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2018 What This Year's National's Taught Us Abut Regions Empty 2018 What This Year's National's Taught Us Abut Regions

Tue Nov 19, 2019 10:42 pm
As we commented on in our Post Nationals Analysis, this year’s nationals saw some big shifts in who was on top from region to region. Most notably, some big powers from the Northeast and West Coast suddenly performed far worse than their historical success or their performance earlier in the season would suggest that they should. We suggested in that post that this might have something to do with the differences in style between different regions of the country. In other words, did some of these programs just mess up/have a bad weekend, or was there an element of regional preference thrown in there as well?    

Let’s start by taking a look at the style differences that may have been at play here. First off, one of the things we’ve been looking at all year is the way different regions differ from each other in terms of style and how those style differences affect performance at different levels. A few months ago, we sent out a survey asking about the way that different regions do mock trial

Since Nationals took place in Minneapolis this year, we need to be looking at the style differences between the Midwest and other regions. Right off the bat, there are some key places where the coasts are going to suffer, and overall they are already marked as different (the regions that are most different from the Midwest). The average differences between each region and the Midwest is below:    

Northeast: 0.47
Southeast: 0.39
West Coast: 0.57
Southwest: 0.43

More specifically, for the Northeast we notice that the highest rated trait in the Midwest was Polish and that is something that many of the East Coast programs don’t do very well (and indeed rated low on our survey). More importantly, though there were four areas where the Northeast ranked far above the rest of the country:  Realism, Creative Case Theory, Complex Objections, and Aggressive Advocacy. Creative Case Theory was actually the Northeast’s highest rated trait. In every single one of those categories, the Midwest was the lowest or second lowest rated region (lowest in three and just 0.1 average rank above the West Coast on one).  

This means that teams that are used to being successful in the Northeast will be spending time  putting together unusual case theories that the judges may not like because they seem too out there, making complex objections that the judges don’t like because they are too confusing or take too long, and aggressively arguing points in a way that the judges don’t like because they prefer a more laid back style. The only high rated Northeastern trait that probably didn’t hurt Northeastern competitors too much in the judges eyes was realism (We can’t really see judges being mad that something seemed too real). On the other hand, getting realism right takes a lot of time and if it's not something the judges care about, Northeastern teams may have spent too much time going for realism that could have been spent on traits the judges would care about like polish.    

In fact, we can see these issues in a couple of case study teams that we rated very highly in our pre-predictions. Our two division favorites for the tournament were Yale A and NYU, both of whom have seen considerable success in the Northeast (they were the Downtown finalists this year), and as noted in our previous post, both underperformed (Yale A somewhat spectacularly). These teams stand out for exactly the traits listed above. Both are very aggressive across the board and both have big name attorneys who are known for aggressive styles. Both are known for wild case theories (at all three of the NCT’s where Yale A made the final, Yale was playing an unusual and inventive D theory and NYU has been wrong footing people all year with their “Kerry attacked Dylan” theory). Both (particularly Nick Ramos and Elizabeth Bays) were known for making aggressive and complex objections, and we wouldn’t expect that to play particularly well in Minneapolis.*    

Turning to the West Coast then, we saw three primary places where the West Coast stood apart from all other regions: Humor, Accents, and Interesting Characters. These weren’t as bad as the Northeastern differences in that the Midwest was only the lowest rated on one of these traits (Accents) and was mid-pack on the other two. On the other hand some of the differentials were huge in terms of sheer numbers. What this means is that West Coast power houses who thrive primarily on big funny characters who may have accents would probably see a drop in their scores either because the Midwest is just interested in something else or because they find that such characters are off-putting.  

As above we can look at a case study in UCLA. UCLA is known for their performative style and they often have witnesses who could be classified as over-the-top. But UCLA struggled at this Nationals. As pointed out in our last analysis, UCLA kept winning two ballots in a round convincingly and then dropping one by a narrow margin. This is a classic hallmark of a team that is really really good but clashes with a judge’s style preferences.    

Enough about the predicted top of the field, though. What does this mean for everyone else at Nationals? We went back and compiled nationals performance data for the last five years by average ballots won by teams in a region (normalized to account for differing numbers of ballots at different tournaments) and here’s what we ended up with (4 ballots is exactly even win loss average,anything below 4 means the region underperformed, anything above 4 means the region overperformed):        

2018 - Minneapolis
Northeast: 3.73
Southeast: 4.00
Midwest: 3.85
Southwest: 5.33
West Coast: 4.56

2017 - Los Angeles
Northeast: 4.10
Southeast: 4.93
Midwest: 3.60
Southwest: 2.83
West Coast: 3.24

