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Making WFTDA more like NCAA Basketball

Back in October, I wrote about how the current playoffs system is just as fair as any other playoffs system in the world. I still believe that to be the case but I also believe the roller derby season has problems. Mainly, there's isn't a structured regular season. I wrote about a possible solution to this last year, but that post was short-sighted as it did not account for the rapid growth of the WFTDA membership as well as the growing competitive divide between the teams at the top and the teams at the bottom. Also, with the recent expansion of South Central and the addition of Europe to the East, some regions are becoming GIGANTIC and really are no longer regions since they're bigger than some continents. The split to four regions was done to limit travel costs and allow for better rankings. I'm pretty sure travel to Europe is somewhat expensive. I'm also somewhat confident a WFTDA voter in New Mexico is going to have trouble seeing a team from Florida play before regionals.

With the addition of more and more teams to the WFTDA, the landscape is much different now than it was when four regions were put into place. That doesn't necessarily mean anything needs to change but what's the harm in exploring other options? My plan originally was to adapt a number of examples from different sports' seasons and playoff structures for roller derby. I quickly realized, though, that roller derby is so unique, most sports' structures would make no sense when applied to roller derby. The one sport that stuck out, though, was college basketball.

Many people like to compare roller derby to pro sports but that just isn't logical. Roller derby has much more in common with college sports than pro sports. There is a large number of teams in both derby and college (American pro sports leagues have around 30), neither derby nor college pays players, and both derby and college are working on limited travel budgets. With those things in common, it makes a lot of sense to look at the college basketball season and see how it could be applied to the WFTDA.

NCAA Division 1 Men's Basketball consists of 346 teams divided among 32 conferences. The champion of each conference receives an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. The "Big Dance" is a 68-team tournament made up of conference champions and at-large selections chosen by a committee who also seeds the teams and places them into regions. Two rounds are played each weekend for three weeks.

So, how do we morph this for use with roller derby? Abolish the regions and form 20-25 small divisions with a minimum of 5 teams with each team playing every other team in their division at least once. The champion of each division would then get an automatic bid into the WFTDA Tournament. Teams should be selected for each division based on their competitiveness and their willingness to travel. Top-tier teams should be playing top-tier teams and bottom-tier teams should be playing bottom-tier teams. This creates 5 "power divisions" in which the most competitive teams in the WFTDA will play each other as well as a bunch of regional divisions that contain teams that are closely located.

Seeing as how this plan wouldn't possibly go into place for a couple years, I put together examples of these divisions with the inclusion of WFTDA Apprentice leagues as well as San Diego (who the WFTDA would be stupid to continue to keep out) and Glasgow (who you could replace with any European league) to bring Europe's numbers up to five.

West Coast Division
  • Bay Area
  • Jet City
  • Oly
  • Rat City
  • Rose City
  • San Diego^ 
Mid-States Division
  • Arch Rival
  • Denver
  • Kansas City
  • No Coast
  • Omaha
  • Rocky Mountain 
Great Lakes Division
  • Brewcity
  • Burning River
  • Chicago
  • Cincinnati
  • Detroit
  • Madison
  • Minnesota
  • North Star
  • Windy City
Southern Division
  • Atlanta
  • Carolina
  • Dallas
  • Houston
  • Nashville 
  • Tampa Bay 
  • Texas
Northeastern Division
  • Boston
  • Charm City
  • Gotham
  • Montreal
  • Philly
  • Steel City
European Division
  • London
  • Auld Reekie*
  • Bear City*
  • Paris*
  • Glasgow^
New England Division
  • Connecticut
  • Green Mountain
  • Maine
  • New Hampshire
  • Providence
  • Hudson Valley*
Lake Ontario Division
  • Central New York
  • Hammer City
  • Queen City
  • Tri City*
  • Toronto*
New York-New Jersey Division
  • Garden State
  • Long Island
  • Suburbia
  • Diamond State*
  • Jersey Shore*
Amish Country? Division
  • DC
  • Dutchland
  • Lehigh Valley
  • Harrisburg Area
  • Mason-Dixon*
Virginia-Carolina Division
  • Dominion
  • River City
  • Blue Ridge*
  • Cape Fear*
  • Charlotte*
  • NRV*
  • Rocktown*
Alabama-Tennessee Division
  • Dixie
  • Hard Knox
  • Memphis
  • Chattanooga*
  • Little City*
  • Tragic City*
Swamp Division
  • Big Easy
  • Tallahassee
  • Cajun*
  • Gold Coast*
  • Hub City*
  • Jacksonville*
  • Red Stick*
Lone Star Division
  • Assassination City
  • Alamo City
  • West Texas
  • Route 66*
  • Spindletop*
Conference of the Ozarks
  • Green Country
  • ICT
  • Northwest Arkansas
  • Oklahoma
  • CoMo*
  • OKC*
  • Springfield*
Indituckio Division
  • Bleeding Heartland
  • Demolition City
  • Derby City
  • Gem City
  • Naptown
  • Ohio
  • Southern Indiana
  • Black-n-Bluegrass*
  • Lafayette*
  • Twin City*
Michiganish Division
  • Fort Wayne
  • Grand Raggidy
  • Killamazoo 
  • NEO
  • Glass City*
  • Mid Michigan*
  • Rubber City*
Northerner Division
  • Fox Cityz
  • Paper Valley
  • Rockford
  • Sioux Falls
  • Babe City*
  • Des Moines*
  • Mid Iowa*
  • Mississippi Valley*
  • Old Capitol City*
Rocky Division
  • FoCo
  • Pikes Peak
  • Pueblo
  • Slaughterhouse
  • Castle Rock*
  • Choice City*
Desert Division
  • Angel City
  • Arizona
  • Central Coast
  • Duke City
  • Sin City
  • Tucson
  • Bakersfield*
Near No One Division
  • Pacific
  • Salt City
  • Wasatch
  • Fairbanks*
  • Junction City*
  • Lilac City*
  • Rage City*
  • Treasure Valley*
Pacific Northwest Division
  • Bellingham
  • Emerald City
  • Lava City
  • Slaughter County
  • Cherry City*
  • Dockyard*
  • Sick Town*
  • Terminal City*
Wine Country Division
  • Sacred City
  • Santa Cruz
  • Silicon Valley
  • Battle Born*
  • Humboldt*
  • Sonoma County*
*WFTDA Apprentice League
^Non-WFTDA member

