Thursday, November 16, 2017

2018 USTA League Regulations - What is changed or new?

The 2017 USTA League year is nearly complete, the last Nationals (55+) will be played this weekend starting tomorrow.

That just means the 2018 year is about to begin!  Well, it really has already begun as some sections have Early Start Leagues that started play in the past few months, or in the case of Georgia way back in the Spring!  These are leagues that, regardless when they start playing, will be on the advancement path to 2018 Districts/States, Sectionals, and Nationals.

No matter when your 2018 league play starts, it is important to know what the regulations are for the year.  The USTA rarely makes radical changes, but it seems each year does bring with it a few minor changes so it is worth going over what those are.

Note that I'm basing what I write below on several "Draft" 2018 regulations documents I've seen dated October 18th, so I'm pretty sure it is what will be final and I've actually had confirmation of several things from other sources.

Move-up/Split-up


The big change is regarding the move-up/split-up rule.  This rule has been tweaked from year to year, but in general is in place to restrict the ability of teams that went to Nationals in one year to stay together at the same level the next year.  I guess the idea is that the USTA doesn't want the same players on the same team coming back to Nationals year after year, instead want some new blood to have an opportunity.

Now, you might expect that a good Nationals team would have a bunch of players bumped up and so naturally not be able to stay together at the old level, but the USTA feels the need to have this rule in place as well.

In past years the rule has stated that no more than 3 players from a Nationals team could be on the same roster of a team the next year.  At one point, the restriction was on any team, Adult or Mixed, 18+, 40+, or 55+.  Then it was relaxed to not apply to Mixed, and this year there is another change relaxing the restriction a bit.  Specifically, the restriction is only on a team at the same level and age group.  Here is the specific language:
National Championship teams are required to Move Up or Split
Up only in the age group from which their team advanced the
previous year.
This means that if a 40+ 3.5 team went to Nationals in 2017, they will only be able to have three of those players on the same 3.5 40+ team in 2018, i.e. they must "split-up", but the entire team (at least those that remain 3.5s) could form a new 18+ 3.5 team.  Correspondingly an 18+ Nationals team could have their entire roster form a 40+ team the next year (well, the players still have to be eligible for 40+!) while just 3 could be on the same roster of an 18+ team at the same level.

That that the rule also states that these requirements only apply to players that had 3 matches on the team so players with two or fewer matches are eligible to be on the same team the next year regardless.

So this gives players a little more flexibility to continue to play with the same group of friends or teammates and not have to split up.

Note of course, the "move-up" option is still available, that 40+ 3.5 team could move up as a team to 4.0 to form a 40+ 4.0 team and they could stick together.

Note also that the Nationals regulations allow a section to impose their own rules restricting team composition, although I'm not aware of any that add restrictions beyond the national rule.

Early Start Ratings


This is not new, but it is worth re-iterating.  For 2017 leagues, the USTA did away with Early Start Ratings, and instead, players signing up for Early Start Leagues would use their current year-end rating.  However, if a player was subsequently bumped up at year-end, they would not be eligible to play at Nationals at the prior level, but their eligibility to continue playing through Sectionals was up to each section to decide.

A section could decide to do a number of things, the most common were:

  • Make the player ineligible to continue at the lower level immediately
  • Let the player complete local league/playoffs but be ineligible for Districts and/or Sectionals
  • Allow the player to continue at the lower level through Sectionals

My section, Pacific Northwest, chose the second option while some like Southern chose the third which could cause some competitive inequities and scenarios where teams won Sectionals and could not go to Nationals.

From what I've seen so far, Sections are sticking with their choice for 2018.  Here is the language from the Southern document:

Players who are found to have valid computer ratings, after the appeal process, that place them above the NTRP level at which they are competing may continue their participation at the lower NTRP level through the conclusion of the Southern championship. They shall not be permitted to advance to any National Championship at the lower NTRP level. Prior team matches played are valid.

And from the PNW document:

Players who are found to have valid computer ratings, after the appeal process, that place them above the NTRP level at which they are competing may continue their participation at the lower NTRP level through the conclusion of the Local League Season (this includes Local League Playoffs). Players who are found to have valid computer ratings, after the appeal process, that place them above the NTRP level at which they are competing will not be allowed to participate at the lower NTRP level for the Sectional Championships.
FWIW, I prefer the PNW rule as I believe it is fairer and more equitable to all the teams in the section and helps ensure the best eligible team advances to Nationals.


