A reader asked for advice about how to run a league for Padel – a racquet sport that’s somewhat akin to tennis or squash. He expects to have about 30 teams, and wants to play the league in three months, at one match per week for each player.
First, a side observation about the request. I find that I’m more likely to be asked about games and sports I haven’t heard of than about the ones that I’m already familiar with. Perhaps that’s because the well-established sports also have established traditions for how their tourneys are run. It’s the new sports, or at least the less common ones, for which organizers seek the help of the likes of tourneygeek. And so it’s these less common sports that are likely to generate interesting new ideas about how tourneys should be run.
The reader suggested a creative format: Start with a group stage, with groups of four. Then use the group stage to seed a double-elimination bracket thus: group winners go to round 2 of the upper bracket; group runners-up go to round 1 of the upper bracket; third-place teams go to round 2 of the lower bracket; and fourth-place teams go to round 1 of the lower bracket. Will this work? Is there a better way?
The groups-into-double-elimination idea is an interesting one, but it’s not going to work without some adjustments. Let’s say there are 8 groups. If the 8 runners-up go to the first round of the upper bracket, there will be 4 round 1 winners. But then if the 8 group winners get seeded into round two, that round has 12 teams. And, with no more teams dropping into that bracket, you’re going to have to have some late-round byes to get the bracket back to an even power of two.
So, while I generally approve of the idea of seeding a bracket with some earned byes from previous play, it’s not going to work here without some fairly significant changes.
What you can do is seed the group winners and the group runners-up into the first round of an upper bracket, and the third- and fourth-place teams into the first round of a lower bracket. The upper bracket is, then, a conventional 16 bracket. The lower bracket looks like this: Padel lower
I like that bracket better as a consolation bracket rather than a full double elimination bracket because of the extreme separation of adjacent drops from the end of the upper bracket. The loser of the upper final drops to round 7 of the lower bracket, while the two losers of the upper semi-final drop to round 4. If the loser of the upper final doesn’t drop, then that’s avoided.
So, there’s a way to implement at least a modified form of my reader’s suggestion. But is there a better way?
The suggestion yields a short round-robin group stage that seeds a long bracketed playoff. The standard approach to this sort of league problem is just the reverse: a long round-robin group stage leading to a short playoff.
So, with 32 teams and 12 play dates (or rounds), I’d prefer to do this: draw the teams into four groups of six. Then play a double round robin within each group for the first 10 play dates. After that, have the four group winners play off for the league championship.
That’s going to lead to more participation – more rounds of play for the teams that don’t do very well. In the more conventional league, each team gets at least 10 matches, whereas in the other league some teams get as few as four. If this were a professional league, where spectacle is valued more highly than participation, you might prefer to bring on the high-stakes elimination matches sooner. But I’m assuming that this Padel league is being played more for the participants than the spectators.
Can one do better than this? I think so, though it would be at the cost of a good deal of additional complexity. Instead of running four groups of six in a double round-robin, run a 10-round Swiss for the entire group. That way, each team would play the same number of rounds, but they’d meet more different opponents, and those opponents would, on average, then to be of more equal skill. To dress the tourney up a little further, I think I’d take the top four finishers from the Swiss into a four-team page playoff rather than a simple knockout.