Oral Tracey | Brilliant move by ISSA
All living things are naturally resistant to change. Change tends to have a dislocating and discombobulating effect on the natural and acquired comfort zone, even in circumstances where the prescribed changes could be beneficial to all concerned.
That context and perspective mirror the reaction to this season's slight tweak to the format of the ISSA-FLOW Manning and DaCosta Cup football competitions, from the initial muted scepticism to the now forthright criticisms of the introduction of the early elimination rounds in the respective competitions.
In the nuances of these changes lay the wisdom, or lack thereof, of actually implementing them. The decision to seed the top 16 teams from the Manning Cup and the top 32 teams from the DaCosta Cup and have them matched up in home-and-away ties with the away goal rule being applied is evidently aimed at ensuring that the top eight teams, in terms of quality, advance to the quarter-finals of the Manning Cup, and commensurately, that the best 16 teams advance to the later stages of the DaCosta Cup.
With the previous format, the elimination of top contending teams at the end of the second round and the converse elevation of mediocre teams to the latter stages of the competitions were major concerns. The frequency of groups of death with three or four quality title contenders, with only two to advance, while inferior teams that competed in weak groups repeatedly got ushered into the quarter-finals and semi-finals producing frequent lopsided contests, and embarrassing scorelines, was a affront to the credibility of these prestigious competitions.
The seeding of the teams and the ensuing matchups now ensure that barring the odd upset, the top teams will advance to the business end of the competitions. With this as the overriding objective, this reality now needs to be reconciled with the downside of these changes, where as expressed by a couple of Manning Cup coaches, it is conceivable with the new format for a team to have perfect first round and come into the dreaded illumination round, have one bad game and their season is over. To my mind, these are not overwhelming enough concerns to merit a reversal of these changes.
The Intersecondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) should, however, look closely at the application of the away goal rule in a context where the second-round games are, by and large, played on neutral grounds. ISSA should realistically consider scrapping the away goals rule since the teams do not actually play home and away and opt instead for an aggregate scoreline winner across two legs. That little nuance aside, the changes by ISSA have been brilliant.
The elevated levels of spectator interest and excitement brought on by this early win-or-go-home structure have been phenomenal. One fan said to me at a recent Manning Cup game that "this is the best schoolboy season he has seen in many years", and we are not even yet at the halfway stage. Instead of delaying the interest and the intrigue until the semi-finals or finals, these changes bring early drama, which will intensify as the season develops.
With the parallel changes in the format of the ISSA-FLOW Super Cup, where it is now down to the four semi-finalists from both competitions to square off for the trophy, was this all deliberate and strategic on the part of ISSA and FLOW to counter the expressed danger of the Super Cup overshadowing the more traditional Manning and DaCosta Cup competitions, considering that FLOW is still the major sponsors of the traditional competitions? In making these changes, both ISSA and FLOW seem to have hit a magical balance of getting the best of both worlds. Improved and more exciting Manning and DaCosta Cup competitions with the added spectacle of the Super Cup are still to come.