These divisions can expand and shrink easily based on the change in membership levels that there certainly will continue to be as well as individual leagues becoming more or less competitive and wanting to change divisions. The size and competitiveness of each division is not a major issue like it is for regions since there is only one automatic bid from each division and there are so many at-larges.

The next step is to apply the NCAA Tournament for the postseason. If there are this many teams competing in the WFTDA then a 64-team field is a perfectly reasonable size. The method of playing these games would definitely need to be changed, though, as the travel budgets for WFTDA teams are much lower than those of NCAA basketball teams. I would propose eight 8-team tournaments for the first four rounds with the championship tournament being made up of the eight teams still remaining.

I used the four 2010 regional locations and four other locations based on an even spread geographically throughout the country. I also determined seeds based on the 2nd quarter WFTDA rankings and the DNN and Derbytron rankings at that time. Teams were then put into a region based on proximity. This is what the tournament would like if this would have been put into place this year.

Green Bay, WI
  1. Bay Area^
  2. Windy City
  3. Brewcity
  4. Minnesota
  5. DC*
  6. Grand Raggidy
  7. Fort Wayne
  8. Tallahassee*
White Plains, NY
  1. Gotham
  2. Boston
  3. Montreal
  4. Carolina
  5. Providence
  6. Maine
  7. Dominion
  8. Suburbia 
Sacramento, CA
  1. Oly
  2. Steel City^
  3. Jet City
  4. Naptown^
  5. Sacred City
  6. Angel City
  7. Lava City
  8. Central Coast
Lincoln, NE
  1. Rocky Mountain
  2. Detroit
  3. Kansas City
  4. No Coast
  5. Omaha
  6. Connecticut^
  7. Sioux Falls
  8. Bellingham^
Tucson, AZ
  1. Rose City
  2. Atlanta*
  3. Nashville*
  4. Duke City
  5. Tucson
  6. Arizona
  7. Bleeding Heartland
  8. Emerald City
Dallas, TX
  1. Denver
  2. Texas
  3. Dallas
  4. Houston
  5. Hard Knox
  6. Memphis
  7. Green Country
  8. West Texas
Cleveland, OH
  1. Philly
  2. Charm City
  3. Cincinnati
  4. Arch Rival
  5. Dutchland
  6. Burning River
  7. Ohio
  8. Dixie
Salt Lake City, UT
  1. Rat City
  2. Madison^
  3. North Star^
  4. Tampa Bay^
  5. Pikes Peak
  6. Slaughter County
  7. Northwest Arkansas*
  8. Salt City
*Traveling slightly further than a currently possible regional site
^Traveling significantly further than a currently possible regional site

Many people propose separate divisions as a solution to the WFTDA season problem. They say that putting the top 24ish teams in the top division, the next 24ish teams in the middle division, and the rest in the bottom division would create better competition and a structured regular season. They're conveniently ignoring the travel costs, exclusion of deserving teams from the title hunt, and the excitement of watching teams no one knows about upset a top team. They're also conveniently leaving out that Rocky Mountain, Oly, and Denver probably would have been left out of the playoffs the last two years. Seriously, that would be a travesty.

