Three Cheers for MUFA’s Swiss System

August 14, 2013 · 4 minutes read

I’ve captained a team, DiscGrace, in the MUFA summer league, since 2001.

The summer league is an ultimate frisbee league where you sign up as a team based on your team strength, ranging from competitive down to recreational (with many divisions thereof).

One of the historical problems with the league has been the fact that even within a given division, skill levels can vary a lot, since the team strength is all based on self-rating. This often results in blowouts… and blowouts are something you rarely have fun playing in, no matter which side of it you’re on.

As of the 2012 season, MUFA combined the B and C rec leagues and implemented a swiss system*. In 2012, there were 54 teams the swiss division, and this year, there were 72. The idea of a swiss system is that you pair up teams with similar records, so as the schedule progresses, teams are paired against others of a similar strength.

In 2012, the season was severely truncated by a drought; the city closed fields for a large part of the season to prevent damage to the turf. Because of that, it was hard to get a good idea of how well the swiss system worked.

This year, however, just finished up, and my team played 17 regular season games, plus a couple in the post-season. The season started with a number of blowouts each way in our games. By mid-season, however, the swiss really game into its own. Nearly all of our games after midway could easily have gone either way, with many coming down to the final minutes.

Likewise, when we went into the playoffs, the swiss was divided into sections based on our regular season results. DiscGrace was seeded last (16th) in Swiss Chocolate, the 4th group, and we played against the top seed. We were expected to lose, and we did, but it was still a damn close game (9-10 as I recall).

This is why I play… to have fun, competitive game, not to win. I think that’s true of the vast majority of those of us in the swiss system, and I wanted to publicly say how great I thought it was and say thank you to MUFA for implementing it.

So, three cheers for MUFA, and the swiss! Thank you!

You all do a great job, supporting what is now a vast number of people in the league. It’s an all-volunteer organization and probably mostly thankless (I’m sure they hear many more complaints than thanks).

I suspect (but don’t know as I’ve not spoken to him about it in years) that Matt Merrill**, the current MUFA vice president, is the brainchild and architect of the MUFA swiss implementation. Kudos to you, especially, Matt!

  • – I actually argued for implementing a swiss years ago, but this was long before smartphones and ubiquitous internet… and the swiss depends upon quick reporting of game results, so it wasn’t as practical then.

** – Fun fact… I knew Matt waaay back in the late 80’s when we were both avid tournament chess players. I am/was a relative patzer, though, while Matt actually achieved expert rating. The reason I was even familiar with the swiss system was because this is how nearly all chess tournaments work. If you have a weekend to play, typically 5 games, it’s the best way to come up with a clear winner with a field of 100 or so players.

As part of the swiss, MUFA also implemented a “performance rating”, which from appearances appears to be an implementation of the Elo system, the method used by the USCF (in the US) and FIDE (internationally) to rate chess players. Last fun fact… Arpad Elo invented this system. He was born in Austria, but moved to Wisconsin when he was 10, and won the Wisconsin state championship eight times.