11 March 2014

La Salle v Ateneo in UAAP Volleyball: A Matter of Formats

This afternoon, the DLSU Lady Archers play the Ateneo Lady Eagles in Game 3 of the UAAP women’s volleyball final. By the time most chance upon this article, either the Lady Archers will have won their fourth consecutive title or the Lady Eagles will have survived to try one last time to wrest the title away from Taft.

The format, to say the least, has been confusing. For sweeping the two-round eliminations consisting of 14 games in all against all other member universities, the Lady Archers were supposedly rewarded with a straightforward thrice-to-beat seat in the finals.

Ateneo, third after the eliminations, initially disposed of Adamson University then the heavily favoured National University Lady Bulldogs in two scintillating matches to reach the finals.

While the Lady Eagles were continuing their amazing upward spiral into peak form, the Lady Archers were drinking off a poisoned chalice that was the grand total of 18 days rest from competition.


Personally, I think the 1-v-4 and 2-v-3 format is even better than the current one. There is every risk, of course, of the top team becoming unlucky in the semi-finals; but a twice-to-beat advantage to the higher ranked team ought to take care of this.
From a strictly personal standpoint, I think that the old format of awarding the championship outright to any team that swept the two elimination rounds was the most logical of all. That DLSU was the team that swept both rounds is incidental to my point of view.

Had Ateneo or another team in the UAAP swept the two elimination rounds, I would have backed it for the outright championship. Any tournament, to my mind, ought to reward winning because that is the essence of sport.

What the current extended format essentially does is to reward teams who have lost to the top team with a chance at the title, practically nullifying the top team’s earlier efforts to win against these very teams.

Well and good, of course, for the UAAP as an organisation because additional matches bring more revenues from television coverage and gate receipts; not to mention more entertainment for fans.

There will be those who will argue that thrice-to-beat is enough of an advantage and that the rest will have done the top team plenty of good.

First of all, thrice-to-beat is something of a misnomer. If the chasing team – in this year’s case, Ateneo – wins the first game of the finals – which Ateneo, of course did – then the finals become a best-of-three.

It was all down to that first game of the finals, then; and despite the Lady Archers having swept the eliminations, the odds were in fact heavily stacked in favour of the Lady Eagles.

What the 18-day rest did to the Lady Archers was to basically make them lose what in football is called ‘match fitness,’ a state of physical and – crucially – mental conditioning that is only achieved by playing competitively. A team can train to the death, but it will not achieve the highest level of match fitness unless it is playing competitively.

Moreover, the team in all the days of waiting was only building up nervous energy, something that was evident in that losing effort in the first game against Ateneo. That energy was not evident in the first set when Ateneo was still trying to come to terms with its actually having reached the finals against terrifying odds.

It was when Ateneo started to play like a well-oiled machine – which, of course, it was because the team had been playing itself into peak form – that the Lady Archers fell into pieces and did not look at all like the defending champions that they were.

In some major international football tournaments these days, the erstwhile practice of seeding defending champions directly into tournaments has been ditched. Defending champions now go through qualifying so that they are kept sharp heading into the tournament by playing competitively.

This, essentially, is why I have problems with the UAAP women’s volleyball format; because the reward it gave the top team for sweeping the two elimination rounds was no reward at all.

Personally, I think the 1-v-4 and 2-v-3 format is even better than the current one. There is every risk, of course, of the top team becoming unlucky in the semi-finals; but a twice-to-beat advantage to the higher ranked team ought to take care of this.

If the higher ranked team still fails to win in what are essentially the semi-finals, then it can be argued that it really does not deserve to have a shot at the championship. Crucially, this format at least ensures that two teams arrive at the finals match fit instead of filled with cobwebs as the Lady Archers were that first game against Ateneo.


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