The US Olympic Curling Trials Process: Where Three Equals Five and the Points Don’t Matter

The 2016-2017 curling season has come to a close for all but three teams in the United States (Jamie Sinclair and John Shuster will play in the Humptys Champions Cup next week, while Heath McCormick will be in St. Gallen, SUI this week for the European Masters). With that being the case, attention is now devoted to which teams will be part of the US Olympic Curling Trials this November in Omaha. The process by which teams gain entry takes most of the work out of the hands of the teams and rests it with a committee who can decide to use whatever criteria they want to choose the number and names of those teams. I will say at the outset that I disagree profusely with the process, but since this is how the field will be decided, I will present the case for the other contenders and let the reader decide who should/shouldn’t be in Omaha.

We start first with the direct entry criteria. In order for a team to gain an automatic berth to the Trials, they must either:

  1. Finish fifth or higher at the most recent World Curling Championship;
  2. Finish in the top 15 of the World Curling Tour Order of Merit (two-year point total) standings; or
  3. Finish in the top 15 of the WCT Order of Merit Year-to-Date standings

Team John Shuster and Team Nina Roth both qualified for the Trials by way of #1 (Shuster finishing fourth in Edmonton and Roth fifth in Beijing). As for #2, the closest unqualified teams were Craig Brown’s at 25th and Jamie Sinclair’s at 31st. #3 also looks to not render a qualification (Heath McCormick’s foursome ranks 19th, 23+ points behind the 15th position with two other teams competing in the event between them and 15th, while Sinclair is 28th). With only one team of each gender qualified directly to the Trials, a Trials Selection Committee will convene to choose which other teams will be included to fill out the field (minimum of two choices, maximum of four).

Because the field can be anywhere between three and five teams and the men’s and women’s competition do not have to have the same number of teams in them, determining how many and who should be included can be a tough question. On the men’s side, three teams currently reside in the top 30 of the WCT Year-to-Date standings (McCormick at 19th, Shuster at 20th, and Brown at 29th) and in my opinion should all be in Omaha. With two more possible selections (remember, the committee CAN stop here and go with just three), here are the 2016-2017 resumes of three teams that could be considered to fill one or both open spots:

Team A: 8-5 record against teams under consideration, 4 wins over top-20 YTD teams, winning percentage of .542.

Team B: 2-4 record against teams under consideration, 2 wins over top-20 YTD teams, winning percentage of .500.

Team C: 4-5 record against teams under consideration, 5-6 record against HPP teams, winning percentage of .600.

Which, if any of these teams, do you select?  A and C have better numbers than B, but are those numbers good enough in comparison to Shuster, Brown, and McCormick? I don’t think either team would be out of their depth in Omaha and given their performances at this year’s USA Nationals (3rd and 2nd, respectively) could challenge for the Olympic berth.

Now to the women. The only women’s team with a clear case for inclusion is Jamie Sinclair’s (USA Nationals champion, qualified for playoffs in eight events, 4 wins against potential Olympic opponents). Beyond that, selecting one or more teams to join Roth and Sinclair is difficult. As with the men, here are this year’s resumes of three contenders:

Team A: 4-1 record against teams under consideration, average finish of 67.5 (on a scale of 100, lowest result dropped).

Team B: 1-5 record against teams under consideration, 6-1 record against HPP teams, 3 wins against top-20 YTD teams.

Team C: 3-2 record against teams under consideration, 1 win over top-20 YTD teams, 2 semifinal appearances in WCT events.

Who do you choose? B is clearly better against the top teams in women’s curling (the 6-1 against the HPP teams stands out), but A is best of these three teams head-to-head and is more consistent in her results. I would invite both of these teams to Trials as their accomplishments show they are legitimate contenders for the Olympic berth. Unfortunately, I don’t believe one could justify adding Team C to the mix as their 0-6 record against Roth/Sinclair would seem to indicate that they would have trouble staying in contention after the first round-robin.

Click the links, shout at me on Twitter (http://twitter.com/backseatgaffer), and hopefully we will see USA Curling make selections that benefit the game in this country and provide incentive for teams to play the tour in the hopes of one day representing the US in international competition.

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