Toronto’s Season Finale Reveals the Rigidity of the Original ISL Formula

2021 INTERNATIONAL SWIMMING LEAGUE – SEASON 3, MATCH 17 – PLAYOFFS MATCH 6

TEAM POINTS – DAY 1

  1. Aqua Centurions – 264 points
  2. Cali Condors – 250 points
  3. Iron – 205 points
  4. Toronto Titans – 180 points

Playoff Match 6 was the Toronto Titans’ last chance to make the 2021 League Final. Though they would need to beat season 2 champs the Cali Condors, this didn’t seem like such a long shot, given their regular season performances. However, injuries and a handful of withdrawals from the November meets left the Titans weakened. On Saturday, the Titans’ hopes of advancing to the finale disappeared, and the team that looked like it might challenge for the match victory is now fighting not to get 4th.

The Aqua Centurions had a big session on day 1 of the 6th and final match of the 2021 ISL Playoffs. Going into day 2, the Aqua Centurions hold a 14-point lead over the Cali Condors. Nevertheless, the Aqua Centurions, even if they win Playoffs Match 6, cannot advance to the League Final, which will take place in Eindhoven December 3rd and 4th. Earlier this season, the Toronto Titans showed signs that hey could potentially break into the illustrious top-4, but those hopes have been dashed.

For the third-straight season, the same four teams will compete in the ISL Finale. The teams that advance are not a coincidence: they are the four teams that were based on the originally-planned pre-ISL 2018 Energy for Swim meet, an event that was ultimately canceled. And so Energy Standard, the London Roar, the Cali Condors, and the LA Current were the four teams that, even three years ago, had such an overwhelming recruiting advantage that even now, after years of free agency and a draft, has still left them with a dominant advantage. Two teams from the United States and two teams from Europe: the ISL’s original formula.

At the beginning of the season, the Toronto Titans looked like they would break into the top-4 and qualify for the 2021 League Final. Not only did they win Match 5 in Naples, but they finished just 15 points behind season 1 winners Energy Standard in Match 1 in Naples. However, making the Final became increasingly less likely the more the playoffs went on. Now, with Playoff Match 6 in full swing, and following the LA Current’s 3rd-place finish in Playoff Match 5, there was only one way the Toronto Titans could move onto the 2021 Final: win Playoff Match 6. In order to do this, the Titans would have to take down season 2 champions the Cali Condors. This seemed like a long shot, but not unattainable. Similarly, the Aqua Centurions and Iron appeared to be the two teams fighting for 3rd place behind Cali and the Titans. However, half-way through Playoff Match 6 the Titans are sitting in 4th place with their hopes of making the final effectively gone.

Of course, the Toronto Titans are not among the original four teams envisioned for Energy for Swim, or even the original eight teams of season one. The Toronto Titans started in season two and relied on recruiting swimmers from other teams as well as those who would be new to the ISL altogether, an uphill battle when Energy Standard, the London Roar, the Cali Condors, and the LA Current could all say they’re season one “finalists.” The Tokyo Frog Kings had this same trouble, and of course, they didn’t even make the playoffs.

Worse yet, while some teams were able to save their top athletes for the playoffs–think Ryan Murphy and the LA Current–the Toronto Titans lost many key players as the post-season kicked off.

The Titans have been plagued with injuries to their roster, particularly on the men’s side, resulting in a meager 8-man roster for Playoff Match 6. That is to say, the Titans have only 8 men competing this weekend in men’s events, not 8 swimmers altogether. This has caused the Titans to use swimmers in events they don’t normally do, swimming only in order to not be deducted 4 points for leaving a lane open. The Titans implemented this strategy in Playoff Match 2. Saturday, we saw it in full effect as numerous swimmers coasted their races just to provide a body for the lane. Notable examples include Marius Kusch posting a 26.16 in the men’s 50 freestyle and one of the men’s 4 x 100 freestyle relay teams swimming a 3:57.61, an instance in which two swimmers posted splits of over one minute. For reference, this performance is more than 7 seconds slower than the cutoff time in the men’s individual 400 freestyle and more than 40 seconds slower than the cutoff time in the men’s 4 x 100 freestyle relay itself.

By contrast, the Aqua Centurions were dominant in the men’s relays today. The Centurions won the men’s medley relay, incurring a 12-point jackpot, and placed 5th, reeling in a total of 38 points and earning the right to choose the stroke of the men’s 50 skins race for day 2. Though head coach Matteo Giunta appeared mildly frustrated that Cali eliminated butterfly and Iron eliminated breaststroke, Giunta ultimately settled on backstroke for the men’s skins, a decision that might help Iron more than any other team. The Aqua Centurions had no say in the women’s skins selection, which will be butterfly, a decision made by Cali Condor head coach Jeff Julian.

