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Is it time to split AMTA into divisions?

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THE Jules Sebatian
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Pacificus
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Is it time to split AMTA into divisions?  Empty Is it time to split AMTA into divisions?

Sun Feb 23, 2020 11:02 pm
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I raised this briefly in another thread, but I thought it was worth raising again.

It seems like AMTA has reached a substantial milestone in terms of growth. With around 400 schools competing, the organization is now of an impressive size. With that size, AMTA has at the higher levels become increasingly competitive - and more importantly, the gap between the best and worst programs has grown substantially. Consider that out of the last ten teams to compete in the NCT Final Round, five of them were from Yale. And while teams and schools ebb and flow in strength, based on coaching and competitors, the gap between the best teams in any given year and the worst teams in any given year seems to only get wider. Consider the beatings handed out this year by the traditional powerhouses of Chicago, Miami, and UVA at regionals this year - all of them qualified two teams, with an overall PD of 100+ points.

While the growth in quality at the top is awesome, I worry about the effect on new programs - this year there are teams from Canada and the UK competing, which is great - but what a challenge to take on, joining this activity and then being asked to compete with a school like UVA, who are long-term masters of the meta-game of mock trial. There are also schools with new programs, sometimes without coaching or much school support. In another threat someone noted a school named Barry College dropped a single round by nearly 100 points. I have no idea what their program is like, but how frustrating it must be to put in the time and effort to prepare for a mock trial only to feel like you're running into an insurmountable brick wall at regionals. And yes, the traditional "powerhouse" programs have off years and get upset from time to time. But that's small comfort when a new program can have a shot at ORCS demolished by a chance encounter with whoever the local powerhouse program at regionals. With the introduction of the "buckets" power matching system at ORCS, it seems even less likely that future up-and-coming programs will be able to get a "lucky draw" and make to the NCT by beating the teams in front of them.

I think splitting the activity into two divisions would help mitigate this problem. While obviously a substantial investment of resources, the overall number of teams would remain the same. The hardest issue would be determining how to determine which division in which a team belongs. But TPR is a good start, and I presume the best programs would want to compete in the "Upper" division in order to seize the more prestigious national title. Teams in the "Lower" division who routinely dominate could be bumped up, while teams who routinely struggle in the "Upper" division could be bumped down. If the divisions were structured by team and not by school, this would also have the benefit of providing more options for students who right now, compete on the C, D, and E teams at powerhouse schools - no longer eliminated from competing by the two-bid-per-school rule, they would be free to compete for the title of the "Lower" division.

I doubt this will be on the board's radar anytime in the future, but I thought I'd see what people here think of it.
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Is it time to split AMTA into divisions?  Empty Re: Is it time to split AMTA into divisions?

Sun Feb 23, 2020 11:24 pm
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I think you make excellent, well articulated points that should be carefully considered by the Board.
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Is it time to split AMTA into divisions?  Empty Re: Is it time to split AMTA into divisions?

Mon Feb 24, 2020 2:22 am
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While your observations are well taken, I think my issue with this is that I disagree that the talent disparity is growing. I think the level of mock trial we are seeing as a result of this growth is actually getting more clustered between the mid and high tiers. This, in my humble opinion, has led to greater parity. Where teams that are 3-3 at many regionals, going into round 4 will actually split with their 5-1 counterparts, and split convincingly. So my issue is that this mid-tier is so huge I wouldn’t know where to begin to make the cutoff. And if we start by TPR, how do we capture the teams who are either unranked, or C teams or lower? How do we value them? How do we rank them. I think these are important question to think about when trying to come up with the best way to propose this!
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Mon Feb 24, 2020 9:52 am
Alright, here's a half-baked idea for how it might work:

Divisions:
Upper: All American Division
Lower: National Division
(I made these names up, but they sound cool).

Division Criteria:

Top 150 teams by TPR must be moved to the All American Division. These are the teams that have qualified to ORCSs so regularly (with few exceptions, every one of the last three years) that for them, it is a virtual statistical certainty. The All American division can also be joined by election - anybody can try to take their shot if they think they will win or do well. However, teams in the All-American Division may not join the National division without AMTA’s approval.

