League play at the Lone Star Curling Club has two sometimes contradictory goals. First, the club aims to be competitive. Second, the club will attempt to allow curlers who want to play together to do so.
The board starts by deciding how many weeks we want to curl, or as it sometimes ends up, how many weeks Chaparral Ice will let us have the ice to curl. This gets us typically to a 12 or 13-week schedule. With 13 weeks, we can have 12 teams with each team playing 10 games, 2 byes, and 1 playoff week. With 5 sheets of ice, we have a very balanced schedule and every team can play the same number of games although not all teams play each other.
Now that we hopefully have 48 curlers, I start to put together the 12 teams. The first rule is that no teams gets to dominate. So if a team won the championship, I have to determine if it was a one-time fluke, if the team has won more than the single championship, and if they’re likely to dominate again. If I think they’ll dominate, the team will be “broken up”. Perhaps a single player may swap in and out or perhaps all curlers go to new teams. I then look at the teams that didn’t make the playoffs and ask the same questions? Were they unlucky or did they under-perform? Are these experienced curlers that don’t play well together, or were there new curlers that are going to get better and perhaps be in the playoffs next season? Perhaps they just had curlers who had to miss games for whatever reason. I may consider replacing players on these teams near the bottom to bring them up a level. This analysis is time-consuming but when I see a half dozen teams fighting for playoff position like I saw last year, it’s rewarding and worth the effort.
So what about the teams that want to continue playing together? I look at these and see where they are in the standings. If they’re at the top, I may not want this to continue. If they’re in the middle of the pack or lower down, why not let them continue playing together? Sometimes it’s not the entire team, but just a couple that wants to play together (or not play together), and I will try to accommodate that too.
To further complicate the issues, we always have new curlers and curlers that leave the club or take a season off. With new curlers, they may have moved to the Austin area and have experience (as I did), or they have have just completed a Learn-To-Curl. These get factored in.
In the end, I hope we have a set of balanced teams and that most of the games are competitive. We guess as to which teams might be stronger or weaker than others (perfect balance is impossible) but there are always surprises. That’s why we play the game. On arena ice, any game can be won by either side on any given day.
If power-house teams want to play together, they’re welcome to do that for bonspiels. We may also consider this for mini-leagues as we did for the teams that represented the club at the US Arena Curling National Championships in 2015.
Once teams are formed, I then put together the schedule. When I look at the blank schedule, I’ll see that team #1 has byes on weeks x and y. If a curler has said that he or she can’t play on week x, I’ll put the curler on team 1. Sometimes I get lucky and I’ll have multiple curlers or multiple dates that can be accommodated. Having advance notice is the key here – once the schedule has been released, it’s too late to make any changes. Last season, I was able to accommodate every curler that wanted byes on specific weeks with at least 1 match.
As the season progresses, we have issues with curlers missing games and this happens regularly for a variety of reasons. We have a spare list that we encourage every curler to join. As opportunities are identified, we put out a call for spares. The earlier we know a curler is going to miss a game, the better. We have turned away subs in the past thinking we didn’t need them when we did.
Finally, it’s game day. We start with a list of matchups and the list of curlers who are expected to be there. We check email to see if there are any last minute cancellations. If there are any teams with only 2 curlers, they get the first shot at the spares so that we can have real games. If we can’t get a minimum of 3 curlers per team, the team forfeits (which creates a different set of issues). Assuming we have at least 3 curlers per team, I now look at the caliber of the players that are missing and the caliber of the players that are available to sub. The teams missing the best players get the best subs in an attempt to still keep the games competitive. It doesn’t always work out well because subs still have to throw lead so you may be replacing an experienced skip with an experienced lead.