Monday, April 17, 2017

How will the new rules for early start leagues for 2017 affect USTA League Nationals? The mess and confusion is beginning.

I've written a bunch of previews of both the 40 & over and 18 & over USTA League Nationals over the past few weeks.  But are these really the teams likely to be at Nationals?  Some might be, but it is probably likely that many aren't, and perhaps some on my list are already eliminated.  Let me explain why.

First, just because a team has a high top-8 average does not mean they are likely to win Sectionals, or even make it there.  In some areas, a team must win their sub-flight and/or win their local playoffs, then go to Districts/States and win, and then go to Sectionals and win.  It is possible that just one loss in local league play or any level of playoffs could keep a top-rated team from advancing.

And even with a top team, one loss can happen, either due to match-ups, perhaps an opponent successfully stacks their line-up, or they have a big roster and don't play their best players in some matches either to get some lower rated players in a match or because some players aren't available.

Upsets do happen and may have happened already, some teams on my lists have already been eliminated by not winning their local league or local playoffs.

Second, and part of the reason why some teams may already be eliminated, are Early Start Leagues.  These are 2017 leagues that started play in 2016, some as early as May or June, and so their local league, and perhaps local playoffs are complete already, and it is possible a top team did not advance.

But the more interesting thing about Early Start Leagues is the rule change for 2017 where there were no Early Start Ratings and players just registered for teams and played at their 2015 year-end level.  The good teams typically have good players, and many of these good teams had players get bumped up at 2016 year-end, and per the 2017 National regulations, these players will not be eligible to play at the (lower) level they are rostered at on the team.

Now each section was allowed to decide how long these bumped up players could continue playing at their lower level, and some like the Pacific Northwest elected to rule these players ineligible right away and not let them play at Sectionals, while others like Southern elected to allow these players to continue playing on their teams at the lower level all the way through Sectionals.

Now there are pros and cons to each approach, but in my opinion it is better to rule these players ineligible as soon as you know they won't be able to play at Nationals.  I wrote about why I thought this rule change was a bad idea, and why I thought players should be ruled ineligible right away, but it boils down to not doing so allowing teams to advance that won't be able to go to Nationals, or at least with the roster they won their Section with.  This seems unfair to their opponents, and isn't in the best interest of the section, as they will be sending a weaker team to Nationals than they might be otherwise.

We can begin to see this happening with some of the teams in my Nationals previews.  For example, there is a men's 3.0 team from Atlanta that is rated very high on my 18+ 3.0 preview that has a 13 player roster, but six of those players were bumped up to 3.5 so won't be eligible for Nationals at 3.0.  If this team were to win their section, they couldn't even field a team at Nationals.

And it isn't unique to Atlanta or Georgia, there is a high rated 18+ 3.0 men's team from Alabama that has a 15 player roster and eight of the players were bumped up to 3.5 leaving just seven eligible.  But because Southern allows these players to continue to play, they can advance on to States, and because they are such strong teams, likely Sectionals.  In fact, it is likely that the majority of teams at Sectionals could fall into this category.  It could happen that there is no team even at Sectionals that could field a team at Nationals.  So who will go?

So I predicted this mess, we are beginning to see it happen.

As a result, the previews I've done are completely accurate regarding who the strongest teams are, and in some sections would be the favorites are to make and/or win Sectionals, but may not reflect who the strongest Nationals eligible rosters are.  Keep that in mind as you review them.

I will be doing updated previews later in the year, and I'll try to factor this in, so stay tuned.