I was contacted by a report customer today asking why her 3.0 team was going to have to play against a 3.5 at Nationals, and not just a 3.5 but one that had won a match playing up at 4.0. The answer is, Early Start Leagues.
In this case, the player in question played in a district where the 40 & over league was an Early Start League this year. This means that, typically for court scheduling and the like, the 2013 league started play before year-end ratings came out and so it is designated as an Early Start League (ESL). Because the year-end ratings haven't come out yet, their year-end rating can't be used to determine the level they are eligible to play at.
What sections do to address this is to have Early Start Ratings (ESR) that come out mid-year, typically in July or August. These ratings are a "sneak preview" into what a players year-end rating may be and are used to try to get the players in an ESL playing at the right level. This is a good idea and usually works, but sometimes it doesn't.
In this case, the player was a 3.0 in 2012 and played up at 3.5 losing all her matches prior to the ESR date and her dynamic rating was just below 3.0, so her ESR was still 3.0 and she proceeded to begin play in the ESL on a 3.0 team. She played one match before year-end ratings came out and it was a thumping of the opponent which caused her rating to go up and she ended up being a 3.5 in the year-end ratings. Note that my ratings correctly had her a 3.0 ESR and also had her being bumped up at year-end.
So she is now a 3.5, but playing in a 3.0 flight. What are the USTA's rules for this? See page 12 at this link, but the summary is that sections have options, and it appears option 2 is employed by the section in question which allows a player to continue play in the ESL using their ESR unless their year-end rating was clearly above level. In this case, the player had just eked over the threshold to be bumped up so she wasn't clearly above level.
So she gets to play in the 3.0 flight, but must now play as a 3.5 in the 18 & over league (not an ESL), and also decides to play up in a 4.0 18 & over flight. She does get a win at 4.0 (4 losses too), and also loses 3 3.5 matches, so she isn't dominating, but her 3.0 team advances to Nationals.
To opposing teams then, it looks like she is a 3.5 that has won at 4.0 and gets to play against 3.0s at Nationals. This is all per the rules so is fair in that regard, and many of the other players that will be at Nationals are also effectively 3.5s so the play may be competitive, but should the USTA allow this to happen?