The National Division accepts remaining teams, including unranked teams. While this still leaves a substantial disparity in power between the top and bottom teams, I think it is easier for a school to reach the level of regional winner in a year, than it is to reach the level of “regular NCT attendee” in a year.

Moving Between Divisions

Any team from the National Division may elect to join the All American Division at any time - again, it is expected some programs will believe they are better than their TPR, and will want to compete in the top division. After two years, the top five teams in the National Division (as ranked by modified TPR) are automatically bumped into the All American Division, whether they want to go or not. The board retains discretion to bump up or otherwise sanction any team when evidence suggest they intentionally “tanked” to stay in the National Division, although I believe this would be a minimal problem given that teams will want to win the more prestigious All American Division title.

I expect the All-American Division would grow substantially beyond the top 150 programs, as many teams will want to join given the choice - many schools might chose to send their A team but not their B team. It's possible that eventually some limit will have to be placed on the size of the All-American Division, but I also expect that teams will act rationally - new programs and B/C teams will want to have a chance to learn and compete at a level where they can potentially take home a national title.

Teams may want to "bump down" from the All American to the National Division at some point. I expect this option could be extended to bottom teams (say, the ten lowest ranked teams in the All American Division) or AMTA could decide applications to change divisions on a case-by-case basis in the face of certain changes in circumstances (loss of a coach, funding issues, etc.)

NCT

The NCT would he made slightly larger, and maintain the two division structure with 24 teams in the All American Division and 30 in the National Division. After traditional power pairing, the top two teams after four rounds in each division face each other in two separate final rounds. (Ideally, I would like to have a semi-final structure with the top four in each division facing off playoff-style, but this is resource prohibitive and would require teams do six trials in a weekend.)

ORCS

The All American Division (I expect) would be too small to have regional tournaments (ORCS has 196 slots right now) so spots at the NCT for the All American Division would be decided in five or six ORCs-style tournaments. The National Division would maintain the larger set of regionals and ORCs. To cut down on resource costs for AMTA and allow for the use of the same case, All American ORCS and National ORCS would have to be held on the same weekend.

The current "buckets" style seeding system at ORCS would continue in both divisions, barring any sort of major problems with implementation this year.

Hard Questions

1. What about C Teams?

To be honest, this is the hardest problem. Some programs have C teams that but for the two bid rule, would probably rank in the top 150. Should the two bid rule continue in the hypothetical All American Division? My tentative solution is: Yes, but only at the NCT. Another alternative is to eliminate it entirely. Barring a third team in the All American Division entirely would contribute to substantial power imbalances continuing in the All National Division. Another, although perhaps controversial idea, would be to remove impermissibles between same-school teams in the All American Division - encouraging high level competitors to create internal firewalls in the spring and compete against each other for the divisional title.

2. This is still unfair to new programs, who still have to face a lot of really good teams.

Yes, they do - but they don't have to face *absolutely amazing* programs that have been barnstorming nationals for years - sometimes even decades. It's a lot easier to get yourself up to ORCS level quality in this age of mock trial than it is to get your team up to NCT level quality.

3. Programs will miss out on the learning that comes from facing really good teams.

Not really - this system won't affect invitationals at all - you could still see UVA A at an invitational. And since a couple rounds against really dominant programs can take teams out at regionals right now, this arguably extends the season of lower-tier/newer/unranked programs.

4. This is too expensive for AMTA to implement - it's already too hard to find tournament hosts and judges.

This proposal would add very few new rounds. It would add a total of thirteen new rounds at the NCT in the National Division (six new teams, plus an extra final round). Everything else should stay the same because the number of teams will stay the same - National Division and All American Division ORCS can even be hosted at the same school on the same weekend if need be - the teams just wouldn't be matched against each other.

5. It's expensive for a program to send A and B teams to one tournament and C and D programs to another.

It is, but this already happens as AMTA tries really hard to balance out strength at regionals and ORCS. All-American Division teams would likely have to travel farther to compete - but historically, the top programs in AMTA have also been the best funded, so the additional burden should mostly fall on those already prepared to meet it.
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Mon Feb 24, 2020 11:21 am
I appreciate the time in effort that went into this idea!

