Thursday, December 4, 2014

A side effect of all the 2014 USTA League bump ups - Early start teams are decimated

With the large number of bump ups that occurred as part of the 2014 year-end ratings, an interesting side effect has occurred.  Early start teams are being decimated, particularly in those sections where the ratings increases were especially aggressive.

As background, many sections have 2015 leagues that start during 2014.  This is often due to court availability or other scheduling reasons or wanting to spread leagues out across the year and not try to have them all starting at the same time in January-March of 2015.  Since it is a 2015 league though that will have Nationals in the Fall of 2015, it doesn't really make sense to allow someone to play with their 2013 year-end rating, but since the league starts before 2014 year-end ratings are out, what to do?

Early start ratings are the solution.  They are basically a snapshot of a player's dynamic rating as of a cut-off date that is a month or two before the early start leagues start.  In most sections this falls in the July/August timeframe for leagues starting in September and October.  This will usually identify players that are going to be bumped up or down at year-end and gets them playing at the right level for 2015.

However, early start ratings are not perfect, and sometimes players will be bumped up or down in year-end differently than they were for early start.  In the case where a player wasn't bumped for early start but is at year-end, what happens to that early start team then?

Not every section is the same.  Some (case A) force the player to play at their new level immediately.  Others (case B) let them finish the regular season at their rostered level but have to play at the new level beyond that.  A few (case C) let the player continue playing at their rostered level the entire season through Nationals.

Which of these is the most equitable is debatable, but what is clear is that with the larger number of players being bumped up, those teams that have the case A or B rules could be significantly affected.  Players are either not eligible at all, or must now play with a lower rated partner which can make it difficult for a team to have enough valid players to play a match.

But even the case C rule teams can be affected.  While players are allowed to play at their rostered level, there is a clause still promotes them to their year-end level on the team if their rating reaches the "clearly above level" (strike level).  This is arguably fair to the team's opponents, why should they have to play a "4.0" that is now a strong 4.5, but just like the case A and B teams, this can wreak havoc on a roster.

For example, I just learned about an 8.0 Mixed team that had four of their 4.0 men be clearly above level and told they have to play as 4.5s now.  The problem is there are only two 3.5 women on the team that can even play with the glut of 4.5 men.  Further, there is now only one 4.0 man left to play with the glut of 4.0 women.  This team has effectively been force to play their two 3.5 women and one 4.0 man every match.  And with the regular season over this weekend, there is no opportunity to add any players to be able to field a team more easily.  They were playoff bound but may have to pull out.

I don't know the right answer.  It doesn't seem fair to opponents to have to play out of level players.  But it also doesn't seem fair to decimate a team that played by the rules and fielded a team using the published early start ratings.  And it is hard to tell a section that they have to wait for year-end ratings and can't have early start leagues.

What do you think?