Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Pear or the Pyramid: Logan's Run, part 3

It occurred to me that maybe I ought to take a moment and explain why I think all this enforced upward movement through the divisions matters. (If I already have feel free to skip this part and chalk it up to a vitamin deficiency or something when I was kid. We were barely civilized back then what with no video games or cable TV. Small wonder I turned out this way.) As you know if you've been following along I'm concerned that the present system pushes players up the ranks and then out of the game. (There is always some degree of attrition but shouldn't we be attempting to limit that attrition?) It also pushes some players without the ability into ranks where they can't compete. This process will, over time, "dumb down" the game by falsely rewarding players with ranks they don't deserve which in turn tends to make the divisional distinctions less useful and negates in some respects the idea of earning a higher ranking.

The PSP has in mind a league (the pool of all players) that looks like a pear (perhaps a Bartlett): a modest peak representing the elite pros and near semi-pros and a bulbous body with something like equal measures in D1 and D3 with the largest group massed in D2. I don't know what the appeal of this model is but I'm pretty certain it can only be attained by unnaturally altering the normal state of things in a competitive environment; hence the present system. [If I'm describing the Pear Model incorrectly let me know.] Here's why I think this: any endeavor predicated on merit, in this case the skill set of a competitive paintball player, tends to chart out in the famous (or infamous) bell-shaped graph. All this means is that the vast majority of players fall between the upper middle to lower middle in their ability to play the game. (Since we's talking 'bout paintball.) Additionally, the norm is that there will be, statistically, about the same numbers of progressively worse and progressively better players in diminishing numbers the further the graph moves from the center, both left and right. What our bell-shaped graph tells us is that the largest percentage of players will naturally fall into the middle zones. (Which may account for the Pear Model thinking going on except it's missing a step.)
What the Pear Model fails to account for is a league structure which has a floor, a self-selecting floor. Formerly xball began at D3. That is the floor. Players and teams choose to compete at that level and based on historic numbers I think it's safe to suggest that the volume of 5-man players and teams competing "below" D3 xball positions the average D3 player somewhere in the middle perhaps slightly above the absolute middle. [Of course we can't fully account for experience and the developmental arc each player goes thru but we assume those variables are expressed in improving results. And when teams of players prove they are well above the average in their division they need to move up–so perhaps the real disagreement is where and how to assess when teams/players reach that point.]
With a floor (an entry level) the league doesn't reflect the whole of the bell graph, only a portion of it beginning somewhere in the middle-ish. Nor does it concern itself with the progressively worse player, only the progressively better players. That result starts with a wide base and narrows as it rises because the numbers of players with better and better skill sets progressively shrinks as you move away from the middle. The end result might be considered a Pyramid Model. If the Pyramid Model is a superior representation of what the pool of all players' skill levels looks like within the league it's possible to make some simple assumptions about divisions. The largest division will be the floor division, in this case D3. And each division moving up should be smaller until the peak is reached. An important additional question is where those divisional breaks ought to be. In any event there will necessarily be players at the edges with marginal skill sets for the level they are competing in. Another interesting question is what is the necessary ratio between succeeding divisions to assure maintenance of the player pool the next division up.
The only way the Pear Model works is if the majority of incoming players are at best lower middle when they begin competing in the league. I think that is far more likely to be an accurate assessment on the local and regional level than on the national level. What the current classification system will eventually result in is a large scale shift in the skill level within the divisions. For example a future D1 will have the average or slightly higher than average skill set of the current D2 and so on. Which in turns lowers the skill threshold to compete up the ladder into Semi-pro and potentially pro. At which point pro risks being elite largely by virtue of being restricted.
Lots of other factors are involved and have significant influences so I don't think we can draw too much from this part of the discussion over classification except to say anytime we fail to see the norm represented in our divisions it likely means there's something wrong somewhere in the system.

Okay, that got all esoteric and stuff. My principle interest isn't to debate the perfect ratio between divisions but to provide the fairest possible competitive environment to the most players possible–and I'm sure that's what the PSP or any other league wants too. How to calculate the best way to achieve that goal is an interesting question. (To me anyway.) I'll try to keep it simple next time when I conclude this series of posts with a proposed "fix" for the current system and an alternative system as well.


raehl said...

I think you first have to answer the question, "Do players forced up exit the sport at a greater frequency than players in general", and even if the answer to that is yes, the next question you have to ask is "Would letting those players stay down cause even more players at lower levels to exit the sport?"

chad said...

"Would letting those players stay down cause even more players at lower levels to exit the sport?"

if they were average players, who don't want to be forced up (and out...) they aren't doing any harm in their divisions anyway. on the other hand, if the players were competitive in their division, they will probably want to move up. basically D3 is a bunch of average joes playing for fun more or less. forcing these guys up doesn't make them any more competitive. any serious competitive team should be out of D3 in a season, or at least want to be.

Baca Loco said...

Fair question and one that probably can't be answered. The second question doesn't follow. In your world experience equals better player. In the real world that is frequently not true and as somebody who likes numbers it should be obvious to you that in the pool of all players the largest percentage will never perform above an average level. One can argue where that level is but that only takes you part of the way since the divisional structure also makes distinctions for ability. The debate, in part, is where to draw the line to maximize appropiate movement while maintaining a balance of competition and in that respect I sincerely doubt you are qualified to even make a guess.

Chad, on the other hand, gets it.

raehl said...

Actually, no. In my world, I accept that you don't necessarily separate athletes by how good then are, especially not at the lower levels. For most sports, the separation is based almost entirely on age, up to high school when the separation is based on how many students a school has. Only when you get to college and pro are players separated by skill/talent - those with the skill/talent get to play, and the rest don't.

There is nothing wrong with saying "This first division is for players with no experience", and that is the way the classification system is set up: Entry level division for those with little or no experience, division above that for those with average talent, and divisions above that for those that are actually good.

So, first division you play until you have some experience, then get moved up - regardless of whether you're any good or not. That makes way for more people with little experience, and lets you play against everyone else who has experience but isn't particularly good. Then, once you show that you have above-average skill/talent, you move up. And then when you show you have very good experience/talent, you move up again.

The people getting moved up absolutely should be moved up - and when they get moved up, they end up playing other players with the same experience/talent as themselves.

It's not like we went into the top of D2 and only moved up the teams that finished with odd-numbered rankings.

Baca Loco said...

Thanks Chris
I think I've heard that somewhere before. ;-)