The subject may seem a bit odd, but there is a common perception that a team of players that are actually 3.5s has no chance of advancing to Nationals. Instead a team must be filled with ringers and self-rated players that under rate themselves and manage their to avoid strikes.
To test this, I thought I'd take a look at a couple 3.5 teams headed to this year's Nationals. The teams I'm looking at are from Houston, an area notorious for ratings manipulation shenanigans, and the Northwest Washington district that has had a strong record of sending competitive teams to Nationals. I'll be using my Estimated Dynamic NTRP Ratings to do the analysis.
First, Houston. This team has a big roster with 7 benchmark rated players and a whopping 14 self-rated or appeal players. They won their local league with a 7-1 record, winning 32 of 40 courts during the year and then turned it on in local playoffs going 3-0/14-1. At Sectionals they went 3-0/12-3 winning their flight and then 2-0/7-3 in the semis and finals.
They did have some attrition along the way with 3 of the self-rates being DQ'd, one at Sectionals. Note that my ratings agree with 2 of them including the one at Sectionals, and perhaps the other was an administrative DQ. Including those DQ'd players the average rating for the team is 3.51. But even without them the average is still 3.46. With the players still eligible for Nationals, they could run out 5 courts with players all rated 3.48 or higher.
This is certainly a strong team with 3 that have already effectively been bumped up and a number of others (not withstanding results of the Texas Fall league being used to manage ratings back down) that will follow suit at the end of the year. One can certainly make the case that very few of these players are "real" 3.5s.
Next, Northwest Washington. This team went 8-1/35-10 in league play, going 2-0/9-1 in local playoffs. At Sectionals, they went 2-0/8-2 in their flight and then won the final 3-2. Their roster includes 5 self-rates and 4 benchmark players.
None of their self-rates were DQ'd, although 2 of them I do have rated over 3.50. Their team average rating is just 3.35, but their top-8 average is 3.49 and all are at 3.35 or above.
This team also appears strong, but perhaps not as strong as Houston, and has a number of players that will likely be bumped up at year-end.
Having said all this, you would expect teams that do well and advance to Nationals to have strong players at the top of their rating range and even above. Players certainly improve and someone has to be bumped up, and you would expect players on teams that do well to fall into this category.
So technically, both teams are filled with 3.5s that are eligible to play. On the surface it does appear some players, more so from the Houston team, self-rated artificially low and thus aren't really 3.5s, but from what I've presented, I can't say whether this was deliberate or innocent, but it is a shame if it is the former.
It will be interesting to see how these teams do at Nationals, and even more interesting if they happen to face each other. Check back in a couple months and I'll take a look at how each does at Nationals!