Inside the Jefferson Cup’s acceptance and division placement process
Since the launch of the Jefferson Cup back in 1981, the prestigious tournament has grown from a relatively small single weekend event to one of the most exclusive youth soccer competitions in the country. Every year, teams from all over the United States and beyond travel to Richmond, Va. to test themselves against other high-performers representing youth soccer’s best regional and national leagues.
Although the tournament has now expanded to four weekends in order to meet massive demand, the Jefferson Cup Selection Committee still faces hundreds of challenging decisions annually throughout the acceptance process. Even with more than 1,600 total slots for this year’s event across the U10-U19 Girls and Boys age groups, the Selection Committee still had to decline over 700 teams that applied. Even among accepted teams, determining the division placement in each age group is another long and challenging process for the Selection Committee.
At the 2020 United Soccer Coaches Convention in Baltimore, Jefferson Cup Tournament Director Steve D’Adamo joined The SoccerWire Podcast to provide an inside look at what it’s like to run one of the nation’s top youth soccer tournaments.
See below for a look at D’Adamo’s answers to some of the most common questions that Tournament Directors are asked on a regular basis. Click Here to listen to the full interview with D’Adamo on The SoccerWire Podcast.
What does the acceptance and placement process look like for the Selection Committee?
We spend about six weeks doing it. After the application deadline, I send out all the applications to the other four committee members, and they each go out and do their own research. We each spend about four weeks doing research, and then we come back and we meet. We probably spend between 3-5 hours on every age group, calling out a team name, and everybody discusses where they have them: whether it’s the top flight, the third flight, the fifth flight, or if they don’t have them accepted. If we all have a team really close to the same slot, which happens about half the time, that makes it easy. The other half that aren’t really close, we’re like, ‘What’s going on?’ and we spend a lot more time on those teams.
How do you view the challenge of the team acceptance and placement process?
Everybody wants to play the best teams. You’ve got to have confidence to be at this level, and so it’s to be expected that Jefferson Cup level teams all want to be in the Championship Bracket. It’s a very difficult place to be for us to have to say, ‘You aren’t in the top group and here are the reasons why’.
The easiest way to go about that is just being transparent. The five committee members we have who research all the teams and we sit there and discuss all the teams, we feel like we cover all of the areas, whether it’s league play, tournaments, divisions that they’re in, who they’ve beaten and who they’ve lost to. We’re able to go back to them with some level of confidence with where we’ve placed them.
It’s not an exact science. We can certainly get it wrong the first time, and if there’s something that we didn’t know about, we’ll go back and change it. At the end of the day we want everyone to be in the right bracket and compete at the right level. That’s kind of the process go through. The hardest piece for us is going to the teams that are not accepted, telling them they’re not accepted and why they’re not accepted. It takes a lot of energy to do that because it’s never a positive conversation, and so that’s probably the most difficult thing that we have to do.
This year we had over 2,300 applicants, and we have about 1,600 that will participate. That’s a lot of emailing and communicating that we do with teams that are upset and disappointed.
When there’s a close call, how does the Selection Committee choose one team over another?
Every situation is different. Sometimes it’s a difference between, one team lost [to a common opponent] by 2 goals instead of 4 goals. Or a team might have lost all their games, but it was against every single team we have in the top division. There’s all kinds of reasons why we do select or why we don’t, and there’s no exact science.
What we want to do, is we want to cover all of our bases. We create a body of work for every team, and we sit down and compare those bodies of work to figure out who should be in which bracket, and who should be accepted.
There are a lot of gray areas. Sometimes a team we do accept may have lost at some point to a team we don’t accept, and vise-versa. But we hope that we found enough evidence through other pieces of their history that justify why we did or did not accept them.
The five people we have on our selection committee have been doing this for pretty much the last decade. We’ve been together for 8 or 9 years, so each one of us knows what we hold more value for than others, whether it’s a win in a Final, whether it’s a tournament or a State Cup Final, is going to be a different focus than just a league game on a Saturday morning. Some people might take league play more into account, while some people view State Cup with a lot more importance than others. Some just take the overall wins and losses. But the collaboration of all of us together is what makes it successful. We aren’t perfect, we do make mistakes, but for the most part over the years we’ve gotten at which teams we’re selecting.
Do any teams turn down acceptance if they think they’re in the wrong bracket?
It happens, not very much recently and not a lot. Some people believe that their team needs to be moved up and we’ll say ‘Here’s what we see, and here’s why we believe you’re in the right bracket’. Or we might move them up and they’re still not happy, but it’s rare. We have had teams that say they’re not coming. Fortunately for us, we can find another team that can fill that spot. But that’s probably the hardest thing for any Tournament Director, is when you’ve counted on this team to be in one of your brackets, then all of a sudden they pull out, and you’re down to a group of seven which is an awful number. You have to be creative at that point, and sometimes you can find a new team and sometimes you can’t.