Look, this was bound to happen. Regulars know I have a penchant for flogging the proverbial dead horse anyway but this old nag still has a bit of life left--until the league decides how it will handle the pro bracket in 2013. So the time to talk is now. On the plus side (for some of y'all) nobody is compelling you to read this. Stay or go I'm going to re-make the case I've already made for how to handle the pro bracket in 2013--and beyond.
Factoid: 12 teams works within the confines of the current format and event time frame. Adding more teams will require some significant changes.
I don't think anyone is prepared to extend the tournament days across the whole season (or the webcast hours to four days for that matter) which doesn't leave too many options if adding more pro teams is the goal. Keep the current format, add teams and bump some prelim games off the pro field. Not really a very satisfactory answer and one sure to be objected to by pretty much everyone--except perhaps the new teams. Or, change the current format (which is already a watered down imitation of what Xball once was) to Race 2-5--which can be fitted into the current schedule even with a bump up to 15 pro teams. But does that really solve anything? It diminishes the pro game (and the spirit of Xball one more time) and for what? A one time deal to add two teams that quit on the league once already?
Of course the real complication here isn't the teams wanting in, it's their sponsors (and the broader industry desire to retain as much of their influence over the league as possible.) Here's the problem: There's another league (the NPPL) industry can leverage in their battle for influence and there's the PBA's desire (and need) to promote industry advertising on the webcasts. The question then is: Does the PSP play ball to keep industry happy and how much influence does the PBA have on PSP decisions? Hanging in the balance--this time around--is what happens to the pro bracket.
Today the PSP pro division is widely recognized as the pinnacle of competitive paintball worldwide. It didn't happen by accident and it isn't purely because of the preponderance of North American players. (The game and its players around the world are beginning to close the gap.) It is also the game PSP pros play. It is a unique format that retains more of the best features of the original Xball than any other variant of Race 2 or Xball Lite. To throw that away at a difficult moment would be a terrible setback for the competitive game.
What to do?
Begin by remembering how the PSP achieved this. It began by "Advancing the Sport of Paintball." Not just a slogan but a statement of intent. It began by believing the best product was found in the best possible competition. That while players were customers they were also, and foremost, competitors. It's a balancing act because the PSP isn't a sports federation, it's a business. A business that has succeeded because it's offered its customers legitimate sporting competitions.
What the PSP and the pro bracket need now isn't more teams, it's to consolidate and build on their current leadership. To make sure that only the best of the best earn their chance to compete in the undisputed very best pro division in the world. Now isn't the time to risk diluting the division when it's plain to see the NPPL relegated themselves to second tier status by routinely allowing weak unproven teams into their pro division. If anything it should be harder now--and in the future--to make sure every team that reaches PSP pro status is among the best of the best. And the proper way to set the gears in motion is by league structure and rule so that every team that competes in the PSP knows from day one what it will take to earn pro status and the right to compete at the true pinnacle of the sport.
Of course the truth is not every PSP pro team is competitive. Not as competitive as might be desired and one of the reasons is that divisional teams, even the best of them, aren't being fully prepared to take up the pro challenge. The gap between D1 and Pro, despite the chest-thumping from the cheap seats has grown in recent years. Now is the time to put a new (old?) system in place that maintains the PSP's current command of the pro heights and builds on that success to assure the PSP remains the standard of the competitive paintball world.
First thing I would do is reduce the Pro Division to 10 teams. How? You can't just pick two teams or take the two bottom teams from last year, it wouldn't be fair. Well, two random teams wouldn't be fair and it would be kinda unfair to suddenly change the "rules" like that after the season was over--so, how about this? Play the first event of the season in the normal way except going in everyone knows the bottom two teams are getting relegated to a semi-pro bracket for the rest of the season. Still unfair? Too much pressure? Okay, stay at 12 teams but still introduce a Semi-pro bracket above D1 and make access to Pro available only thru promotion/relegation. (Yes, this is the same plan as before. Which part of flogging the nearly deceased horse didn't you get?) And limit access to semi-pro as well through promo/relegation from D1. The reason for this is with a limited access to semi-pro a short list of the best possible future pro teams are battling it out event to event. Allowing random teams to enter at their whim dilutes the competition. This isn't about giving ten crazy kids a chance to live out their dreams if their dreams only amount to paying for the privilege of one time getting their brains bashed in so they can claim to be semi-pro players. This is about not just players but whole teams proving they have what it takes to take their place amongst the best.
This season Semi-pro is comprised of ( 1.) every non-PSP pro team that wants in ( 2.) any CPL or SPL that will commit to the series ( 3.) the top two teams from D1 [promoted] plus some number of other D1 teams that choose to take up the challenge with priority given to the highest ranking first. 8 teams would be fine. (If in the future more is deemed better it can easily be bumped up to 10 when the level of competition merits the move.)
From then on two teams down each year from Pro, two teams up from Semi-pro. Same between Semi and D1. The ultimate size of any division can remain flexible but now a system is in place to ensure that only the best teams reach the Pro bracket.
This is actually good for the industry sponsors as well. A smaller pro bracket makes each team more worthwhile to support and tighter competition would provide greater sponsorship value across the division. And there wouldn't be any uncertainty beyond who might or might not be relegated in a given season. At the same time industry can opt to also support strong Semi-pro programs or take flyers on up-and-coming teams to get in on the ground floor of teams they believe will continue to do well and help deliver brand excitement as they rise.
Short term some folks will be put out but in the long run a move like this will help assure the continuing dominance of the PSP.