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If there was only one division at every tournament then no one would be accused of sandbagging. Of course, most players would not enter such an event since they have no realistic chance of winning or cashing.

Our tournaments generally have multiple divisions based on classification (Am or Pro), ratings, gender and age. Some players are proponents of only using ratings to determine the divisions. Evidently they find it distressing that there are so many different divisions which host players of overlapping skills.

A Tournament Director can decide which divisions to offer. The TD can offer only one division (like the USDGC or Amateur Nationals) or restrict which divisions are offered. If the TD chooses not to sanction the tournament with the PDGA then he or she can invent any divisional structure they want.

At first glance it would seem that the fairest way to create divisions would be by ratings. If we accept the premise that ratings are essentially accurate (which I personally do)-that is to say that the handicap rating given to a player is a reasonably accurate measure of how well the player has performed in past tournaments-then players of similar handicaps should be able to compete fairly against one another regardless of classification, age or gender.

My personal experience is that ratings are the least fair method of creating divisions. This is because ratings divisions are based on arbitrary numerical ranges. Just as an example, let's say the top division is above 970. The second division is 970 to 920. The third division is 919 to 869 and the lowest division is below 868. So let's deal with two players, Joe the Plumber whose rating is 971 and Barack Calhoun McCain (BCM) whose rating is 970. Poor Joe the Plumber is doomed to donate in his division. There are a handful of pros well over 1000 rated who will crush Joe darn near any day and everyone in his division is better than he is. Meanwhile BCM, only one rating point below Joe is the top rated player in his division and will cash even if he plays poorly and is likely to be at the very top in his division if he plays well.

In a ratings based division the numerical range is always arbitrary. No matter where it is set it will hugely benefit some players and hugely harm others.

No other divisional criteria is arbitrary. Classifications (AM or Pro) are voluntary. No one can complain about the choice they make. Gender is rationally based. Men are bigger and stronger than women. Age is rationally based. The great cycle of life dictates that a person starts small and weak, develops into adulthood and eventually declines in old age.

It is possible to manipulate a rating. If BCM wants to stay in his division he can sometimes play poorly on purpose to insure this. No one can manipulate their gender (surgery notwithstanding) or their age.

In the lower divisions the unfairness of ratings is less severe. Basic skills in our sport are relatively easy to acquire. (It's the beauty of the game: it's easy to develop competance but near impossible to master) So players with decent athletic ability should be able to move up from the lower divisions over time. A player may be at the bottom of a division this year and rise to the top the division eventually. As a player improves, the next level is more difficult to obtain than the last. Everyone has natural ceiling based on their talents. The closer a player gets to that ceiling the tougher the climb.

So a new tournament player still developing their game can shoot 50 points over his rating on a good round and 100 points over on a great round. A player close to their natural ceiling is hard pressed to shoot 30 points over their rating.

What then can be done about the most grating (for some) scenario where the best players compete in different divisions (Open and Pro Masters)? Does anything need to be done? And can't a TD manipulate entry fees and payouts to encourage the best players to choose the top division?

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I think the entry fees do persuade a person to shoot in a specific division. I wouldn't pay 60 dollars to enter a tournament in am1 if am2 is 40 because I am putting my money where my mouth is when I enter a tournament. So a TD could control it in that aspect. If there are players, like myself, who don't have a #, it is left up to me to enter the tournament in an honest division. I got beat recently in a tourney where the leaders were 5 throws behind the open leader. Whatever the readon for those guys being in the division, I got smoked. Needless to say I learned my lesson. I played am2 the next non-sanctioned tournament and was in a three-way tie for second when it was done. I felt pretty good about that, and the leader was only 3 or 4 throws ahead. It was a close game and everybody had fun.
as always Mr. Ellis....thought-provoking
Mark said:
My personal experience is that ratings are the least fair method of creating divisions. This is because ratings divisions are based on arbitrary numerical ranges.

If ratings are the least fair method of creating divisions, what "fair" method would you suggest?
Great discussion, not much to comment on, yet. but wanted to follow.
My only problem with the "AGE" rating is that to be truely "FAIR", it would have to go thru the whole set of divisions, ie: Weither or not it makes smaller classes, there should be: Novice Master/Grandmaster/Rec. Master/Grandmaster/Int. Master/Grandmaster, etc. I'm 53, I've been playing for 1 year but I'd either have to enter a tournament as a Rec. player, putting myself against players "25 YEARS" younger than myself or play in AM1 Grandmaster, which is mainly a division of "PRO level players" on their way down", ie: These guys and gals have played for YEARS at AM1 or Pro level play, either way I'm at a "total disadvantage from the start! It only takes "3 players" to make a div. to play a tournament, right, then I'd surely rather play with "3 50+ year old Rec. level players", than the other 2 divisions I'd be forced to play in.

