliant on is having a member-wide ranking as opposed to a more regionally based ranking.

Do you think that the loss of regional identity and the presence of vaguely local teams will have an impact on attendance for playoff tournaments?
That’s definitely been a consideration for the WFTDA. The WFTDA is very member-driven: the leadership of the WFTDA did bring this up as a concern to the membership, not only from a marketing perspective but also from a financial perspective for each of those leagues as well.

The thing that’s unique for the WFTDA that’s unique from other organisations is that it is the membership’s will. The membership really did support no geographic shuffling of teams to those tournaments even after knowing where those tournaments were going to be held [the majority of the 2013 playoff tournaments are in the eastern half of the US] so I see the concern, and I think it is a place where we can look to improve in the future.

But it is the will of the WFTDA and what the membership wants. I think the membership is really after fair play, and after a lot of years of feeling like play has been lopsided. Not just the west feeling like they’ve not had a fair shot at getting to tournaments, but among the teams that are in the 40-50 spots feeling like they didn’t have the ability to set up the best games to give them the best opportunity to get to a tournament. People just really want to see very even play. Straight up, what the ranking shows is what they want to see in a tournament.

I think that our bidding process is always evolving as far as what leagues and what cities we use for our tournaments. We are becoming a lot more active; last year was the first year we actually had a tournament director who was an employee of the WFTDA, and as we get more experience of having more ownership of those tournaments, I could see us directing where those tournaments are a little bit differently, and more seeking out bids rather than just waiting for the membership to bring bids to us.

>>Read more on page 2

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Opting for a lower seed to attend your own tounrament?

I think it might be a good idea for the WFTDA to give teams the option to move down in the rankings to switch to a playoff tournament they are hosting.

For example let's say that two of the tournament hosts end up ranked #6 and #14. Those two seeds are in the same playoff tournament. What if the WFTDA decided that the higher ranked host (#6) has the rights to hosting that tournament, and the lower ranked team (#14) could opt to move down to the next highest seed to be in a separate tournament (#15)? The result would be a slight tournament re-allignment:

Tournament A = 1, 8, 9, 16, 17, 24, 25, 32, 33, 40
Tournament B = 2, 7, 10, [14], 18, 23, 26, 31, 34, 39.
Tournament C = 3, 6, 11, [15], 19, 22, 27, 30, 35, 38.
Tournament D = 4, 5, 12, 13, 20, 21, 28, 29, 36, 37.

You'd be unbalancing the playoff tournaments slightly, but it might be beter for the WFTDA in the end. Just a thought.

Rigid seeds = Bad idea for local teams

This is something I'm harping on about. The competitive gain to be made by locking-in all the teams into a rigid S-curve is worthless compared to having the flexibility of slotting in teams more local to a tournament site, when it makes sense within the rankings to do so.

This is especially the case since teams are being ranked against each other indirectly. Yeah, team #14 may be ranked higher than team #15, but does that mean team #14 is better than team #15? How can that be known for sure unless they play each other? Also, is the #2 team really going to be unfairly disadvantaged if they were made to play the #14 team instead of the #15 team in the playoffs?

There's a happy medium here, I think. You can make it so the the top 8 or 12 or 16 teams always get S-curve seeded separately, but then have it so everyone else is slotted into an equivalent seed that's nearer a regional site near them, when possible. Because in the end, there's really no difference to the overall #1 or #2 or #3 or #4 seed which sub-30 team they blow out in their first playoff game. So why not make it a team that has local fans to cheer them on?

Rare moment

I agree with you (I'm shocked too), but the problem I see is: Who gets to decide how to resort the teams? In particular, what if the 14th team is one that most agree is under- or over-seeded? You'll definitely get people crying foul when that team gets moved somewhere else due to geography in order to shorten a 1200 mile trip to a 900 mile trip, but now an opponent is facing someone who is ranked 14 but plays like a 9, or vice-versa.

Remember the purpose of the new playoffs

N8 wrote:

I agree with you (I'm shocked too), but the problem I see is: Who gets to decide how to resort the teams? In particular, what if the 14th team is one that most agree is under- or over-seeded? You'll definitely get people crying foul when that team gets moved somewhere else due to geography in order to shorten a 1200 mile trip to a 900 mile trip, but now an opponent is facing someone who is ranked 14 but plays like a 9, or vice-versa.