SKINS SELECTION

Women’s Skins

  • Iron eliminates backstroke
  • Toronto Titans eliminate breaststroke
  • Cali Condors choose butterfly

Men’s Skins

  • Cali Condors eliminate butterfly
  • Iron eliminates breaststroke
  • Aqua Centurions choose backstroke

Other Notable Swims

  • Matteo Rivolta of the Aqua Centurions blasted a 48.64 in the men’s 100 butterfly to take nearly half a second off of his weeks-old Italian Record. Rivolta missed the European Record in the men’s 100 SCM butterfly, which was set by Russia’s Evgeny Korotyshkin in 2009 in a now-banned polyurethane “super suit” in 48.48 seconds. This swim netted Rivolta 24 points–9 for winning the race and 15 for jackpotting 5 of the other swimmers.
  • Aqua Centurion and Italian National teammates Fabio Scozzoli and Nicolo Martinenghi tied in the men’s 50 breaststroke and jackpotted Cali’s Kevin Cordes and Iron’s Erik Persson, nabbing a total of 19 points for the Centurions, or 9.5 points each: 1st place = 9 points; 2nd place = 7 points; Cordes-Persson jackpot = 3 points.
  • The Aqua Centurion men won 48 points in the men’s 4 x 100 freestyle relay, which equates to a 26-point jackpot, stealing the points from 5 of the other relay squads in the race. On the other end of the spectrum, four of the other teams in the heat failed to meet the cutoff time of 3:15.00, resulting in -2.0 point deductions for each of the four teams competing in the match.

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jamesjabc
1 month ago

A huge part of the problem is how the drafting and scoring works: Each team is allowed to retain 15 athletes, a 16th fan retention, and gets one rookie pick before the draft starts. So, teams with an already great roster are essentially guaranteed 16 good swimmers plus a likely good rookie. You can only enter 28 swimmers in a match, so the teams that were strong in the first season already have a major advantage with 17/28 great swimmers.

On top of that, jackpots make it so key points accumulate at the top. Conceivably, a team’s best swimmer might accumulate 60-100 points in a match, whereas their 28th swimmer is quite possibly going to score 0. For context, the… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by jamesjabc
Tiudbsi
Reply to  jamesjabc
1 month ago

It would be kind of cool if the top swimmers were just randomly assigned a team. Then each team got to draft the remaining swimmers. So round 1 they’d put the top 8 women, round 2 top 8 men and go on till each team had 16 swimmers then get the team to begin drafting. It would add a lot more fun to each team.

irviner
Reply to  Tiudbsi
1 month ago

The only problem with that is the association of certain swim stars with their ISL teams (Dressel-CAC, Murphy-LAC, Sjostrom-ES, Peaty-LR, etc.) is how fanbase support and loyalty across seasons is created (think MJ with the Bulls or Tom Brady with the Patriots all those years).
If these top swimmers were always being thrown around from team to team each year I think fans would find it hard to have a team to root for and would eventually weaken ISL’s viewership and longevity.

Sub13
Reply to  irviner
1 month ago

I think Duncan Scott has replaced Adam Peaty as the poster boy for the Roar. Peaty has literally not mentioned the Roar once on social media this year despite posting ten times a day.

But yes, I agree in principle. If teams were mixed up that severely every year then the fanbase would be totally inconsistent. You need some kind of core group to keep fan loyalty and interest in a team.

Eric the eel > Phelps
Reply to  irviner
1 month ago

Wait until Lebron reads this

Last edited 1 month ago by Eric the eel > Phelps
ALDASP
Reply to  jamesjabc
1 month ago

The very ironic part about your statement is that Haughey was actually on DC’s roster in season one…if only…

Troyy
Reply to  ALDASP
1 month ago

And should’ve remained there. The top teams consolidating their position in season two was a big joke.

Sub13
Reply to  Troyy
1 month ago

How did season 2 work with amending teams etc? I can’t seem to find an explanation of it

Troyy
Reply to  Sub13
1 month ago

Free for all. After season one quite of few swimmers ditched the weaker teams to move to the top teams and there was no draft so of course the top teams also had the pick of the new recruits.

It was completely ridiculous and should’ve been a draft instead.

Last edited 1 month ago by Troyy
Sub13
Reply to  ALDASP
1 month ago

How were changes made between the 2019 and 2020 season? I’m new watching this season. Did DC deliberately get rid of her?

Troyy
Reply to  Sub13
1 month ago

Haughey just moved to greener pastures to DC’s detriment (she was their highest scorer).