This solution would increase competition and creates a structured regular season without leaving anyone out.

This also might open up Australia and more European leagues because they’d be able to compete for a division championship and play a number of WFTDA sanctioned games each year. Also, they could work together to pool money to send their champion to the States for the playoffs each year. Whereas, the way it works now, each team would become a full WFTDA member individually like London and wouldn’t be able to convince anyone to come play them and thus wouldn’t even qualify to play in the playoffs because they can't play enough games. They’d also might be able to convince a couple US or Canadian teams to come play them because they could get 3-4 sanctioned games in in a weekend.

What would we miss from the current format if the WFTDA changed to something like this? I think the main thing would be losing the region championship but it would be replaced with a lot more division championships so that might be a push. The WFTDA Championship would be 8 teams instead of 12 so that would turn Saturday into just two semifinals instead of the epic 6 games it currently is but it would mean that each team would only play one game each day which is more fair and I think makes for better games since skaters wouldn't have dead legs. Another question is if the WFTDA has the resources to put on 2 major events in a weekend and 9 major events in the span of a couple months.

What would we add with something like this? A structured regular season. An inclusive postseason. More teams and more games in the postseason. Faster international expansion.

Again, I don't post this as my perfect plan to solve all of WFTDA's woes but more of an idea that I think is logical that we should discuss further. Please post any comments or questions you have in the comments section.


  1. I know it's not the main topic of this post. But to take your college basketball analogy a step farther, how would you deal with mid-season roster changes?

  2. You left WFTDA member Fox Cityz out of the Northerner Division. IT'S AN OUTRAGE, I TELL YOU!!!

  3. @revnorb

    Damn, I knew I would leave somebody out. It's fixed, thanks.

    @Todd Bradley

    That is one of the differences between derby and college sports. College sports have set rosters and no in-season transfers. I don't mind how the WFTDA currently handles this although, if there isn't, there should be something about team members living within a certain proximity of their league.

  4. Intentionally put top teams in one division, bottom teams in another, then both get an automatic berth in the championship? Hell to the no. Try again.

  5. @Anonymous 11:53

    All of the teams in the power divisions would have made the tournament this year with at-larges. It's a recipe that has made the NCAA Tournament the most exciting tournament in the US and possibly the world (excluding the World Cup). You just pointed out what makes the tournament so perfect as the reason not to do it. Try again.

  6. I think you left NEO off the list.

  7. While I like that Utah is included in the "Near No One" Division... I'm not sure if it is practical.

    The biggest problem we run into here is the lack of funding--top to bottom--to put such a system in place. I don't feel like teams are well-enough capitalized to follow an NCAA approach at this level.

    Could we weight the tourney locations by the teams that are well-capialized and proximity to highest-ranked teams?

    I'd love to host a tourney in Salt Lake City, but I don't think it is practical for well-ranked teams to travel across the country just for a "regional" event.

    The other option would be to consolidate the regionals into larger groups to reduce travel time.

    Also, host leagues put in a LOT of money to put on these events. I fear that there just isn't enough money in Derby right now to put a system like this in place.

  8. College club teams, like hockey and lacrosse, would be a much better analogy. NCAA sports have a lot of money, relatively speaking.

  9. Mr Dragon Hugh DownNovember 16, 2010 at 5:52 PM

    I will say, this is very well thought out and argued.
    I love the idea of "March Madnessing" up the tournaments...
    ...but why couldn't the "regional" rounds be regional? Must teams have to travel such long distances? In college, there are many different, very successful ways to pay for travel. In derby, not so much.
    Otherwise, I'm sold.

  10. personally I'd like regionals to be like the NITs where they'd play @ the higher seed's rink until the regional final four, as it seems to me no one attends regionals as they currently are constituted.

  11. @JoeXJoe

    Added. Thank you.


    Valid argument but I just used Salt Lake City as an example, if the two teams can't combine their efforts to host a regional then SLC isn't a valid playoffs host. That makes sense but there certainly seem to be a number of leagues that are willing to put money down to host regionals right now. I've got to think they're at least making most of their money back otherwise I don't know why anyone would want to do it (especially since some cities will be hosting for the 2nd time next year). I understand the Near No One Division probably doesn't make sense. I think the Hawaii and Alaska teams will probably have to remain independent because no one can afford to go out there but I didn't want to leave anyone out.

    @Mr Dragon Hugh Down

    Teams are already traveling long distances for regionals. Tampa Bay to Lincoln is pretty far. The teams put in each city based on their proximity so they already are kind of regional. I marked the teams in the mock tournament above that would be traveling further then they could for the current regional setup and it wasn't really that many. I don't think it's an issue especially with the ability for divisions to pool their money to pay for the champion's cost of travel.

