The speculation has been out there for months, but a lot of the hearsay was confirmed on Monday when some of the first concrete details of a change in the WSL season format were revealed.
In an interview with Portuguese media, reported on by Surfline, WSL deputy commissioner Renato Hickel spoke about what is scheduled to transpire two years from now. Big changes are in the works, which won’t occur until the 2019 season, but should dramatically alter the world title chase and the tour schedule.
The most crucial change will be that the full season will lead to a single championship event, featuring only the top surfers in the rankings at the end of the full slate of contests. The year will also begin at Pipeline and end with the title event in Indonesia.
Now, is this a good idea?
It’s going to be similar to the concept of a college football playoff or even March Madness. Both of those formats are certainly more exciting than their predecessors in terms of determining a champion. There’s no better sporting event than March Madness and to think that the college football championship used to be decided by a vote seems even more ridiculous now than it was deemed at the time.
While I love both of these events for their sheer excitement levels, they are definitely not the most “fair” way to award a title. The fairest ways are typically the least exciting. In my opinion, something like the English Premier League has the most meritocratic system. Every team plays a long schedule against everyone else and at the end of the season, whichever team has the most points for their results is deemed the champion. Everyone has an equal opportunity.
That’s basically what the WSL has now. Everyone surfs all the same spots and whoever can tally the best results is the champ. Moving to a system with one championship event will certainly increase the drama, but you’re opening the door for a dominant performer throughout the season to be removed from the title picture due to one bad heat or one flat session in the water.
Even while other sports have a single championship game, like the Super Bowl, it’s still essentially a level playing field on that day. Surfing can be such a different animal depending on an individual’s strengths and weaknesses on certain types of waves. Put someone like Kelly Slater against Filipe Toledo in multiple heats, it’s almost guaranteed that Slater would dominate the big barrels and Toledo would have the clear edge getting airs on punchy waves with the right winds.
So deciding the title on a single wave is bound to create a situation that is advantageous to some and not others. Right now, everyone has to perform on any and all types of waves. They will have to continue doing that in order to reach the championship contest, but then it comes down to a clean slate and a single style of wave for everyone.
I always like change in sports because most of the time it comes too slowly. I’ll probably be more excited about the new format and it will allow the casual fan to be able to know exactly when a champion will be crowned. But in terms of fairness, I think the WSL is taking a step backwards. They seem to be alright with that trade off if it keeps the product fresh and brings in new viewers and sponsors. I can’t argue with that mindset.