They say that former PGA Tour golfer Chip Beck was so sunny and optimistic, he could get excited about missing the green.
The sports world has done worse than metaphorically miss the green in spring of 2020 – it’s missed the tee time altogether. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid waste to pro and collegiate calendars around the world, wiping out most meaningful competition in March, April, May, and June.
Maybe our blog is not generally as optimistic as Chip Beck – or Bundesliga for that matter. But that doesn’t mean the suspension of sports has to come without silver linings.
Take the 2 hardest-hit arenas – basketball and ice hockey. In the normal course of events we would have witnessed face-offs in the IIHF World Championships in addition to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Hoops fans would be enjoying the climax of an NBA season, and as formerly scheduled, the Men’s and Women’s Basketball events at the Olympic Games in Japan.
Spectators (and gamblers) will miss all 4 of those showcases, but it was never a guarantee that the international clashes would be “Fantasy”-style events. The ice hockey “Worlds” and the Olympic basketball tournament (on the men’s side anyway) are often plagued by missing superstars due to NBA or NHL restrictions, contracts, fatigue, and injury.
Consider that simulated or “virtual” sports have no such limitations. If so desired, a virtual tournament can match the 1984 Los Angeles Lakers against the 2019 Toronto Raptors. Great names from all over the globe can “gather” for such contests at the click of a button.
There has been a surge in virtual sports since COVID-19 arrived in America. But like medieval artists who tried to recreate real-life images instead of imagining things, most so-called “Fantasy” simulations have focused on producing a virtual winner of March Madness, Opening Day or other games that would have happened under normal circumstances.
Why not take advantage of the pause on sports with something unique?
WagerBop wants readers to have fun following our virtual events. But there’s also an opportunity to use simulated sports to settle debates and answer long-held questions.
For example, it has been said that the world caught up to USA Basketball soon after the original Dream Team (featuring 11 NBA Hall-of-Famers) destroyed nations from 6 continents in 1992. But while countries have challenged and occasionally beaten Team USA on Olympic and FIBA hardwood since then, the United States has also never dispatched a squad as hand-picked as the ’92 Barcelona lineup. U.S. Men’s Basketball rosters in the 21st century have been outstanding, but rarely ideal.
A present-day USA “Dream Team” would be formidable. Stephen Curry, Lebron James, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Durant are just 4 cagers who would have arrived in Tokyo should the stars (and stripes) have aligned in 2020. Since there are no billion-dollar agendas, nagging injuries, or ego problems involved in setting up a virtual Olympic hoops tourney, it is possible to create a Team USA roster of A #1 selections at every position, ideal rosters for all other international squads, and see if the Yanks have in fact been 1 successful roster-build away from crushing the field by an average of 50 points all over again, or if other basketball nations have legitimately “caught up” to the finest American ballers in the NBA.
Meanwhile, crowning a virtual/fantasy World title in ice hockey may prove even more fascinating.
Many NHL fans like to dismiss international pond shinny, once again because of lack-of-ideal roster scenarios. For keyboard warriors with NHL beanies and 4-letter vocabularies, only the 2010 Olympic gold medal game between “perfect” Team Canada and “perfect” Team USA has ever been worth watching.
Detractors of IIHF hockey should be careful what they wish for, though, since an actual “best on best” world tournament would not always result in a Sid vs Ovie showdown or anything of the sort.
If national teams could draw on 100% of North American pros, plus anyone who considers that country a 2nd homeland (as opposed to sometimes-arcane citizenship rules striking obvious names from Team Great Britain while keeping Geoff Platt on Team Belarus), many Cinderella nations of hockey could be more competitive. Slovakia, Denmark, and Switzerland might be terrifying. Finland would seem impossible to beat. Division 1 and D2 nations could fatten-up with NHL draft picks. Team Italy? Don’t laugh.
A similar syndrome could occur in Olympic basketball. Suppose NBA players who dual-reside in Canada (namely to play for Toronto in the NBA) were eligible for Team Canada, to go with the bevy of talent Habs already bring to the hardcourt. Why try to simulate Olympic or FIBA basketball as it actually happens? Let’s find out what happens when national-team GMs can go on a shopping spree.
WagerBop is factoring all of the above variables into our Virtual World Tournaments in hoops and hockey scheduled for simulation/news reveal on June 15th through July 25th.
But there’s still something missing – women’s basketball and ice hockey.
Women’s Teams in the “VIHF” Virtual World Championship
It’s a dilemma what to do with women’s international teams in a project like this, because women’s teams usually manage to get the best-players-available signed onto the Olympics or IIHF or FIBA championships. In other words, women already play “Fantasy” tournaments all the time. The best that a blog team could do is simulate exactly what the 2020 Women’s Basketball event in Tokyo would have been like, and plenty of others are likely planning to simulate (or have already simulated) exactly that.
But to leave the immense strides in women’s sports out of our experiment would be a grand oversight.