At least if the divisions went by "Rating" only, then I "SHOULD" be playing against players in my "Ability" level, so if Rating is flawed, LOL, I'm really screwed! ;)

B.J. (bogeyman) Ondo
Colorado Springs, CO.
A little too fast and loose with what's "arbitrary." I'd say each person's DNA is arbitrary and once you're grown your height and wingspan are a pretty fixed figures. It's not like all men of all ages are bigger and stronger than all women. There's much overlap in heights, weights and strengths even if a some of that overlap is due to age differences. While a rating break at a specific event is arbitrary, a player's rating is not fixed (like their height) even when they get near their theoretical skill ceiling. So a player'[s rating can still bounce around on either side of that break over the years and not be trapped on one side.

The ratings ranges have been determined based on the potential for players to cash sometimes, not necessarily win. Ratings ranges should become smaller as ratings increase for the reason Mark indicated which is the variance/standard deviation in a player's performance gets narrower the better they get. Unfortunately, there's much resistance to creating another break at say 1000 so the players in the 970-999 range would not have to compete with players from 1000 to 1040. However, there are so few players across the country at these levels that the divisions would be too small. In the case of the highest level, they would actually do better with smaller divisions when there's significant added cash but they've been trapped in thinking that big divisions are needed for high payouts. That's only true when there's little or no added cash.
I think old men and young women should play together! ;>)
Considering divisions age-wise, now that I'm approaching 40, I understand it. When I hear 20-year-olds complain about "age-protected" divisions (i.e., masters, etc.), I don't say anything, but I know they'll get it in twenty years. The body acts and reacts differently with age. In many televised, sports people are suspect of those that improve with age (e.g., Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, etc.). The body simply starts slowing down after a while--if you allow it to. Dividing people by ages makes complete sense to me, but I'll be "divided" myself in about three years so I may be biased.
Nibs Carter said:
I think old men and young women should play together! ;>)

Nibs, I'll second that class, any day!! Sign me up!! ;)

B.J. (Bogeyman) Ondo :)
Colorado Springs, CO.
I guess if you do slow down with age enough that affects your game, and then affects your rating won't you then be falling into a lower category eventually picked up by the ratings scale anyway. Probably not as easy to fall perfectly on the Pro side and maybe thats where ratings need to be further tweaked. On the Am side though if your "ability" decreses so will your rating and you'll be able to step down fairly incrementally.

Unrated players you can't ever fix, if not spending the money for PDGA membership is a big deal to you and paying the extra 10 at a tourney isn't then those people have to be honest and pick a division they are properly skilled for. I don't see anyway to stop bagging on that front short of making the idea of bagging less attractive by creating an unrated division or a higher yet fee. None of that is perfect though and given #'s don't always allow for extra divisions.

Tighter gaps in teh ratings for divisions would even up skill levels but how many divisions can you really support given the number of entrants, for most tourneys not much more than we have now.
(quote)Unrated players you can't ever fix, if not spending the money for PDGA membership is a big deal to you and paying the extra 10 at a tourney isn't then those people have to be honest and pick a division they are properly skilled for.(quote)

TDs control this. Non-members with no rating can be placed wherever the TD wishes. They can be forced to play Advanced or even Pro if the TD feels that's the only fair division for them to enter.
Maybe what we need to do is "keep rating levels" but get rid of the TERM "AM", since the majority of the tournaments are PDGA supported, let there be classes as:


All these would be considered PRO level, all would play for "CASH" but within your "Rating Level". Since being in a tournament is all about "compeating", not just playing to have a good time/for the fun of it, why bother with the Amatuer nomencalture at all!! Get RID of AGE/Gender divisions and have all players play at their "Rating Level". This way you'd have a chance to work up to "CASH" in each level. This would "streamline" things, and let the TD, work on the EXTRA CASH for the "Expert Pro" , the top level players. If your just throwing for the FUN of it your a "Casual Player", if your playing in a Tournament your a "Compeating Player". Seems like to me you'd have all the players working towards a goal and not having to try to "work out", differences between being "AM or PRO, within the PDGA, FYI.

B.J. (Bogeyman) Ondo
Colordo Springs, CO.

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