How can this be rational? Surely it must be pretty much exactly 50% of the time that you’ll be better off with your women vs their women instead of your men vs their men. And wherever you have the advantage, you’d want more of that gender on the pitch.
Even if one team has better men and better women than the opponent, there must normally be one or the other where the difference is lower, and it’s simply not conceivable that both teams can rationally prefer playing with more men.
But here’s the thing – the rules as currently written do not ask you whether you think your women or your men are your best bet to win any given point. They ask you to decide whether you think more men or more women will help you win THIS point – and this point is offence…
Imagine that you believe you have the advantage in your women versus this opponent. But imagine also that you believe your men are less likely to turn over the disc on a given throw¹. These are not contradictory.
The upshot would probably be what we see all the time – every team wishing to maximise their chance of scoring on this possession. Every team wishes to maximise the advantage of starting the point on offence. Sure, if you play 4 women and turn it over, the other team aren’t quite as likely to score, given that their women (and hence, perhaps, their 7 players in total) aren’t as good as yours. But D-line offence isn’t always so hard as starting from the pull – perhaps you turn early and give them good field position, or perhaps they can hit a fast break². Most teams will prefer to pick the line least likely to turn over, and most captains generally believe that line has more men on it – rightly or wrongly.
Even though you might, if given the choice, prefer to play the whole game with 4 women against this opponent, you can easily persuade yourself that you’re better off playing each particular offence point with 4 men. That sounds weird, certainly, but looking at how much more often 4 men are played, something weird is definitely going on!
I think it would be hugely interesting to change the way that the 4/3 decision is made. I honestly believe that allowing the defence to choose instead would result in far more 4-women points, given most player’s beliefs about the opposition’s chance of scoring. Perhaps that would result in more even playing time overall. Or perhaps we’d simply have the reverse situation, where most D-lines prefer more women³.
But maybe the ‘offence chooses’ rule was designed to avoid long runs of points with one team having the advantage – as it’s currently played, the team who just conceded get to choose, so there’s no additional reason to see runs of consecutive breaks. Giving the defence the choice would mean a team could press home an advantage for a prolonged period. That might be fun sometimes, but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
So perhaps we should take it in turns. We could swap the choice each point – so regardless of whether it’s O or D, team A chooses one point and team B chooses the next. But maybe that could get very confusing trying to remember what’s happening.
But then, what’s wrong with a simple swap of 4:3 to 3:4 each point? Even points, 4 women; odd points, 4 men (or in the other order – perhaps you call it one way or the other at the toss?). It’s easy to remember; you don’t have to wait for the other team to make a decision before calling your own line; and it’s spectacularly fair to whichever team is strongest overall.
I’m really interested to hear why that wouldn’t work. It seems much less of a jump than playing 6v6 or 8v8 to fix the gender imbalance issue (and it keeps the interesting strategy aspects of having a slight but varying uneven split). The only ‘flaw’ I can think of is very short term – e.g. “There are more men than women on these teams, so it wouldn’t work!” which rather has the causality backwards…
If you can think of big problems that I’m missing I’d be keen to hear them! But if we think Mixed should be truly mixed, with broadly even numbers of men and women on each team getting broadly even amounts of pitch time, then it seems to me that changing how we choose that ratio might be sensible.
[Edit: Someone did of course quickly spot the big flaw I’d missed, that in upwind/downwind games we can’t swap each point – see comments. There are lots of different options being discussed for how we could find a better way, which is great. But one or two people, here or on FB or twitter, have missed what I intended to be the main thrust of the article – that ‘offence chooses’ results in less tactical innovation than other options. Four men is the default not because people think it’s their best way to win the game in general, but because it’s what every team wants to do on offence. Sure, things like having more male players in your squad will affect the lines you call, but that doesn’t account for the fact that some HUGE proportion of points seem to be played with 4 men.
People who say they enjoy the strategy of mixed as it is, or that we should just trust the players to figure out when 4 women would be advantageous to them, are missing the point – people have figured it out, and the default strategy for most teams is a very boring ‘always 4 men’ because they want to keep possession. Insofar as we want to even up playing time (and of course, I realise that not everyone agrees with that motivation) I think we should look at ways to change who chooses.]