Grievances


There are provisions for filing grievances against players that may have violated self-rating, eligibility, or other rules, and most every section imposes a filing fee, the typical amount I've seen being $50 and that is what my section documents.

In perusing the Southern regulations document I found, a change called out is that the filing fee is now $100!  While you do get that returned if a penalty is imposed, that still seems like it might be a pretty big barrier and deterrent to folks filing legitimate grievances, which IMHO would be unfortunate.  I wonder what the rationale was for this?  The 2017 regulations don't seem to list a fee at all, so this seems a pretty extreme change.


What do you think of the rules changes, or in some cases lack of change?  Or what section specific rules do you have that are worth talking about?  Let me know by contacting me or leaving a comment.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Handicapping USTA League Nationals 55 & over 9.0 Men

Nationals for the 2017 USTA League 55 & over division wraps up this weekend, and in fact this is the end of 2017 Nationals, so my previews continue. one last weekend  Here are the 55 & over 9.0 men.

For all my previews, I'll be using my Estimated Dynamic NTRP Ratings and comparing teams using the top-6 averages for 55+ which gives an idea of who the best teams are, if they play their best players.  Who actually plays and the match-ups a captain is able to get obviously go a long way to determining who will win, but it is still interesting to compare "best" vs "best".  The actual detailed numbers along with full roster averages and by court played averages are available as part of a Flight Report which can still be purchased for any Nationals flight.  Contact me if interested.

Note that 55+ is a combined division so the top-6 may not represent the best 6 that can play in a given match, but it still gives a good idea who the strongest teams are.

The 55 & over 9.0 men will be played at the National Campus in Orlando, FL on clay.  All 17 teams are present so there are four flights, three with four teams and one with five, the flight winners advancing to the semis.

The favorites in the four flights are SouthernTexas, Intermountain, and Eastern but a couple flights are noticeably stronger than the other two so two of those paths to the semis will be tough.

Ratings will clearly change as a result of the matches played, but right now, Texas appears to be the favorite if they bring/play their best players.

Good luck to all!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Keeping track of the weather affected USTA League Nationals in 2017

2017 saw the USTA move a bunch of Nationals to Alabama and Florida instead of holding them in the California and Arizona deserts.  A concern I and others had was if weather would have an impact on things and it definitely has.  I've written about a bunch of the weather related issues including all out cancellations of semis and/or finals for some levels resulting in co-champions being declared, but a number of Nationals that were technically completed were only able to do so due to shortening of matches.

Here is a summary of the significant weather delays/issues I'm aware of, significant in my mind meaning any matches were canceled or playing formats/locations had to be altered to get matches completed.  If I missed any, please let me know and I'll add them.

40 & over 3.0 Men and Women in Fort Lauderdale, FL, October 13-15

This event was held October 13-15, sort of right in the heart of tropical storm season in Florida, particularly South Florida it would seem.  In fact, the facility for the event had courts damaged by a hurricane a few weeks before the event and a second facility had to be used for some matches.  But if that is all that had happened, this wouldn't make the list.

Instead, there were rain delays of several hours on both Friday and Saturday leading to playing format being changed to start all sets at 2-2 and to play no-ad.  This is a pretty significant change and could lead to different results than you'd normally get, let alone players not getting to play full matches and get their money's worth for a trip to Nationals.  They were able to get everything in on Sunday though, I believe with regular scoring.

18 & over 2.5 Women in Mobile, AL, October 20-22

Mobile is by most measures one of the wettest cities in the United States.  Add to this that there are only two indoor courts in the entire city, those being at the convention center where they roll out a carpet of sorts over cement to serve as a tennis court.  Despite this, and a history of weather issues at many events the Southern section holds there, the USTA elected to hold several Nationals there, due in part to a very large facility with a lot of courts.

The 18+ 2.5 women was one of these and flight play completed without a hitch as far as I know, but a storm was blowing in Sunday putting play that day in jeopardy.  There was perhaps time to try to play the semis on Saturday, but due to a three flight format, each team had already played twice both days so this was not done.