If a 14 is "playing like a 9," isn't that a failure of the ranking system to properly gauge a team's playing ability? Because if they were playing like a 9, a decent ranking system would have them closer to #9, particularly when we're talking about the top teams in the country who will no doubt be playing more games against other top teams in the country.

Upsets will still happen, of course. But if the ultimate goal is to get the 12 best teams at championships, like the WFTDA said it was, then a fringe top-12 team beating a top-12 team along the way means they're one of the best 12 teams. In that case, what's the problem if a slightly different lower seed beats a higher seed, if they were probably going to do it anyway regardless of who they played?

As far as who would decide which teams go where, maybe it's about time the WFTDA member leagues vote to give the WFTDA a bit more power when it comes to deciding things that are in the best interest of the WFTDA as a whole without resorting to a full vote. People are going to be butt-hurt about things in this new system regardless (is team #40 really better than team #41?) so you might as well make it beneficial to fans and the health of the sport where you can.

Re-sorting

WindyMan wrote:

If a 14 is "playing like a 9," isn't that a failure of the ranking system to properly gauge a team's playing ability? Because if they were playing like a 9, a decent ranking system would have them closer to #9, particularly when we're talking about the top teams in the country who will no doubt be playing more games against other top teams in the country.

I think everyone agrees that this system (and NO system) can be perfect, and something like this will happen. It happens in all of the other systems, so why not this one? Besides, it might not have to be *everyone* that thinks they're a 9, just a large enough people to be loud enough to complain (just like how not everyone thought that the geographical regions were bad).

Quote:

Upsets will still happen, of course. But if the ultimate goal is to get the 12 best teams at championships, like the WFTDA said it was, then a fringe top-12 team beating a top-12 team along the way means they're one of the best 12 teams. In that case, what's the problem if a slightly different lower seed beats a higher seed, if they were probably going to do it anyway regardless of who they played?

The problem is when it's not the 12th team that gets beaten, but the 10th or 9th or 5th team that gets beaten and doesn't get the invite to the top 12.

Quote:

As far as who would decide which teams go where, maybe it's about time the WFTDA member leagues vote to give the WFTDA a bit more power when it comes to deciding things that are in the best interest of the WFTDA as a whole without resorting to a full vote. People are going to be butt-hurt about things in this new system regardless (is team #40 really better than team #41?) so you might as well make it beneficial to fans and the health of the sport where you can.

I'm not sure I made my concern clear. What I mean is that I doubt that no matter who is making the decision, there won't be people who see it as their team getting shorted by the decision. It's something where there will never be a way to re-sort them that won't upset someone. Taking the stance of "Well, we won't re-sort them" is the closest thing to fair from that aspect.

But like you said, it makes things unbalanced and unfair in the other aspects as well.

What problem?

N8 wrote:

The problem is when it's not the 12th team that gets beaten, but the 10th or 9th or 5th team that gets beaten and doesn't get the invite to the top 12.

Uhm, why is this a problem? Being ranked in the top 12 only means you're ranked in the top 12 and you won't face a higher seed until you're playing for a spot into championships. If you want to make it there, you still need to be in the top 3 in your divisional playoff by beating lower-ranked opponents in your bracket. If you can't do that, you don't deserve to be there.

Anyway, consider what you're saying. Take 5th ranked team overall: In a strict S-curve, their first game would be against the winner of the 28/37 game (overall seeds) which they should win even if they were playing against a 27 seed, a 29 seed, a 30 seed, etc. Winning that guarantees them two chances to qualify for Championships. Their next game would be against the winner of the 12/21 game. If they win that, they're in then they (could) face the #4 seed for the bye. If they lose, they (could) face a seed as high as 13 for the last spot.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but you're arguing that if the #5 team played, let's say, the #11 team instead of #12 in the semis, it would be unfair to the 5th ranked team should they lose. Well, if they did lose, what business do they have being ranked 5th if they can't beat a team that's ranked #11? Besides, if they were really one of the best 12 teams, they'd beat a similarly-ranked or lower team in the 3rd place game, wouldn't they?

N8 wrote:

But like you said, it makes things unbalanced and unfair in the other aspects as well.

Right. But looking for an excuse to justify not wanting to face a team that's only slightly "better" on a spreadsheet because they couldn't beat them on a given day is not "unfair," especially when the potential benefits for the WFTDA on the whole could outweigh the "harm" it does to one or two teams.