Last edited 1 month ago by Troyy
Sub13
Reply to  Troyy
1 month ago

Ok so what ALDASP is saying is really misleading then. She took advantage of the old rules to ditch her team and join the already best team lol. Had the current rules been in place then, she would have been kept at DC.

Troyy
Reply to  Sub13
1 month ago

Under the current rules she couldn’t have just picked a top team to join she’d have had to join the draft and likely one of the bottom teams would’ve taken her as a first pick possibly even DC.

Sub13
Reply to  Troyy
1 month ago

Oof I hope she doesn’t eye off ditching Hong Kong for China for a chance at relay success lol.

Using this retention/draft system, in theory eventually the teams would even up. But that might not happen for 10-15 years when all the top assets have retired. If the teams were already relatively even to begin with this system would work pretty well I guess, but I think the jackpot system perpetuates the imbalance.

What about changing jackpots to half points? Currently, if the top swimmer jackpots the whole field, there is absolutely zero reward for a swimmer coming second compared to coming last. If you jackpotted half the points instead, then all those swimmers who consistently come 5th… Read more »

miwski
Reply to  Sub13
1 month ago

I believe you don’t need to wait until all the top assets retire, just some would do. As long as more top young swimmers are willing to join the league, the teams will soon even up under the draft system. But sure, changing jackpots to half points seems like a practical and good idea.

PS. I’m from Hong Kong and I personally don’t think Haughey’s going to ditch Hong Kong for China under any circumstances, though she did once mention that the Ireland team has been recruiting her (she’s half Irish)

Sub13
Reply to  miwski
1 month ago

Sorry, that line about China was just a joke (probably a bit insensitive looking back on it so hope I didn’t offend you).

I knew Haughey was half Irish but didn’t know the team had been trying to get her. I doubt her relay chances are any better in Ireland than HK, and the HK government would pay her a lot more than the Irish one would, so I can’t imagine she would ever switch.

Braden Keith(@braden)
Admin
Reply to  miwski
1 month ago

Imagine a mixed free relay with Siobhan Haughey and Dean Farris in Ireland.

Stewart 100 back gold in Fukuoka
Reply to  Sub13
1 month ago

Everyone keeps talking about Haughey moving from DC to Energy, but it should also be mentioned that London strips Atkinson, Lazor and Vazaios from the weaker teams as well. Energy also lost a lot of their season 1 swimmers to two newly established teams Tokyo & Toronto, including Sanchez who was 13th in the season 1 overall MVP standings. I can’t recall London losing any of its top swimmers from season 1. If it weren’t for travel restrictions in Australia, they would have smashed the field last year.
Also, if there weren’t so many under performers from London in season 1 final, they would have won the season. And if any of London’s male breaststrokers showed up this season,… Read more »

Sub13
Reply to  Stewart 100 back gold in Fukuoka
1 month ago

I completely agree with you: London is one of the top teams that benefits from the league imbalance. However, the reality is that London was massively hampered by the restrictions last year so I see it as more understandable that they were trying to plug holes in their roster. Energy essentially had their whole A team last year and still nabbed Haughey, who is now the second highest performer in the league, from a bottom team.

London has one single swimmer in the top 10 in Scott, and he was an OG member. Atkinson scored 69 points in the entirety of season 1 before being poached by London, so it’s not like London was taking a top performer. Haughey earned… Read more »

Stewart 100 back gold in Fukuoka
Reply to  Sub13
1 month ago

I’m pretty sure Atkinson joined London before the travel restriction thing happened. And Energy also had a hole to fill in season 2 as all of their Canadian sprinters went to Toronto. Also Haughey was not as on fire as she is today when she was stripped by Energy.

jamesjabc
Reply to  ALDASP
1 month ago

LOL I didn’t watch Season 1 so I had no idea. But yeah from other comments sounds like DC’s top performer ditched them because she wanted to be on a winning team: again, an example of the increasing unbalance of teams.

whever
Reply to  jamesjabc
1 month ago

One problem is that Energy Standard is an actual club where many of its swimmers trained together for years. It will be strange to kick them out of the team. Their only star swimmer who never trained with them before ISL is Haughey, and I do hope she had stayed with DC. I think they should have set up a new team with a different name and logo from the very beginning of the first season, and sperated the ISL teams from the actual training squad, but maybe it’s already a little bit late.

jamesjabc
Reply to  whever
1 month ago

Didn’t that already happen though? They were allowed to retain 15 swimmers, and they used one of those spots for Haughey, so presumably they chose to ditch one of their OG swimmers for her? Unless the team only had 14 swimmers to begin with?

