Author’s note: This blog is the third 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 U.S. curlers.
The present championship system that USA Curling uses leaves a lot to be desired. As such, I propose adopting an approach like USA Fencing’s system, which largely uses a points system to qualify for events in conjunction with a centralized event registration platform that also tracks team and individual fencer rankings. With a few modifications, I believe that a similar system could be used within U.S. curling.
When it comes to the qualification of athletes for USA Fencing national championships, fencers can receive points for placing well in certain sanctioned tournaments such as Regional Open Circuit competitions (ROCs) and North American Cups (NACs). Aside from earning a certain amount of points, fencers can also qualify by placing well in certain events and upping their ranking (NOTE: Fencers are assigned rankings from “A” through “E” and “U,” with “A” being the highest ranking, “E” being the worst, and “U” being unranked). This approach ends up functioning as a two-tiered system where the average fencer is able to achieve success and, if they actually do really well, would then be eligible to compete at an elite level. It also encourages the average fencer by providing meaningful achievements that are within their reach, which (may) ultimately lead to bigger and more prestigious achievements as skill level increases – to the ultimate goal of representing the USA at the highest level: the Olympics.
In fencing, there are different weapons (i.e., foil, epee, and saber) that fencers can compete in. Fencers are also divided into divisions for each weapon based on skill level. Fencing divisions include: I (elite level), IA, II, and III. Within the divisions are age categories. The different weapons divisions are an apt comparison to the different disciplines of curling (men’s, women’s, mixed, mixed doubles, etc.). With the exception of Division I (which is held in April), all national championships are held at the same time in the summer (at “Summer Nationals”). This assists fencers in knowing when major competitions are going to be held each year and allows for proper planning. It also allows fencers who qualify in multiple divisions to only need to make one (or two trips at most) over the year in order to attend national championships. The Academy of Fencing Masters has created an amazing diagram, which gives a great rundown of how the qualification process for fencing Summer Nationals actually plays out: CLICK HERE FOR THE DIAGRAM.
Aside from having centralized National Championships across the divisions, “[t]he Regional Open Circuit (ROC) is designed to promote and develop strong regional tournaments for the Open/Division I-A fencer who seeks competitive opportunities beyond the local and division levels but below the NAC Division I level. Other competitive opportunities in the ROC tournaments are provided for Veteran (40 & Older) and Division II (C, D, E or U) fencers.” (http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Fencing/Events/About-Tournaments/ROC-Tournament-Organizer-Resources). There are similar regional competitions for younger fencers (Regional Youth Circuit (RYC), Super Youth Circuit (SYC)), as well as the North American Cup (NAC) tournaments, which are “a series of tournaments organized by USA Fencing (Y10, Y12, Y14, Cadet, Junior, Div I, Div II, Div III, Vet Open, Vet Age, Wheelchair, and Cadet/Y14/Junior/Senior Team). For Div I NACs, athletes must meet the criteria for a “C” or better classification at the time of their entry. For Div II NACs, athletes must meet the age and classification criteria (“C” or lower classification) at the time of their entry. For Div III NACs, athletes must meet the age and classification criteria for a (“D” or lower classification) at the time of their entry.” (2017-2018 USA Fencing Handbook, pg. 17).
If we were to apply this system to curling teams, a hypothetical team, the “Smith Rink,” could start out unranked and work their way up to Division III. Even with lineup changes, once they earn enough points as a team, they could attain a level where they could either choose to remain in Division III, or move up to Division II where they could begin to challenge for higher level events. This would continue to progress until the Smith Rink is ready for Division I play.
Another takeaway from fencing that could benefit curling is the use of individual rankings. While the ranking of teams is vital, tracking individual performances would also be beneficial in curling. For instance, when the Smith Rink enters USA Curling sanctioned events, they could be tracked as a team and individually in a way that is similar to the way that CurlingZone.com and the World Curling Tour track player statistics and use Order of Merit points for teams. These rankings would fluctuate based on competitions so that individual teams and players will be cognizant of the events and skills required to be successful. Thus, if the Smith Rink were to beat the #1 team at a regional division tournament, they would gain a higher ranking, but the #1 team may or may not take a tumble in the rankings depending on how well they did overall at the event in question.
When it comes to individual rankings, the members of Team Smith may or may not have outside accomplishments that would influence their rankings. For example, if Sebastian Smith, the hypothetical skip of Team Smith, had competed in juniors at a high level and/or had success playing a different position on another team prior to skipping the Smith rink, he would have a higher ranking than Seth Second, the hypothetical second of Team Smith, who had limited success at local club funspiels prior to joining the Smith rink. Additionally, the top four ranked individuals in a division may be able to comprise a team, but if they do not have any team chemistry, they would likely not be able to perform as well and all of their team and individual rankings would suffer.
Additionally, under the suggested ranking system, only USA Curling sanctioned events would count as ROC events. Clubs and/or regional/state curling associations (e.g., MOPAC, GNCC, etc.) would be able to register their events for this status and that would, in turn, encourage more participation and spieling throughout the regions. All events would not award the same number of points, however; instead, the number of points awarded would be dependent upon the strength of field of each event. By doing this, curlers could decide if it was worth participating in certain events where it may cost prohibitive. This would also allow the lesser events to be bypassed in favor of events with a higher strength of field. Moreover, there would likely be events were the field was limited to teams of at least a certain ranking or within specific divisions. Such events would allow elite curlers to face off against each other, and others would allow lower ranked teams to obtain higher rankings.
While a full review of USA Curling’s selection process will take place again in the summer of 2018, the intention is that the qualifying criteria will be tightened up again as USA Curling looks ahead to preparing teams for future world championships and the 2022 Olympic Games (see USA Curling’s Press Release, "USA Curling relaxes the World Team Qualification Process for 2018" [last accessed Dec. 30, 2017]). As such, this article proposes a new way to better elevate the sport of curling through more focused merit based selections and increase the level of competition. With the end result of USA Curling’s tightening the qualifying criteria, it is my hope that they consider this proposal in their role as elevating the sport of curling within the U.S. Additionally, this proposed system would fulfill the desire of USA Curling, and the U.S. Olympic Committee for both growing the sport and continuing to sustain international competitive excellence.
To be continued….
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The next blog in this series 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. Part 2, Problems with USA Curling’s Championship Qualification Processes, discussed the unclear requirements for USA Curling national championships.
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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.