The United States Curling National Championship kicks off this weekend in Jacksonville, Florida. That’s right, Jacksonville. FLORIDA. For my Canadian curling friends: if Winnipeg is the curling “Mecca” of Canada, Jacksonville, Florida is its U.S. equivalent [insert sarcasm font here].
The United States Curling Association (USCA) brain trust is trying to grow the sport in non-traditional curling locales. And exposing the southern half of the U.S. to curling could increase national exposure, thus benefiting the future of the sport. But they’re trying too hard. By half. At least. There are far better destination cities, ones that are more accessible to the base of curling fans, than the armpit of Florida.
I’m sure the USCA will declare this a successful event. The gate will exceed their extremely low expectations. The stands will look like they’re filled to the rafters… because it’s an elementary school hockey arena that’s been vacant since the Vanilla Ice comeback tour.
This is not the venue to showcase the best curlers in our country–but it is the best venue if you’re trying to hide the complete fiasco you turned the National Championships into. *Spoiler Alert* to the tens of Jacksonvillians about to watch a week of curling: you’re about to witness a farce. And the National Championship should be of consequence to the tens of Jacksonvillians cheering a sport they’re likely befuddled by already.
Side Note: this is not a condemnation of the athletes (yes, curlers are athletes now), some of whom are my friends. Many of those competing this week are dedicated individuals and playing a sport they love.
Because of the new points system instituted by the USCA, the men’s champion team won their right to represent Team USA at the World Championships in September at the Grand Slam of Curling (an exclusive field). Future Team USA made the semi-finals of this event and secured enough points so that all they need to do now to advance to the World Championships is not die. Over the course of the year, they amassed an insurmountable points lead over any other US team and, because our world representative is decided on total points and not by winning the National Championship game, Future Team USA will be Team USA this time next Saturday.
The fucked up points system isn’t Future Team USA’s fault. In fact, congrats Future Team USA, you had a great year. You’re clearly the best, having the best year, and you had the added bonus of not getting dead between September and today. You still have to show up and place third or higher to be named Team USA, but that’s a feat I’m sure you’ll accomplish. (I just called my retirement guy and had him take out all my money so I can bet on you. It’s booked.)
Again, this is not to take away from the spectacular year Future Team USA had. Arguably, it’s the best an American team has ever had on tour. Sources close to The Scotch say Future Team USA has worked extremely hard all year; they played an extremely aggressive schedule and their effort paid off. The Scotch got to watch a few of their games at the Golden Wrench Classic in Phoenix, AZ. They played better than any other American team. It really wasn’t close.
Another Side Note: The Golden Wrench Classic was a tremendous event: the top rated teams from across the world didn’t disappoint. The members of the Coyote Curling Club put on a helluva spiel. The hospitality was amazing. The ice was pretty good. Not Grand Slam ice but, for Phoenix, AZ club ice, it was mostly predictable and the speed was consistent. Arizona (of all places) should be the southern state to host a national championship. The Golden Wrench proved that. The club was filled for most draws with every silver haired Canadian snowbird in the Phoenix Valley. They actually had to turn some away at the door, as if it was the 4 p.m. early bird dinner special at the Del Boca Vista.
The Women’s curling side was a similar story. Future Team USA qualified in all of their tour events, earning enough points to lap the rest of the women’s field 6 times over. Congrats Future Team USA on a great year! They also didn’t die and, if they get to the podium this week, will be adorned with red, white and blue at the Women’s World Championships (where I expect they’ll medal, if not win the damn thing).
The Scotch will still watch (with the sound muted) as much of the tournament as possible via the Twelfth End Sports Network live webstream. I love to watch curling that much. However, I shouldn’t already know who our World Representatives will be. They should be determined on the ice next Saturday. Sports fans want drama and the glory. We want to see brooms thrown to the ceiling in pure joy after making the last shot of the game, to hear the roar of those 13 people in the Jacksonville stands. It’s what athletes train and compete for.
The Carolina Panthers are 15-1 in the NFL this year. They have a better record than the Denver Broncos, and yet millions of people will still gather around their giant teevees to watch the game tomorrow. We always want our National Champions to make the game winning shot, to hit the game 7 walk-off homer, to score the go-ahead touchdown in the “Super Bowl.” The USCA brain trust is making a mockery of our sports culture with this system. It’s counterintuitive to everything enjoyable about competing against one another. Devaluing what we love about sports.
Side Betting Note: The Scotch is taking Carolina (-6), the first half under (23), a team will score three times in a row, over 1 times the Golden Gate Bridge is shown during the broadcast, and over 2 minutes and 20 seconds for Lady Gaga to sing the National Anthem.
We still haven’t talked about the USCA’s other brilliant idea: the High Performance Program. Sources tell The Scotch that this very loosely defined “program” is a debacle. It’s a self preserving, unaccountable, unmitigated disaster. Think the Bush Administration during Hurricane Katrina. Only worse.
The High Performance Program holds mock tryouts for an exclusive group of athletes in the summer. They then select teams from this “tryout” and fund them on tour. Most of these athletes are great curlers and great people. And most are dedicated to the sport and make huge sacrifices to follow their dreams. They aren’t the problem. The program is.
The High Performance Program doesn’t coach athletes to be better. There aren’t dedicated team practices where coaches analyze athletes’ deliveries and sweeping techniques. Coaches do berate players after a game about the shots they missed (I’m pretty sure the players already know about the shots they missed). But the off-ice training program is no more than a piece of paper athletes fill out stating that they went to the gym. While lifting a pencil can be a chore, it shouldn’t qualify as an “High Performance” workout.
If the U.S. wants to get to the medal stand of the Olympics and World Championships, the USCA needs to build a program with trained coaches and fitness experts. And it needs to be a truly accountable program, staffed with people who know what they’re doing. Hiring directors that know how to win and have a basic understanding of the American sports dynamic would be a nice start. The director they have now doesn’t fit either of those basic qualifications. His failure as director of the Scotland competitive curling program pales in comparison to the titanic shipwreck he has created here. Donald Trump says he knows how to win and he’ll have more free time shortly—Hey USCA, give The Donald a call.
The U.S. may never be able to consistently win titles on the World Stage like the Canadians can. The numbers just aren’t in our favour. We just don’t have the depth, and plus our youth have too many sports options. But if we aren’t going to win medals, let’s not win medals doing it the right way.
Prediction Segment for Entertainment Only (until The Scotch finds a curling sportsbook)
- Birr (in a tie break)