2016 - Greenville**
Northeast: 4.04
Southeast: 4.52
Midwest: 3.62
West Coast: 3.93

2015 - Cincinnati
Northeast: 4.48
Southeast: 3.44
Midwest: 3.73
Southwest: 4.83
West Coast: 3.95

2014 - Orlando
Northeast: 4.06
Southeast: 4.04
Midwest: 4.31
Southwest: 3.33
West Coast: 3.33

The West Coast doesn’t seem to have fared too badly on a whole (it’s just a couple of the top programs like Berkeley and UCLA that had issues), but what should quickly become apparent from this data is that the Northeast fell off badly this year. It’s been the top ranked region or second ranked region every year except for 2018. Teams from the Northeast have always averaged over 4 ballots. This year they dropped to 3.73 ballots, the lowest average at the tournament. If this were simply the result of all of the Northeastern teams suddenly being bad this year, we might expect to have seen similar drop offs during the invite season. But the Northeast did as well as usual at top invites, which suggests some level of regional influence.

Another question this data raises is why the Midwest isn’t doing better at its own Nationals. If styles are playing a role, how come the Midwest isn’t one of the top regions this year (it’s second last). We think this comes down to some external factors. It is, in fact, the case that traditionally strong Midwestern programs did very very well this year (Rhodes A and B, Michigan, Chicago, Ohio State, Northwestern) even when some of them have been having some difficulties either in the last few years or this year itself. We saw a Midwestern National Champion (Miami). That hasn’t happened since 2009 (Northwood). We haven’t even had a Midwestern Division Champion since 2013 (Rhodes) despite the fact that the Midwest is one of the largest regions in terms of number of teams. So the top Midwestern teams do seem to have experienced a boost this year.***

However, the Midwest has suffered in the above data for the last few years from having a lot of teams that aren’t elite on the national stage. There are a lot of teams in the Midwest, so naturally, there have to be a lot of tournaments in the Midwest. But there aren’t necessarily enough great powers to fill out those tournaments. This means that the East Coast ORCS have the potential to not let a very good team qualify because of a particularly nasty schedule, whereas there is generally at least one (and often several) Midwestern ORCS that lets teams through that gives bids to teams who aren’t on a sufficiently high enough level to compete on the biggest stage in AMTA (NCT)              

We can see this by looking at the way that various ORCS fared at the 2018 NCT:

Central Islip - 4th
37 Ballots
3 placing teams
1 honorable mention

Geneva - 6th
32.5 Ballots
3 placing teams
0 honorable mention

Greenville - 8th
31.5 Ballots
1 placing team
2 honorable mentions

Hamilton - 5th
36 Ballots
3 placing teams
0 honorable mention

Lancaster - 1st
39.5 Ballots
4 placing teams
1 honorable mention

Santa Monica - 3rd
39.5 Ballots
2 Placing teams
1 Honorable Mention

Memphis - 7th
32.5 Ballots
2 Placing teams

Wilmington - 2nd
39.5 Ballots
2 placing teams
3 honorable mention

Two of the hardest ORCS by our original ranking were Wilmington and Lancaster and these were the two best performing ORCS at Nationals. The three worst performing ORCS at Nationals were all the Midwestern ORCS all of which we rated as the easiest prior to ORCS.**** In other words when the style differences are in their favor, the top tier Midwestern teams are going to do really really well (Miami, Rhodes, etc). But even with the style boost that comes from competing in the Midwest, as NCT was in 2018, it’s clear that the Midwest average over the last 5 years has been consistently pulled down by the presence of teams that aren’t elite, but that qualified to NCT out of ORCS that had fewer elite programs than did the ones in the Northeast.
The moral of the story: be careful about checking what a region likes before you go and compete there.

*We recognize that it may seem very odd to say that Yale didn’t do well when Yale B made the national final, but as was pointed out on the national championship discussion threads afterwards, Yale B had a very different style than Yale A. They were much slower and more polished than what we saw from Yale A last year, they didn’t utilize inventions, they weren’t aggressive, and they made very few objections during the entire final round.  

**In 2016 there were no teams from the Southwest at the NCT

***Note: we are not claiming that the success of any particular Midwestern team is the direct result of regional preference. We have a lot of respect for all of the Midwestern teams that competed this year, and having watched the final, believe that Miami’s victory was well deserved. This post is simply meant as an analysis of the general trends present in the competition.

**** In fact, the only two major anomalies were Santa Monica and Greenville, which basically swapped positions between our ORCS rankings and their nationals performances. Surprising successes like UC Irvine’s and surprising underperformances like Florida’s to resulted in what looked like a very intimidating 6 southeast teams doing poorly and 6 less highly ranked west coast teams doing quite well.
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