Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The depths some players will go to to try to not get bumped up - The dark side of USTA League

I recently became aware of another seemingly blatant attempt by a few players to deliberately manipulate their ratings down to avoid being bumped up.  While not on the scale of the 2014 3.0 men's Nationals team I wrote about before as it wasn't an entire roster, it is arguably more egregious because it was by established players and the excuse of being new or not knowing simply doesn't fly.

This situation happened in my back yard in the Pacific Northwest and involved our One Doubles league.  This is a summer league we have that involves a team of at most 4 players playing a single doubles match for each team match.  You can think of it as our version of Tri-Level, we just split a Tri-Level team into individual teams.

This league is played in the summer, usually right after our local playoffs.  So teams have finished their "normal" seasons and are playing for fun or to get to play outside (most of our normal leagues are indoors) and while there are playoffs and you can advance to the Tri-Level Invitational, it isn't as widely played and generally not as serious as the 18+ and 40+ leagues.

The team in question had players from a local 4.0 playoff winner that was advancing on to Sectionals and ultimately Nationals, so had done very well.  It turns out that only 3 of the rostered players ended up playing in the One Doubles league, and they were all very high rated 4.0s.  One was an early start bump to 4.5 and my ratings had the other two very close.

If they were to do well in playoffs, they would likely be bumped up to 4.5 and in apparent fear of this, they went about using the One Doubles league to throw matches to manipulate their ratings down.  That is appalling enough, but the degree to which they did it takes things to the next level.  Remember now, this is normal doubles played against other 4.0s and these guys are higher rated 4.0s.

One player played 6 matches, losing every one, the closest score being a 6-1,6-3 loss and a full 8 of the 12 sets being 6-1 or 6-0 losses.  Another played 4 matches also losing every one, the closest score being 6-2,6-1.  The third played 2 matches winning a total of 6 games.  And even worse yet, some of the opponents were 3.5s playing up.

The ratings they generated from these matches were clear aberrations and not consistent with what they had done all year.  Were these players injured?  Did they lose their ability to play?  Not the case at all.  Each player subsequently did well at Sectionals and Nationals against stronger competition going 5-2, 5-3, and 5-3 there.  Was it because One Doubles was outside?  No, their Sectionals and Nationals were outside too.

So it seems pretty clear that all 6 of the matches played were deliberately thrown in an effort to manage their ratings down.  There are not strong enough words one can use to condemn this behavior and since this is a blog and will live on forever on the Web somewhere, I'll refrain from going overboard, but it is very very sad to see someone stoop to this level as it isn't fair on numerous levels.

First, they are trying to defraud the system and manipulate their ratings so they can play at a level they shouldn't be eligible to.  This goes against the spirit and rules of USTA League.  No, the USTA isn't perfect, but when players play normally, the system works pretty well.

Second, it isn't fair to their competition who signed up for a league to play competitive matches.  Playing a match where your opponent is likely or apparently missing shots deliberately or goofing off or whatever they did to lose so badly is not achieving this goal and diminishing the experience of playing in the league.

Third, it isn't fair to their opponents and given how the system works, all of their opponents' opponents, etc., as it is skewing ratings that could lead to other players being bumped up or down that shouldn't.  For example, a 3.5 playing these very strong 4.0s and getting a 6-1,6-1 win is going to have their rating incorrectly go up which may lead to them being bumped up when they shouldn't be.

So I'm sure some of you are wondering, were they successful?  The answer is thankfully no, they were all bumped up to 4.5 at year-end, their Sectionals and Nationals results were good and moved their ratings back up from where they were after the One Doubles league.  Additionally, I have not verified this, but the USTA may have thrown these matches out as while the scores are still shown on TennisLink, it also seems to indicate the League Coordinator changed them to default wins for the opponents.  So it appears someone caught on and the team was DQ'd from play.  I'd hope the results were ignored for ratings purposes too give how they would skew results for others.  But should more be done?

In my view, what should happen in clear and blatant cases like this is the team/players should be DQ'd, the matches not used for ratings, and the players should be given a ban from playing in any USTA sanctioned event.  There is simply no place for behavior like this.  While I'm sure this situation is very much an exception and not the rule, it is one of the things that gives USTA League a black eye and the revenue lost from a hand full of players being banned is more than offset by keeping players that leave because of behavior like this and the improved and fair competition you'll get when these types of shenanigans are weeded out.

I do not know one way or the other if there has been any ban or reprimand at all in addition to the DQ'ing of the matches and team from the league.  I would hope so and if so, kudos to the USTA.  If not, please document rules that allow bans to be imposed in these situations so these types of players can be gotten rid of.