The Sunday storm did materialize and no matches were played, I think perhaps players got on court for about 10 minutes to warm up and that was it.  The indoor courts weren't even available, so everything was called off, no semis, no final, and all four semi-finalists were declared co-champions, including the team that didn't even win their flight and made the semis as a wildcard!  Not a terribly satisfying or equitable way to determine a National Champion.

40 & over 4.5+ Men and Women in Mobile, AL, October 20-22

The 40+ 4.5+ Nationals was held at the same time/location as the 18+ 2.5 women and naturally was affected in the same way.  However, both events had four flights and they were able to get the semis played on Saturday to whittle it down to two teams each.

But that was it, the finals were not played and so like for the 2.5 women, co-champs were declare, but just two each in this case.

Still, for this weekend in Mobile, where there were supposed to be three champs decided, eight (!) teams went home with "championship titles".

40 & over 3.5 Men and Women in Fort Lauderdale, FL, October 27-29

Do we have a theme here?

Back in Fort Lauderdale two weeks after the first weather affected event and the forecast looked really bad with a significant storm forecast for much of Saturday and Sunday.  Unfortunately the forecast was right.

USTA officials were not oblivious to the forecast and made the right move to schedule as many matches on Friday as possible, but the five team flight has to have everyone play twice on Saturday regardless, they could only do so much.

They did go to short formats again, starting matches at 2-2 and no-ad, to try to fit more matches in earlier, but even doing that they didn't get everything in before the rain arrived on Saturday.  And one of the outstanding matches was going to decide who advanced to the semis and this was going to have to be finished Sunday morning before the semis.  The winner of this match was going to face having to play three matches back to back to back!  Plus, the forecast wasn't for bright sunny conditions to start the day Sunday.

Sunday arrived and it did take some time to get the courts prepared and ready so they started late, but did manage to get everything in, but those teams having to finish flight play Sunday morning were at a real disadvantage.

But after two events in Fort Lauderdale, a 100% rate of having events significantly delayed and affected by weather, and the outcome potentially affected too.

40 & over 6.0, 7.0, 8.0, and 9.0 Mixed in Mobile, AL, November 10-12

Recurring theme, different venue.  To be fair, the 18 & over Mixed the prior weekend went off without a hitch, but here we are back in Mobile and I'm writing about it so something must have happened.

Flight play on Friday and Saturday went as planned as far as I know, but Sunday saw drizzle, and wet hard courts do not make for safe tennis.  After a several hour delay, the decision was made to move things inside.

But as I noted above, there are only two indoor courts in Mobile and these are both indoor carpet that is rolled out with taped seams, a lot different from an outdoor hard court.  But they were available!

But eight semi-finals means 24 courts and that doesn't fit into two courts very well.  Something had to give and again it was the scoring format.  Matches were a single set, no-ad (so ever shorter than the Fort Lauderdale short format) and courts were played sequentially and if one team was up 2-0, the third court was not played.

With this short format, they actually did manage to nearly get everything in with all but the 8.0 having a single champion decided, but there was a lot less tennis played with single sets and four courts not even played after 2-0 leads were taken.

Update: I learned that the 9.0 teams were actually given the choice late in the day to play back at the Tennis Center with normal scoring as the rain had stopped, and since the teams weren't leaving until Monday did that instead of sequential single set matches indoors.

18 & over 4.5 Men and Women in Orlando, FL, November 10-12

If you thought we were done and the disruption was limited to Mobile and Fort Lauderdale, you would be wrong.

While not nearly as severe as some of what happened above, there was rain in Orlando this weekend that affected matches.  Thankfully there are some legitimate indoor courts at the National Campus, but not enough for the situation and from what I'm told the women moved indoors right away but the men played in the rain for a bit before moving indoors.

They did have to shorten the scoring format again, sets started at 2-2 and no-ad scoring was employed, in order to get everything in, but they did, although the 3rd/4th place matches were not played (separate post on that coming).