That being said, as someone’s who’s been on both sides of the coin - a team that had basically no chance of getting an ORCS bid as a freshman, a team that was universally expected to get an NCT bid as a senior - I think there’s a real advantage to young/‘bad’ teams going up against much more experienced squads. My second ever round of college mock trial was against a team that was returning almost all of the key members of its NCT-contender A team. We got a split (by the grace of a probably not particularly good judge) but more importantly, watching that round was like a masterclass in trial advocacy. Especially for teams that don’t have a strong video library, this is as good a chance as you’ll get to pick up new ideas on presentation, themes, theories, etc. This isn’t like college football, where the existence of multiple divisions is important because of the risk of injury when a 6’5” 320 pound lineman blocks a group of defenders whose max is 220 soaking wet. And to the extent that there’s a worry of teams being humiliated, the chances of a young team facing more than 1 NCT contender at a regional are pretty low (unless they split/sweep that contender!)

To the extent that these teams want to guarantee more competition against others of their skill level, there are lots of relative inexpensive invitational tournaments (at least in my region of the country) with fields that closely resemble the typical middle to bottom of a regional. But I think breaking AMTA into two tiers isn’t the right way to go.

Also, wait, you want the top two teams in each division to face each other in a final round? If you’re to do tiers and make the second one easier, I don’t see how it makes sense to have them compete against each other. After four rounds that might’ve been against recent NCT champions, traditional powerhouses, etc. the All-American Division’s champion might face a team that wouldn’t have made it out of a traditional ORCS? Also, the 25th best team from the tough division stays at home while the 30th best team from the easier division is competing for a chance at the final round?
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Mon Feb 24, 2020 11:37 am
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Also, wait, you want the top two teams in each division to face each other in a final round? If you’re to do tiers and make the second one easier, I don’t see how it makes sense to have them compete against each other. After four rounds that might’ve been against recent NCT champions, traditional powerhouses, etc. the All-American Division’s champion might face a team that wouldn’t have made it out of a traditional ORCS

No sorry - that isn't what I was trying to suggest. Teams from different divisions would never directly compete against each other in the same year. I would suggest the top two teams in the National Division after four rounds (i.e. Nationals Team #1 and Nationals Team #2) and the top two teams in the All American Division (after four rounds #1 and #2) compete against each other within their respective divisions for the divisional title in two separate fifth round trials. And that would be the end of it. So there would be a National Division Champion and an All American Division Champion, and they would not face off against each other. AMTA would have a national champion for each division, and two different fifth rounds at the NCT.

We got a split (by the grace of a probably not particularly good judge) but more importantly, watching that round was like a masterclass in trial advocacy.

I agree - and this is a concern of mine and a real drawback. But you would still get to hit these NCT quality teams at invitationals (especially in December) and my observation has been that many schools that do place new mockers on A teams in order to let them get some extra practice (say, as a time keeper or witness). I think there's a strong argument that the kind of learning you advocate for should take place mostly at invitationals, while the focus of AMTA tournaments should be to create a competitive environment for schools.
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Mon Feb 24, 2020 11:48 am
I think this is all a really good discussion, but I want to clarify: what is the problem that the divisions solves? It seems that the problem you are identifying is that brand new teams get matched up against elite teams at regionals.
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Mon Feb 24, 2020 12:06 pm
I think this is all a really good discussion, but I want to clarify: what is the problem that the divisions solves?

I think it reduces the element of randomness in mock trial, and also makes the AMTA tournaments more competitive. It serves a similar function to the "buckets" system being implemented at ORCS.

For example, if you are a new program - it is entirely possible that if happen to bump into two regional powerhouses at regionals, you're done. Similarly, it is a common (and often complained about) situation for strong teams to happen to run up against each other, creating teams with low records (and no bid) but an astronomical CS. I think it also has the benefit of giving teams that will never be UVA A something to fight for that they can realistically attain - for example, how many C and D teams - even at the best schools - go into regionals realistically thinking they can win nationals? Similarly, how many brand new programs have a realistic shot at nationals? There are also a huge number of programs who maybe only have the resources to attend one or two tournaments in a year - maybe only the regional tournament. This significantly limits program growth and development, so why not create a division where the competition is at least not going to be overwhelming?

