Comments on 2013 Founders Cup Bracketology

Wednesday, September 25, 2013 - 20:26

Comments on 2013 Founders Cup Bracketology

Bracketology can be a deep dark rabbit hole sometimes, so as WAKA's lead geek on the subject, I wanted to let some sunlight in and share the thought process we went through designing this year's Founders Cup brackets.

44 teams means 11 pools, and a plethora of possible approaches for reaching a Sweet 16 bracket -- all of them varying degrees of awkward. We weighed the pros and cons of a number of alternatives, but before we go into that, here's the structure we finally ran with:

- 21 Teams advance from Pool Play to the Elimination Rounds: 11 Pool Champs and 10 Wild Cards, being the 10 best Pool Play records from among the Pool Runners-Up.
- The 11 Pool Champs receive BYEs and proceed directly to the Sweet 16.
- The 10 Wild Card teams will be ranked by their Pool Play record (using the tiebreak procedures standard for Founders Cup play - in this context, Win Percentage, then Fewest Runs Allowed, then Most Runs Scored, then Starting Seed). In the Wild Card Elimination Round, these rankings shall be used instead of Starting Seed to determine matchups by which they play one another: the #1 record against the #10 record and so forth.
- The Sweet 16 bracket is structured traditionally, with the winners of Pools H and I representing the presumptive 8v9, the winner of the WC1/WC10 game standing in as #12 in facing the winner of Pool E (presumptive #5), and the winner of Pool A getting the winner of the WC5/WC6 game, as equivalent of the 1v16. (An elliptical explanation, but if you can't fill in the blanks, a visual representation will be worked up in the days ahead.)

In evaluating options, we tried to uphold and balance several principles that have always guided us:
- That a tournament structured as a hybrid of Pool Play and Elimination rounds should aim to cut the field roughly in half after the Pool rounds. (Precedents include the World Cup and World Baseball Classic.)
- That the Winners of each pool should be rewarded more than pool runners-up or wild card teams, in terms of their path through the brackets. (MLB's recent change to the difficulty level of the Wild Card path was especially inspirational.)
- That higher seeds are expected to win for bracketing purposes, but when a team earns an upset victory, they may also usurp the bracket path of the defeated team.
- That teams determine their own destiny on the field as much as possible.
- That as diversity of opponents is part of Founders Cup's unique appeal, rematches between teams should be avoided where it is feasible to do so equitably and fairly.
- That in the interests of managing brackets swiftly and not keeping teams waiting, simplicity is a virtue.

To my perspective, in my 5th year as Founders Cup Bracketologist, the most regrettable facet of the 21-Team plan is that it's not feasible to build in a rematch-prevention algorithm for Wild Card teams that do reach the Round of 16. In other words, it's possible (if statistically unlikely) for a Wild Card to rematch the winning team of their pool. But to be fair - there never was a way to rematch-proof Wild Cards beyond the first elimination round... it's just that past years had 2 or 4 of them, none of which ever did make the Sweet 16 in the end, while this year, 5 Wild Cards figure into the 16 no matter what.

We did consider various other shapes, and found much that was tempting about 22 and 24-team brackets... but ultimately, what was more bothersome about those is how some pool champs would get a BYE and some would not, as predetermined by initial seeding and pool placement. As confident as we might be in our Ranking methodology, to set it up that the Champ of Pool K has to play-in to the Round of 16 no matter what, while the Champ of Pool A gets a BYE, would simply be giving Rankings an imbalanced level of influence. (And don't even get me started on re-seeding pool champs - a whole other can of worms that does even less to prevent rematches.)

So, the merit of the 21-team plan is that it's just more fair, and allows teams to best influence their own destiny - while placing the utmost value on being the pool champ as opposed to a wild card, and incentivizing all teams to take the pool games seriously. Naturally we feel the pain of the Runner-up who misses the cut (I mean literally -- my own Kung Fu Grip team won 2 pool games in FC2008 but didn't advance, and it hurts to this day!)... but their fate is in their own hands to play tight D and stay off the bubble. It's rough - but it's definitely sporting!

-- OW!

Orion Walker (@theorionwalker) is the WAKA Founders Cup World Kickball Championship Scorekeeper, lead Bracketologist, Managing Secretary of the Selection & Ranking Committee, and self-styled "Tim Kurkjian of Kickball." Be sure to follow @FoundersCup for his live tournament commentary and complete game results!

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