I don’t think “feeling strange” is an excuse to make the league unbalanced. The ISL is its own thing. If a star swimmer gets removed from Energy and decides they no longer want to compete, then so be it.

whever
Reply to  jamesjabc
1 month ago

Their season 1 roster consists of some swimmers who don’t belong to their training squad and they ditch some of them for Haughey and others in season 2. More specifically, their training squad include Sjostrom, le Clos, Proud, Manaudou, Russian backstrokers and co. I don’t think the ISL boss will ever be willing to remove them from the team. They trained together in his club long before ISL existed.

And that’s also a problem from the very beginning of the league that has been talked about a lot. The ISL founder has his own club as one of the competing teams in the league. I don’t think this happens in other professional leagues.

Last edited 1 month ago by whever
Sub13
Reply to  whever
1 month ago

Yes that is a massive problem. Although if he’s willing to spend $50m a year to give us ISL and the trade off is that Energy gets some unfair advantages, that’s better than not having ISL at all I think.

Stewart 100 back gold in Fukuoka
Reply to  whever
1 month ago

This could be the most decorated training squad outside of USA right? At least 4 Olympic champions in it. Or maybe 5? I think Blume is also training with Energy?

Pullbuoy
1 month ago

I’m missing something with all this talk of an 8 man roster for the Titans – they fielded two men’s relay teams (8 swimmers) which didn’t include Max Litchfield who won the 400 free so must have 9 swimmers. Still far from ideal of course..

Gen D
Reply to  Pullbuoy
1 month ago

i got confused about this too but then i realized that Yuri Kisil swam in only one relay, and wasn’t in the 50 like he usually is. so I guess Byron meant that he only had 8 men doing individuals

Last edited 1 month ago by Gen D
Peter
1 month ago

Same as every sports league. It’s going to take a decade to even out. The draft will even out the bottom half of each team and as the original set of athletes on the top of the top teams start to retire it will get even more even.

Braden Keith(@braden)
Admin
Reply to  Peter
1 month ago

Can you elaborate on what you mean by “same as every sports league”?

A recent example includes the Las Vegas Golden Knights who played for the Stanley Cup in their first season of existence, so I’m not sure that tracks.

I’ve also said this before, but I’ll reiterate: ISL isn’t like ‘ball sports.’ You can’t have a great strategy and upset as a big underdog, you can’t get a few lucky bounces or a few favorable calls from a referee swinging the momentum. There’s no “every given Sunday” in the ISL. You can hope for injuries and illness in your opponent, but that’s about it. That means you must find a way to create parity to have interest. There’s no… Read more »

Swammer
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 month ago

If ISL doesn’t have the “any given Sunday” factor, can (legal) gambling on it be successful?

jamesjabc
Reply to  Swammer
1 month ago

There are upsets in individual races, and between teams of similar skill. But if Energy is going into a match against Tokyo, New York and Iron, then feel free to bet your house on it. Because they are winning that match 100% of the time.

Braden Keith(@braden)
Admin
Reply to  Swammer
1 month ago

I think setting lines could make it successful.

That being said – the ISL is going to have to make a LOT of changes that they don’t want to make in order for sportsbooks to pick it up. The whole thing is too much of a blackbox with only a handful of teams (and not the league office) believing in any kind of transparency.

And, while every sports league in the world is counting on gambling to “make it big,” the ISL isn’t even ready to capitalize on it – the “bet and they will watch” effect doesn’t work when 2 hours before the start of the matches, your media relations people can’t tell you when or where to watch… Read more »

Braden Keith(@braden)
Admin
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 month ago

More data from Barry on this:

The total of the points retained + drafted + signed in free agency for DC (aka everybody) is less than the total of the points just retained by Energy Standard and Cali. And DC had very high draft picks and did pretty well with them.

So that’s the battle that the draft as formatted currently is fighting.

Julie
1 month ago

I wonder if it would make a difference if swimmers were restricted to 2 swims per day plus relays. The coaches would have to decide which events to put their top swimmers in. It might make it more interesting.

Uncle_Reco
Reply to  Julie
1 month ago

They would probably have to up the number of swimmers allowed to compete per team.

Sub13
Reply to  Julie
1 month ago

Doubtful. Not many swimmers swim more than 4 individual events per match anyway. This rule would be impacting only on a select few right at the top. There’s no way it would make enough difference to let a bottom team have a chance at ousting a top team.

About Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson originally hails from Clay Center, Kansas, where he began swimming at age six.  At age 14 he began swimming club year-round and later with his high school team, making state all four years.  He was fortunate enough to draw the attention of Kalamazoo College where he went on to …

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