By way of statistical evidence, I point to the TPR. It is incredibly rare for a team to make it to nationals without having made it to ORCS the year before. Skimming over the list, it appears it has only happened about two or three times a year in the last two years. Meanwhile, among the teams at the bottom 100 spots on the TPR, only one team (EKU) has made one NCT appearance in the last three years. The other 99 teams have never attained an NCT bid in three years of competition.
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Is it time to split AMTA into divisions?  Empty Re: Is it time to split AMTA into divisions?

Mon Feb 24, 2020 12:07 pm
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I think there is value to rethinking how to organize AMTA to allow more students from more schools to compete. But I also feel as though two divisions would be unnecessary work to try and solve this problem. I think it also means that teams already in the top division would be advantaged in not having to worry about getting bumped down, when, as we've seen in years past, it's always been possible for teams to make surprise upsets and beat what are considered consistent Nationals attenders. I think AMTA's old Silver tournaments could be brought back in some capacity. They would allow teams that miss out on ORCs to attend more tournaments with the new case changes if they so please, not necessarily for awards, but for more practice and experience. We could have more AMTA sanctioned tournaments for people who just want to compete even if they missed out on bids to higher levels of competition, which I think would allow inexperienced teams the opportunity to compete with other teams at a similar skill level. As for the issue of unfair matchups, like Miami or UVA versus really anyone not in the top 150 or so, those matches are invaluable learning experiences in their own right. My team hit several top schools by complete chance, and it forced us to compete at a higher level against these teams and let us see what top programs do that we don't. I think a lot of thought has gone into the two divisions, and it's a valid option to consider moving forward. But I think it doesn't quite address major issues in AMTA right now. I understand Invitationals would still allow teams to hit National level competition, but often times better teams are more selective about invitationals they go to and so you may not see them their either.
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Mon Feb 24, 2020 12:27 pm
I think AMTA's old Silver tournaments could be brought back in some capacity. They would allow teams that miss out on ORCs to attend more tournaments with the new case changes if they so please, not necessarily for awards, but for more practice and experience.

I think the problem with this is one of resources - adding the Silver tournaments back without reducing the size of ORCs and the NCT means finding more tournament hosts and more judges. Divisions mostly avoids this problem by maintaining the number of tournaments required (since the overall number of teams competing in ORCS/regionals will remain largely the same).

I agree that upstart teams do exist and should have a shot to win it all, which is why I think any team should be able to throw their hat in the ring to join the upper division. Teams probably would not have decide which division they wanted to compete in (to the extent they have a choice) until December - so a team routinely doing very well would be able look and see - hey, these invitationals are going really well, let's take our shot.
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Mon Feb 24, 2020 12:34 pm
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A small concern I’d have with this new system is increasing segregation in who gets invited to invitationals. It makes sense for powerhouses to hit upstart teams in invitationals currently because hey, chances are good they’ll hit teams like that at regionals. Might as well prepare for it. But if we make it such that UVA A almost exclusively hits ORCS-caliber teams the entire AMTA competitive season, their motive to hit New College C at an invitational is basically nonexistent. I could see many of the tournaments that currently bring together teams across the competitive spectrum instead restyling themselves as “All-American Division Only” or “National Division Only”, making it harder than ever for young teams to see top-notch advocacy in person.
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Mon Feb 24, 2020 6:02 pm
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It's an idea that comes and goes. The performance disparity has not really changed though, there are simply so many C,D, even E teams at huge programs that is floods the Regionals, but the open bid system and 2 team ORCS cap evens this out. Right now Buffalo is the #10 rank on the open bid list. they have a PR of 294, but went 5-3, CS of 20.5 at their Regional. The system proposed might make their path unnecessarily hard. Also, the amount of "the judges suck!" complaints are already so high and getting hosts, judges, and reps is clearly not easy. This year we had multiple regionals with coaches tapped to judge at least some rounds. It didn't seem like folks loved that, and this system would probably require a lot more coach judged rounds. I also totally agree with the above point that young/low ranked programs benefit more by being in the same pool as teams that are consistently good. They learn from them. In the end this entire exercise is an educational enrichment, the competition is the mode for that to come to life. Some people see the competition as the reason for the activity but it's really the other way around.
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Mon Feb 24, 2020 7:28 pm
Also, the amount of "the judges suck!" complaints are already so high and getting hosts, judges, and reps is clearly not easy. This year we had multiple regionals with coaches tapped to judge at least some rounds. It didn't seem like folks loved that, and this system would probably require a lot more coach judged rounds. I also totally agree with the above point that young/low ranked programs benefit more by being in the same pool as teams that are consistently good. They learn from them. In the end this entire exercise is an educational enrichment, the competition is the mode for that to come to life. Some people see the competition as the reason for the activity but it's really the other way around.