Therefore, 3 national women’s ice hockey teams will be competing with men’s national teams in a 40-team Virtual World Championship bracket, including the United States, Canada, and 2019 WC silver-medalist Finland.
No doubt there will be “haters” who say women’s teams will have zero chance to compete, even in a virtual setting. But there’s an argument for why women and trans-women skaters could actually be harder for male skaters to beat than previously thought.
Female skaters have struggled to get by in men’s minor league play while flourishing in exhibitions against top-rated men and boys. Kendall Schofield-Coyne is virtually (excuse the pun) as fast as the fastest NHL skaters and rolls just fine alongside NHL and AHL talent in the CPHL during the summer, but she probably wouldn’t touch a full season in the non-exhibition ECHL with a 10-foot pole.
That sounds like a blatant contradiction to men’s sports bloggers used to a simpler pattern of achievement. An NFL scout rarely says of a prospect, “he runs like Willie Gault and scored 9 touchdowns at the Senior Bowl, but I sure wouldn’t draft him.”
The crux is that women practice and play a different brand of hockey, not merely a different style but a different game with different rules, designed to protect smaller bodies and promote longevity in a sport populated with youngsters.
Matching women vs men in full-contact hockey is like asking Judo champions to compete in a Heavyweight UFC event. Therefore, the only fair way to approximate Men’s vs Women’s team match-ups on the ice is to simulate games using women’s non-contact rules.
After all, it’s not like women’s hockey’s haters say that their Beer League club would whip Team USA by skating in slow circles and hitting everything in sight like the Hanson Brothers. Skeptics of women’s hockey claim that even a mediocre NJCAA Men’s squad would out-skate, out-maneuver, and out-score any championship women’s team.
But if the Men’s teams in WagerBop’s Virtual Ice Hockey Championship can’t win with finesse, without falling-back on an overwhelming advantage in body-checking, then we’ll know that the only factors truly separating men from women on the pond are weight and bone girth, not skill and ability.
“VIHF” games involving the top 3-ranked Women’s national teams will make captivating simulated contests.
P.S. (as the drum-roll begins) WagerBop is factoring “expertise over technology” in generating outcomes in Virtual World Tournaments.
Games will be simulated and reported-on for fun. But the #1 ingredient in determining winners is information. Better to be simulating on SEGA’s 16-bit NHL 95 cartridge (no we’re not) or NBA Jams (don’t worry) and work with A+ scouting, than use a souped-up Sony PlayStation rig and input a bunch of bias. The goal is to see what might happen on level terms between opponents who never get to play.
Basketball junkies can scroll down for the upcoming Men’s Basketball round-robin format, and pigskin pundits who follow Virtual World Tournament articles on WagerBop can expect a “bonus” gridiron simulation by the time Virtual medal-round play gets going.
Virtual Ice Hockey Championship: Round 1 and Round 2
Hockey nations ranked 1-8 as of 2020 are seeded #1-#8 and exempt from Round 1.
Women’s teams are seeded 9th, 10th, and 11th overall.
2 teams from each Round 1 pool of 4 will advance to Round 2 for a battle of 24 teams in FIFA World Cup-style groups and elimination games.
All meaningful W/L tie-break scenarios will be settled with head-to-head playoffs.
Group A – Team USA (Women), Hungary, Croatia, Belgium
Group B – Team Canada (Women), Great Britain, Netherlands, Mexico
Group C – Team Finland (Women), Kazakhstan, Romania, Australia
Group D – Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Israel
Group E – Latvia, Korea, Ukraine, Iceland
Group F – Norway, Italy, Lithuania, China
Group G – Denmark, Austria, Japan, Spain
Group H – France, Belarus, Poland, Serbia
You would think that a 40-team field in a sport wanting for more world-tournament contenders would look lopsided, even silly. But some of the Round 1 VIHF ice hockey groups appear hard to predict.
Will the American women stand a chance against tough Euro pros representing Hungary and Croatia? How about the Canadian women against an unlikely-yet-natural rival in Great Britain? Australia will have an NHL skater in Nathan Walker, but lost to Romania 5-0 in a recent IIHF game.
Groups E through H look weirdly similar to the actual Olympic Qualifying groups for 2022.
Men’s Basketball Fantasy World Tournament
Since Olympic Men’s Basketball qualification has also been suspended due to COVID-19, we are including the 8 already-qualified nations plus the top hopefuls based on FIBA’s World Ranking.
Canada has been added in place of Japan, since there is no “host nation” of the Fantasy Basketball Tournament.
Group A: United States, France, Nigeria, Iran
Group B: Spain, Serbia, Greece, Czech Republic
Group C: Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada
The top 2 teams from each round robin will advance to a 6-team elimination bracket with top #2 seeds drawing byes into the semifinals.
Stay tuned for more on WagerBop’s Virtual World Tournaments, including a look at some Virtual rosters in both sports and an opening round of preliminary ice hockey results.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.