    @The Original Donald

    I really like that idea but I'm not sure it's practical. Teams wouldn't have enough time to get venues figured out. It's one thing for colleges to do it because the majority of them own their arenas but very few roller derby leagues do. I doubt any derby leagues would be able to secure their normal venue with a week's notice unless it's a skating rink and even then I doubt many could.

  12. New England Division

    * Connecticut
    * Green Mountain
    * Maine
    * New Hampshire
    * Providence
    * Hudson Valley*

    Maine and Providence would likely slaughter the rest.

    Lake Ontario Division

    * Central New York
    * Hammer City
    * Queen City
    * Tri City*
    * Toronto*

    Likewise, I'd probably give Queen City and Tri-City about 75-150 points over their opponents in the division. I'd hate to imagine how QCRG vs CNY or even QCRG vs Hammer City might go.

    By FORCING them to play together you are also forcing everyone to have EIDs or passports. The bulk of my league's travel team has 'em, but it's not doable for everyone.

    As bad as many interleague reps tend to get this stuff, I suspect that a WFTDA committee would probably wind up getting it even wronger. Take away freedom of choice about who teams play and you'll wind up with even worse blowouts than we have now.

  13. These were just quick examples I put together completely based on geography. I didn't want to get into how exactly I thought the divisions should be formed because the post was already long enough and I hadn't put a ton of thought into that particular aspect.

    I do think that teams should form the divisions themselves, not the WFTDA. That would allow those teams to form alliances with other teams they have relationships with and teams they feel are on the same level with similar goals. Once the divisions are formed, I think the divisions have to have power to do certain things, just like how conferences in the NCAA have power to certain things like sign television contracts, create how the conference schedule will work, vote on whether certain teams should join the conference, etc.

    You would know more than me but when I was in the Toronto/Buffalo/upstate New York area for a couple weeks a while ago, people talked like they crossed the border all the time. I don't see what the issue would be in telling travel team skaters they need a passport. It's not like it's some ridiculous impossible process to get one (teams in Canada have to have passports to play in regionals).

    Blowouts are not something that should be avoided at all costs. Blowouts will happen. It's a fact of sports especially roller derby. If we pamper every team at the bottom of the rankings, they'll never get better, and they'll never be able to prove they're better because they'll never play anyone ranked higher than them. This isn't a way to defend my division examples (I don't know the geography/relationships/strengths of every single team and state), again, I just put the divisions together as an example, not as a blueprint for the WFTDA to use. But, I do think wayyyyyy too much is made of blowouts and avoiding blowouts. Blowouts happen when #1 seeds play #4 seeds in regionals now. There is just too much of a difference between the top to top-middle, top-middle to middle, middle to bottom-middle, bottom-middle to bottom in the rankings. Avoiding blowouts at all costs means avoiding playing games at all.

  14. I think you're completely right on 2 things:
    1. there's isn't a structured regular season.
    2. there's a growing competitive divide between the teams at the top and the teams at the bottom.

    Here's the season schedule I've worked:
    Pre-season ie Spring Training (8 weeks, Jan-Feb): This needs to be a period of training to recover fitness levels, followed by friendly matches prior to the start of a regular travel team season. This serves conveniently to test player candidates and to practice teamwork under game conditions.

    Regular season (32 weeks, late Feb-August): The time when the bulk of games are played and use the results to seed a post-season playoff tournament. The travel teams play 6 games at home and 6 on the road, which determines their standings. Two of these games (one at home, one away) are against local teams (ie within 300 miles and similar skill level). Four games (two at home, two away) are against teams outside of the region. That works out to a game every other week for about 6 months.

    Post-season (8 weeks, Sept-Oct): Regionals (I agree on smaller regions) and Nationals

    Off-season (4 weeks, Nov-Dec): Upper management continues to work, but the athletes will take vacation time. Athletes stay in shape during the off-season in preparation for the next season.

  15. @funkEpunkEmonkE

    I like the idea of having the season broken up into specific segments (although, I would make the offseason longer) but I'm not sure your regular season plan would work.

    I don't know if there are much more than 40-50 teams that would be able to handle that schedule (maybe that's what you want?). Forcing teams to play 6 road games plus making at least 2 of those be a long distance away would be too hard for a lot of teams.

    The other thing is that I don't really understand how teams playing a random group of teams does anything to create a more cohesive regular season except put specifics on the number of games teams have to play. You can still put together a schedule that is really super weak and go 12-0 even if you're not that good and you could put together a super tough schedule and go 0-12 even though you might be a top 25 team. So, if record is meaningless and there's no separation between the top and bottom teams, I'm not really understanding how that's any better than what we have now.

  16. The best part of all this is not having the post season decided by July 1, letting the entire regular season matter.