Monday, February 5, 2018

With fewer teams making Seattle area local playoffs, are the women's sub-flights balanced?

I wrote last week that a change in playoff format is going to result in 31% fewer teams making local playoffs in the 40 & over division in the Seattle area.  Specifically, where last year every sub-flight had the first and second place teams advance to playoffs, now, at most levels, just one second place team from all the sub-flights will advance.

This clearly puts a premium on the regular season.  In past years, a team could lose a match, perhaps even two, and still make it to local playoffs.  Now, that is less likely to be the case and there very well could be teams with just one loss that don't advance.

Those reading closely will note that there is a spot for at least one second place team to advance, so you might think that this will make things equitable and allow that really good team that got unlucky and had to face another really good team to advance anyway.  But is that really the case?

For that theory to be true, it requires that all the sub-flights be reasonably balanced so that every second place team have a reasonable chance of winning that coveted wildcard.  If they aren't balanced, one sub-flight could have three or four very good teams and beat up on each other resulting in a second place team with at least two losses, while a weaker flight could have a weak second place team lose their one important match but have a record that appears better than those in the tougher flight.

So, I went about checking on how balanced the flights are to see if teams will have an equal chance or if things are stacked in favor of some sub-flights.  To do this, I looked at the top-8 averages for each team using my ratings as of 1/1/18.  This is the best gauge of how strong a team could be known to be prior to the season starting.

Note of course that players can improve during the year, self-rated players aren't accounted for, and player availability and teams doling out equal playing time can result in teams with high top-8 averages not doing as well as expected.

For the below, I'm looking at just the women.  I'll follow up with an analysis of the men.

For the women, the 2.5 level has just one sub-flight so no issues there.

The 3.0 women have four sub-flights and 39 teams, and it is not balanced it appears.

  • Flight A is pretty tough with eight teams ranked in my top-24 including teams ranked T2 and T5.
  • Flight B doesn't have any team in the top-4, but has four in the top-11 so very tightly bunched.
  • Flight C is arguably even tougher at the top with three of the top-8 including #1, T2, and T5!
  • As you might expect, Flight D ends up being far weaker with only three in the top-14.
It is very possible that sub-flights A, B, and C beat up on each other and the second place team from sub-flight D takes advantage.

The 3.5 women have five sub-flights and 43 teams and some serious haves and have nots.
  • Flight A has no team in the top-6 so is not top heavy, but has eight of the next 18 so has a lot of depth.
  • Flight B is stacked with five in the top-9 and then three more in the next 11!  It will be tough for a second place team to advance here.
  • Flight C is very weak on paper, just one team in the top-25!  Worse, it has the bottom 2, three of the bottom 4, and six of the bottom 10.
  • Flight D is fairly strong with four in the top-13.
  • Flight E is not very strong with just two in the top-26.
It appears flight C will be a cakewalk for the top team, and flight B will be a dog fight.

The 4.0 women have three flights and 28 teams.
  • Flight A has three of the top-7 teams.
  • Flight B has #1 and T2 but then no other until T12.
  • Flight C has five of the top-11.
These flights do have a different make-up, but nothing egregiously out of whack it appears.

The 4.5+ women have two flights and 11 teams with two teams from each flight advancing.  Flight B has the top-2 teams and flight A the bottom three, but the trick here on top of that is that in flight A, teams don't have a balanced schedule and someone will get to play the bottom team twice while another team will play the top team twice.

In summary, from the above there is certainly not perfect balance between the flights, and in some cases there is a huge difference, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out and who the wildcard teams are.