With the addition of two new teams to the USCL, the symmetric format of having four divisions of four teams had to be changed in some fashion, but how?
There now being eighteen teams, the overall divisional configuration had several potential options. Returning to two divisions, each having nine teams, was one possibility as was keeping the same current general status, just increasing the size of two of the divisions to five teams. After much consideration, we eventually elected to go to the perhaps somewhat unexpected configuration of three divisions of six teams.
While the pros and cons of these and the other possibilities could be debated for a long time, the two main factors which lead us to choose this option was our desire to keep the divisions symmetrical in size along with still keeping the number of EST vs PST matches in the regular season low – a phenomenon which always tends to be tough on the EST teams due to the late starting time.
The question of whether to keep the number of playoff teams at eight or increase it to ten was another big dilemma. There is always a balance between making sure teams stay motivated as long as possible versus it being too easy to make it to the postseason and thereby seriously lessening the importance of the regular season. But whichever of these two options we preferred, neither was going to make it easy to create a good playoff system under given the existence of three divisions – it being impossible to divide the playoff spots equally amongst the divisions in either scenario.
The phenomenon of one team having an easier route to the playoffs than another at the start of the season due to being in an “easier” division is not a new concept in pretty much any professional sports league and in the USCL as well – a simple reality which tends to be unavoidable, yet is still probably an unfortunate inequity in many people’s eyes.
With both these things in mind, the playoff system which will be used in 2014 will be rather unique. The top three teams in each division will qualify for the playoffs. Also, one of the fourth place teams will as well, bringing us to ten playoff spots. But which fourth place team will get this lucky break? Well, in Weeks 3/5/7/9, the divisions will face off against each other (other weeks will be divisional play), and whichever of the three divisions scores the highest number of match points in Interdivision play (in some sense the “strongest division”) will be the division which receives the tenth and final postseason spot.
We feel this system can be good both in creating some real additional drama within the Interdivision play (particularly in Week 9 when the outcome as to which division will garner the extra playoff spot is finally determined) as well as somewhat balancing the fact that one team may have a much tougher road to the playoffs than another due to stronger divisional competition.
Once the ten teams playoff teams are decided, they will be seeded as 1st – 10th. The three division winners will be 1st – 3rd, in order of record. The three second place teams will be 4th – 6th, the three third place teams 7th – 9th, and the only fourth place team 10th (again by record within the subdivisions). Some playoff matches will use draw odds (higher seed getting choice of draw odds or color choice and lower seed getting the other advantage). Other playoff matches will use a blitz tiebreaker where the higher seed gets color choice, and if the match ends up tied, it is decided by a blitz tiebreaker.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Wildcard Round, the 7th seed will play the 10th with 7 getting draw odds, along with 8 playing 9 in a blitz tiebreaker match (with all the other teams receiving byes). The two teams to emerge from this will be reseeded, if necessary, as 7th and 8th (maintaining the same order as they started with) for the purposes of the next postseason round.
In the Quarterfinals the following matches will occur: 1 vs 8, 2 vs 7, 3 vs 6, and 4 vs 5. The first three matches will be under draw odds, the last under the blitz tiebreaker.
Then in the Semifinals, the winner of 1 vs 8 will play the winner of 4 vs 5 while the winner of 2 vs 7 will take on the winner of 3 vs 6. And then finally in the Championship, the two Semifinal winners will face off. The Semifinals and Championship Matches will all be blitz tiebreaker matches.
We look forward to the new system for the extra playoff round it will now contain along with the additional regular season drama that will occur when the Interdivision matches decide which division will garner the extra playoff spot.
Stay tuned to what should be another great season as the 2014 USCL kicks off on August 26!