The summary of what I found from looking at a handful of teams is that the perception is not the rule and many "normal" teams do make it to Nationals, but there are a few that go about getting there using perhaps less than honorable methods.
First, I looked at several 40 & over 4.0 teams that have qualified for Nationals.
One team had a roster of 18, but even with a roster that big only has one player that was a 4.5 the previous year or at 2013 year-end and he appealed down from 4.5 to 4.0. They did have four self-rated players but I have three of them rated at 3.69 or lower. So this seems to by and large be a "normal" team.
Another team also has a large roster at 18, and had just one player that had been a 4.5 in 2013 and one other than had been a 4.5 several years earlier and was able to self-rate at 4.0. They too appear like a "normal" team.
Another team has a roster of 19, and they do have five players that were 4.5s in 2013. This gives a hint of potential sandbagging, but 5 of 19 is not a huge percentage, so while perhaps not "normal", this doesn't appear too egregious.
Then I looked at several 18 & over 4.0 teams that have qualified for Nationals to see if the different age division has a different experience.
One team has a large roster (22) and was an early start league team so their situation is a little different and it is interesting to look at who was bumped up but still gets to play. It looks like they only had one in this category, a 4.0 that was bumped up to 4.5 at year-end, and did have one self-rated 4.0 that was DQ'd up to 4.5 and so not eligible. There is another self-rate that has not been DQ'd yet but nearly was, and two other self-rates that are not near a DQ. So several self-rates, two questionable but just one caught, but none that appear to have been 4.5s throwing matches to get bumped down.
Another team does have five of a roster of 19 that were 4.5s last year. They also have two self-rates but neither looks like a ringer. Hard to say if the five 4.5s were fortuitous or planned. This is perhaps "normal" but on the fringe a bit.
Another team only had one of a roster of 17 that was a 4.5 last year and a couple self-rates, one a 3.5 and the other not near strikes. This seems pretty normal.
So of six teams I looked at, only two appear questionable. So it appears you certainly can get to Nationals without sandbagging your way there.
Now, I did happen to do a report on a 40 & over 3.5 team that I would most definitely say has sandbagged their way to Nationals. Here is the makeup of this team:
Five that were 4.0B/4.0C from 2012 that finished with a 2013 3.5C
Three that were 4.0B from 2011 or 2012 that appealed their 2013 4.0C to a 3.5A
One 4.0S from 2013 that finished with a 2013 3.5C after three lopsided Fall league match losses
Three 3.5B from 2013
That is a full 9 of 15 that were 4.0s last year, and throw in the self-rated this year and you are up to 12 of 15. And these players being worthy of being 4.0s isn't just theoretical. My ratings have 4 rated at at 3.72 or higher and another 3 at 3.55 or higher and this is backed up by the early start ratings in their section.
You might ask, did these players really throw matches to get bumped down? Here are a few of the bumped down 4.0s records:
- 24-1 this year playing 3.5 but 2-18 last year playing 4.0 including a sets won/lost of 6 and 36 and twice as many games lost as won.
- 22-1 this year playing 3.5 but 0-10 last year playing 4.0 including no sets won and 31 games won vs 120 lost.
- 13-6 this year playing 3.5 but 0-6 last year playing 4.0 including no sets won and 16 games won vs 72 lost.
I could go on, but you get the point.
This team should be favored to win it all at Nationals, but there may be another team or two that have employed the same tactics and will challenge them. Let's hope they get beat and it doesn't pay off for them.