I don't think the hypothetical system I pitched would require any more judges. AMTA already organizes regionals for 700 teams and ORCS for 196. This number would not change (except in the case of a modified Silvers system). Rather, 150-200 of those teams would compete independently from the rest. There would be need for more judges at the NCT, but it seems like NCT hosts have rarely had a hard time finding judges given the prestigious nature of the tournament. Most of the extra work would be on the organizational side for AMTA - deciding who is in what division and how to maintain separate tab rooms at ORCS.

I generally agree with the comments about the potential loss of getting to compete against good teams as a lost learning opportunity. I guess I am also thinking about the unquantifiable educational costs that potentially exist (but to what degree I do not know)- students who quit in frustration after feeling like they have no chance to advance, or schools that cut funding for mock trial programs when the program itself performs poorly (harder to explain to an admin why the college spent so much money to travel to regionals or ORCS to go 0-Cool.
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Thu Feb 27, 2020 9:59 am

I don't think the hypothetical system I pitched would require any more judges. AMTA already organizes regionals for 700 teams and ORCS for 196. This number would not change (except in the case of a modified Silvers system). Rather, 150-200 of those teams would compete independently from the rest. There would be need for more judges at the NCT, but it seems like NCT hosts have rarely had a hard time finding judges given the prestigious nature of the tournament. Most of the extra work would be on the organizational side for AMTA - deciding who is in what division and how to maintain separate tab rooms at ORCS.

I generally agree with the comments about the potential loss of getting to compete against good teams as a lost learning opportunity. I guess I am also thinking about the unquantifiable educational costs that potentially exist (but to what degree I do not know)- students who quit in frustration after feeling like they have no chance to advance, or schools that cut funding for mock trial programs when the program itself performs poorly (harder to explain to an admin why the college spent so much money to travel to regionals or ORCS to go 0-Cool. [/quote]

I can get behind bringing back a version of the Silver/Gold model and that might answer the call, really. If you go back to some older regional results, relatively old as in 2006-2008 range, you see a LOT more teams "getting out" of regionals which helps justify the cost for schools and keeps more students involved for sure. And then you had the top 2 teams getting a bye tournament, basically, by going straight to the Gold Nats. The problem then becomes this: we had 32 regionals this year. If we gave 2 bids out to the top teams we'd have a bigger Gold field than the current NCT even. So, we cut to 1 team, now we have what, 22 bids from 8 ORCS? So 3 bids from six ORCS and 2 bids from the other two. Yikes. Also, you're talking about doubling the AMTA reps for each ORCS, which is not something that can happen easily. Go look at how many AMTA reps were repping for multiple regionals already, and how many do a regional and an ORCS. These are literally all volunteers. It doesn't seem like a reasonable expectation unless the cost for AMTA participation goes way up so AMTA can give some form of "rep scholarship" so they can entice people to sign up. I go back to my comment before that this is a solution that's more about the competition itself. Also, this year's new ORCS system will, I fully believe, see some new teams make the jump from middle of the pack ORCS finish to the NCT. There are so many teams in that 80-150 range with 3 & 4 ballot ORCS performances that wind up with huge CS. In the old pairing system they wind up hitting two or three of the top teams and even if they have good rounds (maybe they lose like a -2, -4 where the difference is basically one bad impeachment or something like that) they end up losing, meanwhile you see teams get through to NCT with a CS under 15 so they didn't have to hit much, if any, of the top competition. This system doesn't give anyone a free pass, everyone hits an A level team, everyone hits a B level team, etc. I'm very interested to see it play out. And I think it will give the lower ranked teams a good shot to not just get ballots that can keep their rankings or improve them but have a real chance.
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