A GoffonRugby Opinion Column by Alex Goff
Offseason in the Super League often means we’re tracking what new players are joining what teams, but this year, again, we’re just as concerned with tracking changing teams, not players.
Of the fourteen teams from 2010, only ten return for another season. Joining those returners are new club Utah Warriors. That’s a 36% change, which is pretty drastic. But perhaps more drastic is the fact the RSL ended up with 11 teams, something they said they’d move Heaven and Earth to avoid.
Scheduling for 11 teams is something of a nightmare unless you have the time and resources simply to have everyone play everyone else. The RSL doesn’t, but league organizers have figured out a schedule that’s bearable and in fact reflects an attack of common sense on behalf of the league.
Here’s how it works: The Red Conference has five teams. Everyone playing each other once is four games, which isn’t enough. Everyone associated with the RSL agrees that four games, or even five, is too few. And in fact, if you agree that all teams should have an equal number of home and away games, the league should start in March, and should end in time for the USA National Team schedule, then six is really the only number you can have.
So if you need six games for the Red Conference. How do you accomplish that? Play cross-conference games? Well that’s pretty tough to do when the conferences have a different number of teams in each conference. To give the Red Conference two extra games from cross-conference means they get ten Cross-Conference matchups.
But the Blue Conference doesn’t want ten extra games. They have six teams in their conference, so are looking for one extra game per team … a total of six extra games. Trust us, we tried; it doesn’t fit.
In addition, cross-conference games cost extra money. With the conferences divided along geographical lines, inserting cross-conference matches forces an extra big travel match on teams. In this economy, an economy that has hit young men, especially young, blue-collar men, especially hard, that’s a bad decision.
Thus again the Super League turned to simplicity and common sense. In the Blue Conference, they simply gave each team two extra games. All the away games require an airplane flight, so they just worked it based on last year’s record – so SFGG, 6-0 in 2010, plays Dallas (0-6) and Utah (no record) twice and Denver (5-1), OPSB (3-3) once.
The fact that a season doesn’t involve equal numbers of games against all opponents within a conference doesn’t matter. While I’m not one who thinks rugby should emulate other sports just because, it’s worth noting that the NFL does fine running a season where teams have different opponents.
Then we turn to the Blue Conference, where each teams needs one extra matchup to reach the magic number 6. Here it’s even more straightforward. Remember, economics plays a part. If we can, we need to reduce travel on teams. So local rivals NYAC and Old Blue play each other twice. Local rivals Chicago Lions and Chicago Griffins play each other twice. That leaves Boston and Life University. Not exactly driving distance for that game, but the benefits of the plan outweigh that one inconvenience.
And finally, the decision that makes even more sense. The playoffs. For years the Super League has run quarterfinals, semifinals, and a final. It’s bad enough when an eight-team playoff happens in a 14-team league and you just need to be in the top 57% to make the postseason. But in a ten-team league it’s an insult. Four teams out of ten is plenty.
I write about all of this because the whole issue is difficult. The Super League, in order to survive and thrive, needs to think about a schedule that helps the teams survive. If you can avoid one long flight, then you can save the teams tens of thousands of dollars.
You also have to provide a season that means something, and sometimes you have to just ride with what you’re given, including an 11-team league. (Yes I know it would have been much easier if they’d let Glendale in … no argument there.)
I personally would still prefer the Super League to have a season of ten to 16 games; where players, coaches and teams can spend some time developing their game. That’s not necessarily a widely-held opinion, and regardless, there’s not enough money in the Super League to accomplish such a plan until someone infuses a chunk of money into the league.
But, for what it is, this way of operating the league makes sense. Get each team six games. Don’t make them travel all over the country if you have to. Make qualification into the playoffs mean something. And remember, it’s supposed to be fun.