Wednesday, July 12, 2017

It is July, Sectionals are starting to heat up - Will teams that win be eligible for Nationals?

It is the time of year that various Sections begin to hold their Sectionals to qualify teams for USTA League Nationals.

Southern really gets started with the following schedule:

  • Adult 18+ July 21-14 in Mobile, AL
  • Adult 40+ July 28-30 in Mobile, AL
  • Adult 55+ September 17-17 in Ashville, NC
  • Mixed 18+/40+ October 6-9 in Little Rock, AR

Southern, being the largest section with nine states and teams having to navigate local playoffs and then States with 8+ teams just to make it to Sectionals, is arguably the toughest section to make it to Nationals through and results in some tough competition at Sectionals.  As a result, some teams find my flight or team reports useful to help scout and navigate the competition there.

I recently did a flight report for a team headed to Southern 18+ Sectionals and so went looking at some of the teams there at different levels and was reminded that Southern allows players in early start leagues, that were bumped up at 2016 year-end, to continue to play at their lower level through Sectionals.

As I wrote about before, this is going to cause confusion at it means someone that was a 3.5 at 2015 year-end that signed-up for a 2017 3.5 team starting in October 2016, but was bumped up to 4.0 at 2016 year-end, can continue to play on the 3.5 team through Southern Sectionals.  This results in quite a few rosters of Sectionals teams having above level players eligible to play.

While this probably means a very high level of play at each level, this also means that teams that weren't early start teams with at-level players are at a competitive disadvantage as they can't have (now) above level players on their rosters playing there.

The other challenge is that the USTA League Nationals regulations state that these (now) above level players will not be eligible to play at Nationals.  So if a team loaded with above level players wins Sectionals, one of the following is likely to occur:

  • They go to Nationals but aren't the same team missing their best players.  They will also have a (potentially) much smaller roster which makes playing the up to six team matches in three days a lot harder.  It is possible there was a stronger team when this eligibility is taken into account that would represent the section better.
  • They elect not to go or don't have enough eligible players to to go to Nationals as a team must have at least eight players (at most levels) in order to go.  There are provisions for appealing this minimum, but I'm guessing it is not typically granted.

If they elect not to go or don't have enough eligible players, then you have to decide who is going to go.  The easy answer is the runner up that was beaten in the final, but that team could have the same issues.  How would you select the next team in line when you have two flights?  And while it may not be likely, what if every team at Sectionals has the same issues?  You can't very well go back to a team that didn't advance to Sectionals can you?

And before you say this is all theoretical and won't really happen, here are a few examples I've seen already:
  • A 2.5 team with 8 of 9 players now 3.0s.  There are provisions for 2.5 teams to still be eligible though unless the players are above the clearly above level mark.  The point is made though.
  • A 3.0 team with a roster of 15, 8 of which are now 3.5s.  If they won they wouldn't have the minimum eight eligible.
  • A 3.0 team with a roster of 12, 4 of which are now 3.5s.  This team would have the bare minimum 8 and be missing 4 of their best 6 players.
  • A 3.5 team with a roster of 16, a whopping 11 now 4.0s.  Only 5 eligible Nationals players!
  • A 3.5 team with a roster of 16, 8 of which are now 4.0s.
  • A 4.0 team with a roster of 16, 5 of which are now 4.5s.  Sure, 11 is enough to go to Nationals, but missing 5 of your best makes for a different team.

There are some other teams with 2-4 players now above level, but with larger rosters it isn't as significant a percentage of the team as above.  But clearly having above level players, and a lot of them, isn't just an exception.  And with these above level players they very well could be favored to win Sectionals.

All of this is why I thought early start ratings were actually a good thing, they would have weeded out at least some of these players from being on the rosters in the first place, but given they were abolished, players should have been ineligible to keep playing at their lower level as soon as year-end ratings came out.

But since Southern didn't go that route, we will be entertained to see who wins and what happens if one of the above teams is a sectional champ!