To Tiebreak or not to Tiebreak… that is the Question.

To tiebreak to not to tiebreak is a question that will be discussed extensively by the World Curling Federation over the next number of months. Until 1980, national curling champions in Canada were determined by round robin only. But, at the world level, the idea of playoffs was introduced in the early Sixties. Hence, the question of teams being tied with identical win/loss records after the round robin in world play goes back almost 50 years. The process of determining how and who moves forward as a result of teams being in a deadlock has varied over time but, without question, it always has involved a series of tiebreaker games to determine who advances and which team plays which team following a tie of teams that have an opportunity to advance following preliminary play. The one constant over the years has been that a team that ties for a place in the playoffs never is eliminated in any other way than by losing an extra game. Today, the criteria used by the WCF, is as follows:
  1. Teams will first be ranked according to win/loss records;
  2. If two teams are tied, the team that won its round-robin game will be ranked higher;
  3. Where three or more teams are tied, the record of the games between tied teams shall provide the ranking — should this procedure provide a ranking for some teams but not all, then the record of the games between the remaining teams that are still tied shall determine the ranking;
  4. For all remaining teams whose rankings cannot be determined by 1, 2 or 3, ranking is determined using the Draw Shot Challenge (DSC).
The DSC is the average of the Last Stone Draws (LSD) which were played by team members prior to the start of each game during the round-robin portion of the competition and is the criteria used to determine who will have last rock in the first end of each game. The single least-favourable LSD results automatically are eliminated before calculating this average distance. The team with the lesser DSC receives the highest ranking for the playoffs. Where the problem in this system comes into play is when, following the round robin of a particular championship, there is a possibility of three extra draws required to break the ties. While this might be fine for a bonspiel event where fans and event momentum aren’t factors it is not so simple with Canadian or world events where fans, media and television all are factors. If organizers provide the time in an event schedule required for three complete tiebreaker rounds and the round robin finishes clean then organizers have a problem on their hands — everybody winds up sitting on their hands for a full 24 hours! In order to avoid this gap, tiebreakers are scheduled into far less time than should be allocated and if, on occasion, the dreaded three rounds are required, the first game winds up hitting the ice at about 11 p.m. following the conclusion of the round robin. There is little question that the possibility of tiebreakers is always a major concern and can provide all sorts of stress and strain on all parties including some not mentioned as yet… ice technicians, officials, statisticians and all volunteers. This has been a niggly problem for a long time but in the last year there has been a movement afoot within the WCF aimed at changing the process in the next couple of years. And while the change proposed might make a lot of sense to many, there is little question that it will have some detractors. The people proposing the change are suggesting the complete elimination of tiebreakers, period. In other words, at the end of the round robin, when three teams could be tied for the final playoff position, the process previously outlined in 1,2, 3 and 4 should be used not to determine the positioning of teams in the tiebreaker but to determine which team will advance into the final round or playoffs. And while this approach would surely eliminate the need for tiebreakers it would, on many occasions, allow one or more teams tied with each other to advance while the others are eliminated without the benefit of playing a tiebreaker game. The proposed solution would surely make all championship draws clean and simple but it also would create abundant controversy when teams tied for a playoff position are, in fact, eliminated from the competition without the right to play an elimination game. The eyes of the curling world will be watching for this one.