Friday, December 16, 2016

Scotland's UEFA Coefficient: Champions League Changes

One of the questions hanging over the computation of the 2017 UEFA coefficients has been how they would affect the 2018-9 qualifying, given that major changes are coming to the Champions League, and by extension, the Europa League.

For 2017-8, entry is determined by the 2016 coefficients. There is a table put together by the indispensable Bert Kassies that shows what happens to a nation's teams at various rankings. In the range of realistic interest for Scotland, countries 13-15 are equivalent, 16 and 17 are, 18-24 are, and 25 down to 45 are.

In other words, if your national coefficient drops from 15 to 16, your league champion enters a round earlier, your second place team enters the Europa League rather than the Champions League, your third-place team enters in the first round of Europa League qualifying rather than the third, and your fourth-place team doesn't get to play European football. (That's a big deal!)

If your coefficient drops from 17 to 18, your national cup winner enters in the second round rather than the third, and your second-place team enters in the first round.

If your coefficient drops from 24 to 25, your cup winner also enters in the first round. (Scotland landed at 25 for 2016. It is possible this will get reshuffled to spare their cup winner the first round matches.)

This month, UEFA approved the new access list for 2018/9 qualifying. Unfortunately, they then neglected to release it. So it fell to Kassies to piece it together from publicly-available information and leaks on his message board. Based on his list, the breakpoints are in the same places.

The differences are what happens at those breakpoints. The drop from 15 to 16 only pushes your third-place team back one round, since they were only getting to enter in the second round anyway. The drop from 17 to 18 makes your national champions enter in the first round of Champions League qualifying. (Previously the first round was only for the lowest-ranked associations; there's a new pre-first round for them.)

So, how does this affect Scotland? For 2018/9, not much. If the Cypriot and Bulgarian teams both have amazing runs through the Europa League knockout phase, Scotland could conceivably be knocked down to 25th again. But that is very unlikely.

From 2019 onward, aside from avoiding that 24th/25th drop, now a climb to 17th is even more important, as it spares the national champions one extra round of qualifying. Unfortunately, they would have to make up almost 5 points on Denmark in next year's competitions (as well as lesser amounts on other teams) to get up there. For 2020, however, they need less than 4 points on Austria -- and they have two years to do it. Two years of solid performances by Celtic and Rangers could have them within striking distance. 2021? Well, by that point, the rules will most likely change again.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Geocaching Vermont, Canada and Northern Virginia

Geocaching, particularly with the aim of generating particular statistics, is a bit of a strategy game, and like any game, it's best when you can make moves that fulfill more than one goal at the same time.

One stat that always jumps out at me is the "maximum distance in a day." I enjoy seeing this because it reminds me of a day on my most-recent cross-country road trip. And yet, it seems silly that with all the flying I've done, I haven't managed to get more miles than that in one day.

It's actually hard to coordinate with flying, because if you have an early flight, or a late flight, it's hard to cache on both ends. Overnight flights kill this, and time zone changes can leave you with a short day. But I had a trip to Ottawa planned for late afternoon, so I figured I could bump this up (flight miles from Dulles to Ottawa: 451).

I first found a cache in Reston before my flight. That cache gave me my first November 2015 cache, filling another month in that grid -- Month 122. Unfortunately, when I got to the airport, my flight had been canceled. It was rescheduled for too early the next morning for me to cache both ends, and my return flight was a late flight, dashing my hopes of updating this statistic.

I still had plans for finding Canadian caches, and the next day gave me an unexpected opportunity to set a different personal record. My flight circled the Ottawa airport before diverting to Burlington, Vermont. The airline gave us a choice of returning to Dulles or renting a car and driving to Ottawa.

On to Ottawa! My colleague and travel companion "Bill" indulged me by stopping for a cache before we left Vermont. He was underwhelmed by the cache's location (in a guard rail near a highway underpass), but my statistics were updated. That gave me my 12th state, and my 30th county (Franklin County). The cache was also the first one I found placed in July of this year -- Month 123.
An underpass in Vermont
Additional payoff came on the other end. It was a cold, wet Ottawa night, but there was a park down the block from my hotel with a cache. That was my first Ontario cache, and allowed me to break my record of most countries in a day (previously, it listed the day I started geocaching as my record day).
I had another cache in my sights for Ottawa, though. Fortunately, I did not have to walk all the way out to it that night in the cold, but I headed there the next night. It was a virtual cache, the first I had found in Canada. It was too cold to walk across the bridge to find my first Quebec cache, however.
At the virtual cache, with the lights of Quebec in the distance.

What did that do for me? Well, upon return to the US, I was now allowed to claim a find for a challenge cache that requires the finder to have found virtual caches in six countries.
Took a while to make it from five to six, didn't it?
That was also my first find in Falls Church (County 31), my first find from June 2014 (Month 124), and my first Difficulty 5, Terrain 3.5 cache (Combo 26) -- the D/T ratings for challenge caches are somewhat subjectively based on the difficulty of completing the challenge. While I was in the area, I found another challenge cache that required me to find caches 25 degrees of longitude apart. Estonia to California is 144, so I am way overqualified. That was my first Arlington cache (County 32), and my first D/T 2.5/2.5 cache (Combo 27). There was another challenge cache nearby that would give me a 3/3 combo, but my phone was not getting data from the network, so I had to head back.

