Presently, the current USA Curling system has multiple national championships, including, U18 Nationals, Junior Nationals, U.S. Nationals, Wheelchair Nationals, Club Nationals, Senior Nationals, Mixed Nationals, Mixed Doubles Nationals, Arena Nationals, and the Curling College Championship.
On September 11, 2017, USA Curling sent out an email with the subject line “Volunteers needed in Vegas for 2018 World Men's Championship” to its membership. (See Email from USA Curling to Membership (Sept. 11, 2017)). Towards the end of the email, there was a section about upcoming playdowns where it asked “Are you ready for playdowns? Sign up today!” and provided links about how to register for 2017-2018 playdowns. Going to the registration page in the email (hereafter, “Registration Page”) takes you to a page that explains qualifications for all national championship events (except Arena Nationals). Arena Nationals will not be discussed here as it was not listed on the registration page.
Until this email, I had never looked intently at the registration requirements for championships. I found it interesting that the qualification systems varied so widely when all events are national championships in their respective fields. For example, Club Nationals, U18 Nationals, and Mixed Nationals require playdowns based on geographic regions (i.e., teams must win a playdown for the region that their club belongs to—Mountain Pacific, Dakota Region, etc.). (See Registration Page). However, Junior Nationals use a qualification system that involves four events (which take place in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Massachusetts). “Four (4) qualifying events will be held (Berth bonspiels), with two women’s and two men’s teams advancing from each event. . . . Teams may enter as many events as they wish. Teams (and individual players) will be ineligible to play in any successive qualifying event if they have secured a berth in a previous berth qualifier to Junior Nationals. Teams do not need to have the same team members for each event. Teams may reconfigure with different players for each event.” (Registration Page).
For Wheelchair Nationals, “all wheelchair curling athletes who have demonstrated the ability to play regulation curling games are encouraged to register . . . Athletes will register into the bonspiel as individuals (no team entries). Size of teams will be determined based on the total number of event registrants. All teams will be developed using a draft system in which current members of the National High Performance Program will serve as skips and select their teams.” (See Registration Page). And, the Curling College Championship “is designed to find the best college curling school in the nation. Sixteen schools will be invited to participate in a split round robin followed by a championship round, and one will take the single national title.” (Registration Page).
The qualification process for Mixed Doubles Nationals “depends on the number of entries. The USCA format formula described in Section II (7) of the Championship Rules will be used. As soon as possible after the sign-up deadline, teams will be notified of the specific format, and the beginning and ending dates for the competition.” (Registration Page). But, unlike in some of the other qualification overview sections which link to the 2016-2017 Rules of Curling and Competition handbook, there is no link to the “Championship Rules.” As such, I ran a search for the phrase “championship rules” on the USA Curling website, and the results brought up this page: http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Curling/Features/2016/October/25/Championship-Rules-Book-now-available which suggests that the Championship Rules book is the same as the Rules of Curling and Competition (see also http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Curling/Events/Championships-microsite/Inside-the-Championships/Rules). However, when one views Section II (7) of the handbook, that section deals with uniforms. (see Rules of Curling and Competition, pp. 23-24 [last accessed Oct. 4, 2017]), so it is unclear exactly how Mixed Doubles Nationals are run. With many of the high performance athletes showing sudden interest in participating in Mixed Doubles, it is odd that the requirements or qualification are, as of yet, unpublished.
Lastly, for U.S. Nationals, the qualification process involves a combination of awarding spots based on Order of Merit points and the use of a “Challenge Round” playdown. “[The National Championship Team selection playdown system is not geographically based. The National Championships field will be ten teams providing there are at least fourteen entries. If there are thirteen or fewer entries then the National Championships field will be eight teams.” (Registration Page). In the event that there are ten teams, “[f]ive Nationals spots will be awarded to the top five Order of Merit (OOM) teams. . . . Four National Championship spots will be determined at a single Challenge Round event. The remaining Nationals spot will be awarded to a High Performance Program Discretionary Selection.” In the event there are eight teams, then “[f]our Nationals spots will be awarded to the top four Order of Merit (OOM) teams. . . . Three National Championship spots will be determined at a single Challenge Round event. The remaining Nationals spot will be awarded to a High Performance Program Discretionary Selection.” (See Registration Page).
As we saw with 2017 U.S. Nationals, there is a serious lack of participation in the U.S. Nationals Challenge Rounds. The women’s Challenge Round only had six (6) teams competing, and the men’s Challenge round had thirteen (13). (see http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Curling/Features/2016/December/30/Nationals-Challenge-Rounds-begin-next-week). Why is this? Why do more curlers not want to compete at U.S. Nationals? Is it because winning Nationals no longer guarantees that the team will represent the USA at World Championships? Or, is it because, even if a team has a strong showing (like winning silver) at U.S. Nationals, they still may get overlooked for a HPP team when it comes to deciding who goes to Olympic Trials? (see, e.g., how Team Birr was overlooked for an Olympic Trials spot, but ultimately won a spot at the Trials after filing a right-to-play grievance).
It is clear that the current system leaves a lot to be desired and can be confusing to curlers given the amount of dissimilarity amongst the various national championships. Therefore, I propose adopting the system used by USA Fencing in order to determine what curlers qualify for national championships as such an approach would likely satisfy the goals of increasing participation in the sport up to, and including, the highest levels as well as growing the sport and continuing to sustain international competitive excellence.
(To be continued….)
Author’s note: This blog is the second in a series discussing how USA Curling qualifies athletes for major events and suggesting changes for the qualification processes to increase participation and heighten the level of competitiveness of American curlers.
The next blog in this series will discuss specifics of my proposed changes to the current curling system based on the one used by USA Fencing and Part 4 will suggest alternate uses for High Performance Program funds. Part 1 of this series, Changes to USA Curling World Team Qualification Process, a Step in the Right Direction, discussed the recent changes that USA Curling made to the World Team qualification process and the disconnect between what those who play the sport and those who are responsible for governing the sport see as being necessary to compete at a high level.
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This article was prepared by the author in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of any organizations that the author is affiliated with.