Sunday, March 20, 2016

Now that early start ratings are no more, how will sections handle year-end bumps for early start players?

I wrote last week about the end of Early Start Ratings for 2017 leagues.  Without them, players will play in 2017 early start leagues using their 2015 year-end rating level rather than having early start bumps up or down determining what level they can play at in the early start league.

This then brings the interesting question of how to handle those players that are bumped up at 2016 year-end should their team advance to playoffs that are played in 2017.  Do they get to continue playing at the lower level?  Or must they play at the higher level, and thus possibly be ineligible to play in playoffs?

USTA National has established that players at 2017 Nationals must play using their 2016 year-end rating level.  But they have apparently left it up to each section to determine if they will follow this rule for District/State/Sectional playoffs, or if instead they will allow players to continue playing at their 2015 year-end rating.

There are pros and cons to each approach.  Let's look at a scenario to consider them.

Say an 2017 early start league starts in July 2016.  A 2015 year-end 3.5 will be eligible to play as a 3.5, even if their Spring league play was outstanding and their dynamic rating is well into the range for a 4.0 at this point.  Assuming the league has any local or flight playoffs prior to December 2016 when year-end ratings come out, they will be able to play in those playoffs as a 3.5 as well.

Where things depend on a section's choice of option is after this.  Say the player is bumped up to 4.0 at 2016 year-end and there are district or state playoffs in early 2017 that the player's 3.5 team advances to.  Can the they still play as a 3.5 on this team?

If the section elects to follow the National rule, the player would not be eligible to play in playoffs as a 3.5 as they are a 2016 year-end 4.0.  If several players on a team fall into this camp, it could significantly affect the make-up of the team, and potentially even their ability to field at team if too many players were bumped up.  This seems particularly punishing on the surface, a team that followed the rules and qualified for States/Districts/Sectionals now can't field a team or bring their key players.

So a section could elect to implement the other option and let the bumped up player's continue to play on their team at the lower (3.5) level.  The problem with this is, if the team wins their section, all that has been done is to defer the issue as the player's will not be able to play at Nationals as a 3.5 and now they may not be able to field a team, or if they can, it won't be a competitive team.  This means a section may be sending a team to Nationals that is somewhat handicapped and perhaps not as strong as a team that was beat at Sectionals that would have had all their players eligible.  The section isn't being represented as well and the losing team at Sectionals will feel they were gipped out of a trip to Nationals.

There is no easy answer, and the point of early start ratings was to try to address this somewhat, but I'd probably lean towards having sections follow the National rule and not letting bumped up players continue to play at a lower level.  While this is going to affect teams earlier, it keeps the play in playoffs more fair and consistent with what teams will have to abide by should they advance to Nationals.  It seems worse to have teams at Nationals completely different from what they were to get there.

What do you think?  Whatever it is, you may want to contact your League Coordinator to make your voice heard as the section may not have made their decision yet.

Note: All of the above is based on my understanding from what I seen or been told, but has not to my knowledge been documented in any 2017 regulations document.  Until that happens, treat the above as likely how things will play out in such a scenario but not for sure what will happen.