I looked up a D/T 1.5/3 cache in Reston that would give me Combo 28, but when I got there, the cache turned out to be about 12 feet up a tree -- and I'm not a climber. But with all the challenge progress I had made lately, I didn't feel too bad.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Scotland's UEFA Coefficient: Group Stage Review

Stitched Celtic Stadium-1
"Stitched Celtic Stadium-1" by Zhi Yong Lee is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Well, the group stage is over, and for Scotland, there's no knockout stage to preview. Scotland is now ranked 23rd for 2017 -- where they started and spent most of the competition. They took 22nd briefly after overtaking Norway, but they were in turn overtaken by Israel at the end of the group stage.
It helps to have teams in the Europa League! The games there are much more winnable -- by contrast, all 16 teams left in the Champions League are from the top six leagues. Somehow Legia Warsaw did well enough in the Champions League to fall to Europa League knockout, so while it looked like Scotland had a chance of catching Poland on the strength of three draws, Poland is itself moving up.

Could Scotland fall further? The only two teams below it still alive are from Cyprus and Bulgaria. If Apoel Nicosia wins both legs in the round of 32 against Ajax (seems unlikely), that would push Cyprus past Scotland. Bulgaria, by contrast would need to see Ludogorets make at least the quarter-final to move ahead.

So it's most likely 23rd, but we'll keep an eye on it. We'll also keep an eye on what it means, as UEFA is supposed to announce this month the qualification procedures for the 2018-19 Champions League and Europa League, which is where this coefficient will matter.

Beyond that, Scotland starts next year in 24th for the 2018 coefficient (again, subject to the fortunes of teams from countries behind them), but things are much more bunched up. Hopefully by the time qualifying starts, we'll have a better idea of how the ranking will matter.

In the Scottish Premiership, things are shaping up well.

Celtic is running away with the title (and the Champions League place). Since they're the only club with a chance of competing, that's good for the coefficient. Rangers may have the resources to make a run in the Europa League; I'd like to see that. Aberdeen has contributed 2.375 of that coefficient over the past three years, so they are a healthy third choice. The fourth place depends on Scottish Cup outcomes, but Hearts is probably the best-placed if the Cup goes to one of the top 3.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Jon Grantham 1942-2016, a eulogy

Thank you for coming to my father’s memorial service. Believe me, he would not have wanted to go to yours. He would have loved to share a meal with you before your passing (as long as there weren’t too many people there), but he was not much for funerals.

I learned a lot from listening to my father over the years. When I was 11, my Great Aunt Mannie passed away. Perhaps picking up on my father’s reluctance, I didn't go to Pennsylvania for the funeral. When my father got back, he told me I should have gone -- it was interesting listening to older relatives, particularly the one who ranted about my father’s job, because he confused National Security with Social Security. I learned from my father that it’s meaningful to be at services like this, even if you would rather avoid them.

That’s the thing about my father -- he didn’t say much, but what he said was always worth listening to, and remembering. My father very rarely got angry with me, but I remember one or two times. When L. Ron Hubbard died, I was disappointed to learn that Scientology wasn’t just a big practical joke. He responded strongly and told me that while I might not share someone’s beliefs, those beliefs were sincere and not to be made sport of.

My father had a lot of empathy. One time when I came out here to visit him, he surprised me by mentioning something he had heard on Rush Limbaugh’s show. Those of you who knew my father’s politics know that he did not share a lot of opinions with Rush. I asked my father why he was listening, and he told me, “For the same reason we used to listen to the Russians -- because we need to know what they’re up to.” Some people listen to their political opponents to get worked up, but my father was genuinely curious where the other side was coming from. I could really use some of his empathy this week.

Sometimes I learned from his actions rather than his words. When I was 12, I took math classes on Sunday afternoons at Johns Hopkins. My father was a big football fan and accustomed to spending Sunday afternoons in front of the TV, but taking me to class was not an inconvenience. He simply bought a portable TV.

I am a very different type of father than my dad -- I changed more diapers that first week than he did in a lifetime -- but the lesson I learned was that your children's needs are not inconveniences, but rather joys to be embraced.

I’d like to conclude with part of an e-mail my dad sent after my grandmother -- his mother -- died.

“If you can put up with some "wisdom" from an older person keep reading.  The death of someone you know changes your life forever.  There are certain things that will never ever be the same.  But that's life.  My Dad died almost 28 years ago and I still miss him.  We'll miss Oma but she had over 80 mostly good years and a lot of good memories...The pain of her loss will recede with the passing of time but we will always miss her.  Gary said that she simply "passed away" with no pain and no suffering.  That seems to be the way the Nicholsons all go and it doesn't seem like such a bad deal.”