Pleased to hear …

I was pleased to hear that WFTDA considered proposals for a smaller Division 1, as I've always liked the idea of a sub 40 number of teams at the top level. 20 was actually smaller than I dared dream would be possible.

But twelve, in my view, is a very exciting number and I was thrilled to hear that such a farsighted number was considered. With 12, a regular season becomes just logistically possible, a season where the entire 12 could all play one another with a series of Golden Bowl-like events. After the season is over the top two teams play for the championship.

“The Twelve” could be called something like Super League or Premier League Roller Derby, anything but Major League Roller Derby (Boring!). A divisional system could still be formed after “The Twelve”. I'm still a fan of promotion and relegation, the Division 1 champ could replace the last place “Twelve”.

I understand why such an exclusive number was turned down, everybody wants to be called Division 1. Anyway, the evolution of roller derby continues, WFTDA continues it's journey on the long and winding road. To where? I don't care, I'm just along for the ride.

The Best I Can Do

Well WFTDA's new rankings are due sometime this month. It would be the March 1st ranking. Wild West Showdown games would appear in the May ranking. So it's time I put down what I think the new WFTDA ranking will look like. This is my best understanding of WFTDA's whitepapers. I used FTS's database of games, WFTDA's database maybe slightly different, but I doubt significantly. It also assumes a two game minimum to be ranked, I hear WFTDA is considering upping that. If you've got something different, let's hear about it.

1 Gotham
2 Denver
3 Oly
4 Bay Area
5 Windy City
6 Texas
7 Rat City
8 Minnesota
9 Rose
10 Philly
11 Detroit
12 Rocky Mtn.
13 Charm City
14 Arch Rival
15 Montreal
16 Naptown
17 Angel City
18 Atlanta
19 Kansas City
20 Wasatch
21 Boston
22 Ohio
23 Madison
24 London
25 Houston
26 Steel City
27 Tampa Bay
28 Nashville
29 Arizona
30 Sacred
31 Carolina
32 Brewcity
33 Chicago Outfit
34 No Coast
35 Jet City
36 Jacksonville
37 Cincinnati
38 Victorian
39 Omaha
40 Bleeding Heartland
41 Terminal City
42 DC
43 Dutchland
44 Toronto
45 Columbia
46 Grand Raggidy
47 Tri-City
48 Sin City
49 Mid Iowa
50 Blue Ridge Rollers
51 Sac City
52 Gainesville
53 Tallahassee
54 Burning River
55 Killamazoo
56 Emerald City
57 Maine
58 Dallas
59 Okla. Victory
60 Humboldt
61 Pikes Peak
62 Ft. Wayne
63 Santa Cruz
64 Paper Valley
65 Duke
66 New Hampshire
67 Rideau Valley
68 Queen City
69 Tucson
70 NEO
71 Dominion
72 Providence
73 Suburbia
74 Old Capitol City
75 River City
76 Springfield
77 Garden State
78 St. Chux
79 Memphis
80 Twin City Derby Gi...
81 Bear City
82 Gold Coast
83 Sioux City
84 Connecticut
85 Ithaca
86 Long Island
87 Black-n-Bluegrass
88 Roc City
89 Fargo Moorhead
90 Slaughter County
91 Alamo City
92 Silicon Valley
93 Green Mt.
94 North Star
95 Cape Fear
96 Treasure Valley
97 Assassination
98 Demolition
99 ICT
100 Hard Knox
101 Big Easy
102 Lowcountry
103 Babe City
104 Sioux Falls
105 FoCo
106 Des Moines
107 Bellingham
108 Dixie
109 Charlotte
110 Central Coast
111 Central NY
112 Slaughterhouse
113 Lehigh Valley
114 Rage City
115 NW Arkansas
116 Choice City
117 Glasgow
118 Capidolls
119 Junction City
120 New River Valley
121 Ark Valley
122 Oklahoma City
123 Lava City
124 Pueblo
125 Central City
126 Tragic City
127 Crime City
128 Dockyard
129 Rockford
130 Hammer City
131 CoMo
132 Derby City
133 Chattanooga
134 Little City
135 Hudson Valley
136 Jersey Shore
137 Helsinki
138 Red Stick
139 Rocktown
140 Auld Reekie
141 Pacific
142 Spindletop
143 Glass City
144 Harrisburg
145 Castle Rock
146 So Ill
147 Fox City
148 Fairbanks