So, with one weekend of Nationals still to go, there has been what I figure to be unprecedented weather related delays, cancellations, and court changes, all because of the USTA's decisions to use Mobile and Fort Lauderdale as venues for Nationals.  Both locations are likely to have storms or rain that would affect play without any viable backup plan.  At least the National Campus has enough courts and some indoor courts to adapt if needed.

All told, of the 22 18+/40+ events scheduled for Alabama or Florida, a full 13 of them were affected in one way or another with an extra six teams given "co-champion" title than planned.  That is 59% that didn't meet expectations which is a pretty abysmal showing.

There were just six events in Arizona this year (none in California), and 0% has issues.  All were played in warm sunny conditions with no rain, shortened scoring formats, canceled matches, or co-champions declared.

And it all could have been avoided by simply sticking with what had been done the past 5+ years, using Palm Springs and Arizona as the main locations to host Nationals.  While "weather" can happen anywhere (and play in Tucson for a Mixed Nationals was affected several years ago), it is far less likely to occur in the desert than Alabama and Florida, and in my opinion is was just the wrong decision and arguably irresponsible for the USTA to host the majority of Nationals where problems were likely to (and did!) occur.

Players take time off from work, spend thousands of dollars on flights, hotel, food, etc. all with the expectation of getting to play several complete matches over the course of three days.  In my opinion, is the responsibility of the USTA to use locations and venues that maximize the opportunity for that, and this year that was sorely lacking.

I'll probably come up with a poll once the last Nationals are complete this weekend, but what do you think?  Leave a comment here or on Facebook.

Another Nationals in Mobile, rain makes it a sham again

Another weekend of Nationals is complete, and with Mobile hosting again, this time the 40 & over Mixed, we had the chance of another weather related disaster and what do you know, it happened again.

From what I'm told, things went as scheduled the first two days, but Sunday it was drizzling in the morning and they could not play.  Weather.com shows just 0.03 inches of rain for Sunday, but a persistent drizzle keeps hard courts unsafe to play on and that apparently happened.

In any case, after a two hour delay, they elected to use the two indoor courts in the city, I believe those at the convention center on effectively indoor carpet with taped seams and all!  And because of having just two courts, they changed to single set matches.  Here is what the court looked like being laid down (thanks to a reader for sharing the picture).


Starting with the 6.0 level, they used one court each for each semi playing the courts sequentially.  After 6.0 was complete then they moved on to 9.0, 8.0, and 7.0.

Playing single sets on a strange court is certainly not the ideal way to decide a National Champion, but so it is this year.  At least they were able to finish for the 6.0, 7.0, and 9.0 levels it appears, but the 8.0 level shows the semis complete but the final not being played (as of my writing this at least) so I suspect we have yet another co-champion like happened earlier in Mobile.

Note that in order to finish, and since they were playing matches sequentially, if one team was up 2-0 after two matches they called the match and moved on, so everyone in the line-up didn't even get to play.  This happened once for 6.0, twice for 7.0, once for 8.0 (and the final wasn't played), and once for 9.0.

So changed venue/courts, the surface being carpet with taped seams, playing single sets to decide it, and not getting to play all the matches.  All in all, seems like a pretty awful way to decided and finish Nationals.

Hopefully the USTA has learned their lesson and won't be going back to Mobile for Nationals next year.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Handicapping USTA League Nationals 18 & over 4.5 Men

Nationals for the 2017 USTA League 18 & over division wraps up this weekend, and so my previews continue.  Here are the 18 & over 4.5 men after doing the.

For all my previews, I'll be using my Estimated Dynamic NTRP Ratings and comparing teams using the top-8 (for 5 court levels) or top-5 (for 3 court levels) averages which gives an idea of who the best teams are, if they play their best players.  Who actually plays and the match-ups a captain is able to get obviously go a long way to determining who will win, but it is still interesting to compare "best" vs "best".  The actual detailed numbers along with full roster averages and by court played averages are available as part of a Flight Report which can still be purchased for any Nationals flight.  Contact me if interested.

The 18 & over 4.5 men will be played at the National Campus in Orlando, FL.  Just 16 teams are present, Hawaii is missing, so there four flights with four teams, the flight winners advancing to the semis.

The favorites in the four flights are Florida, Texas, Northern California, and Mid-Atlantic and the flights are reasonably balanced, the four teams listed actually being the top-4 teams.

Ratings will clearly change as a result of the matches played, but right now, Mid-Atlantic appears to be the favorite if they bring/play their best players.

Good luck to all!

Monday, October 30, 2017

More 2017 USTA League National Champions Crowned - The rain won a battle but not the war

Another weekend of Nationals is in the books, and six more teams are headed home as National Champions.

All of the play was in Florida this weekend, 40 & over 3.5 in Ft. Lauderdale and 55 & over 6.0 and 8.0 in Orlando.

Yes, there was rain again in Ft. Lauderdale, most of Saturday was washed out, the rain arriving just after noon, but thanks to rescheduling some Saturday matches to Friday and shortening matches on Saturday (each set started 2-2 and they played no-ad) just a few matches from flight play remained to be played Sunday morning.  Alas, one of those was to decide a women's semi-finalist, and with play delayed in the morning to get the courts ready things did go long.

But champions were determined averting the disaster in Mobile a week earlier when five more teams than expected were given co-champion labels.

The 3.5 women had Eastern, Southern California, Midwest, and Caribbean make the semis where it took 3-2 wins for Eastern and Caribbean to advance and another 3-2 win for Caribbean to take the title.

The 3.5 men had Texas, Eastern, Intermountain, and Mid-Atlantic all go undefeated in flight play, and then every match in the semis and final had a 3-2 score with Texas winning it all over Mid-Atlantic.

The 55 & over 6.0 women saw Florida, Northern California, Northern, and Pacific Northwest in the semis with Florida and NorCal facing off in the final with NorCal coming out on top, all 2-1 wins.

The 6.0 men's results had Southern California, Southern, and Texas winning their flights with Northern joining as the wildcard.  And Northern as the wildcard won it all, taking out Southern Cal in the final, Texas getting 3rd.

The 8.0 women had Florida, Hawaii, Eastern,  and Mid-Atlantic in the semis with Florida over Hawaii for the title with Mid-Atlantic getting third.

The 8.0 Men had Mid-Atlantic, Southern, Southern Cal, and Middle States in the semis.  Mid-Atlantic took the title over Middle States, Southern Cal getting third.

More Nationals are still to come, next weekend the 18 & over Mixed gets into gear.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Rain rain stay away! Fingers crossed, 40 & over 3.5 USTA League Nationals may finish in Ft. Lauderdale

Day one of USTA League Nationals for 40 & over 3.5 men and women is in the books and rain and associated delays was avoided.  Well, that was expected as the forecast for Friday was good, it is the Saturday forecast that is alarming.

It has called for an 80-100% chance of thunderstorms all week, and still does as of now, but it appears it may hold off until noon.  This would give them about four hours to get matches in.

But how can they fit a full day of matches into four hours?

The USTA did make the right move and reschedule as many matches as possible from Saturday to Friday.  This means that every team played two matches Friday, normally a number of teams would play just once Friday and twice Saturday.  However, flight one for the men and women are five team flights and every team will have two matches to play on Saturday to complete round-robin play, and the other flights all have a match per team to play meaning 11 team matches for both men and women, or 22 team matches, must be played.

The big challenge with be the five team flights as only four can play at a time meaning it takes three "time-slots" to get them all in.  Nationals matches, especially in singles, can end up taking 2+ hours, so three time-slots would be 6+ hours.  Just doing the math, 7:30 plus 6 hours is 1:30 pm which is well into the window when the storm is due to hit.  And that would still mean two teams would be playing back to back with no rest between matches.

To try and give them a chance, they will be going to a short format as they did for the rain delayed event in Ft. Lauderdale two weeks ago with the goal of keeping matches to one hour.  The shortened format is to start each set at 2-2 and play no-ad rather than playing out the deuces.  Many areas play no-ad during the year, but starting at 2-2 is certainly different and puts a priority on starting quickly.  It has the potential for changing who wins, particularly as it takes fitness out of the equation a bit.

For the sake of the players to took the time and money to make the trip, lets hope they get it in so they can play the semis and final on Sunday as scheduled.  While Sunday had as high as an 80% chance of rain, it now appears to be just 20% so perhaps rain won't be an issue then.

Good luck everyone!