Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Standard of Excellence

Back in the Dark Ages of tournament paintball teams largely self-selected what division they would play--at least when they made the jump to the national stage. Some made the wrong call and quietly dropped back, others dropped out. Still others developed and improved. The majority stayed where they were. Not quite good enough to contend for titles but not bad enough either to embarrass themselves. Of course back then there were basically only three choices; Pro, Am & Novice--and novice was a mid- to late- Nineties invention. The standard back was winning. Teams determined their ability to compete at the next level on their ability to win where they were. And when they moved up their target was the best teams in their new division.
I didn't take that trip down memory lane to suggest that the old way was a better way, only that it reflects a different mindset. Underlying the UPC is a conception of each division as sort of self-contained bell curve of results that's a bit fuzzy at the edges. The bulk of teams should be bunched up in the middle with fewer teams distinguishing themselves and a like number unable to keep up. The justification for this is that any representative spectrum of teams should, after some period of competition, display an approximate bell curve in their collective results. But that isn't what the divisions should represent and the average divisional team should not aspire to middle-of-the-pack status--particularly in the upper amateur divisions. By the time a team reaches D1 status it ought to be a proven winner in competition with other proven winners, not a bell curve sampling of teams.
Ultimately the league is responsible. It is their rules & competition. My concern is that the rules are unable, and in fact inimical to, maintaining a consistent (hopefully excellent) standard of play in which the divisional distinctions are actually meaningful. And I am convinced that the standard has deteriorated over time. (Also don't think for a minute that because I'm focused on divisional play that this doesn't apply to the pro division too because it certainly does.)
For the sake of keeping my example simple let's agree that D2 has 20 teams and that 20% of them will qualify for D1 status. So 4 teams of the 20 move along. That means the best remaining team from the last season was the fifth best. If at least 4 of the incoming teams for the new season aren't better than the best remaining team the overall quality of play in the division necessarily drops. And even then last year's best team was four places better than the best team leftover so the incoming teams only have to be better than last year's fifth place team to be winners. If you repeat that pattern for five years what is the likelihood that the winner of year 5 was as good as the winner of year 1? And how will you be able to tell?


Nick Brockdorff said...

You seem to be viewing the quality of play as unchanging, or at least unchanging relatively between teams and divisions, which in my view is far from true.

Every team is in a constant state of improvement, even when their rank is dropping... which just signifies the teams around them improving more.

I find this to be true in most any sport, where constant advancements in training methods, training time, tactics, equipment, local facility improvements etc. create this perpetual state of improvement - it is why records are broken every year in most sports.

It is even more true in paintball, which as a new sport, still has a lot of ground to make up, compared to sports that have been around over a century.

As such, I do not believe your argument holds water.... it may mathematically, but the X-factor is the individual team improving more or less than the norm, from year to year, which makes it way more chaotic to try and get a handle on rankings before events play out during a season.

A top D1 team today, is a top Pro team 5 years ago, a top D2 team today, is a top Pro team 10 years ago, etc.

With every year, players and teams are developing more rapidly than the year before.

So, over a 5 year period, you will not get a "worse" winner year 5 than year 1 - you will always get a better one.

In Europe, which is now in it's 5th year of all the top 3 divisions being locked, the result has been a much lower difference in quality, between the top division and the 3rd division - and it is not uncommon to see a relegated team drop straight through the next division, or a promoted team go straight to the top of the division they moved up into.

There are drawbacks to locked divisions for sure, but they are not relevant to this particular debate.

Nick Brockdorff said...

I should mention, the only reason I mention loccked divisions (which I do not necessarily advocate), is that it gives a clearer picture than open divisions, where you have more teams dropping in and dropping out, irrespective of rankings, and a much greater personel exchange on individual teams.

MikeMfromPrime said...

There are plenty of factors beyond the UCP that contribute to the weakening of a division. I'm not convinced there is enough evidence to assert that the div's are disproportionately weak. Turnover rate is irrelevant when teams are leaving/entering regardless of classification rules. Like, getting on Pro rosters or disbanding for economic/other reasons.

While I'd understand the notion that "any D1 team should dominate a D2, a D2 a D3, and a Pro any of those." But I don't know if it needs to be the reality.

I can say for my part D2 is noticeably more demanding than D3.

What are your indicators that the division is "weak" by comparison? If the current turnover rate is too high, what would the acceptable percentage be? Is the system overcompensating or are they simply erring on the side of preventing teams from dominating a whole season.

Perhaps you could have specific performance requirements added. Like, in PSP you only have to move up if you get 1st in a single tournament or top 3 in the series, or even top 3 just at World Cup. Or if you get bottom 2 in your division twice in a row you have the option (are forced?) to move down. You'd add weight to the scales at the top. Added 40 points or however many points to the cumulative per player allowed but weight the first and 2nd places with a +10 on top of the 100 or 95 or whatever per tournament.

Then there are still those teams that are overly ambitious. That inexplicably try a division higher than their classification demands. Though, I'm not sure how much you can "make" teams go down.

Again, I'm not convinced the system has demonstrated a turnover rate that is too high, or we're worse off than we used to. There were teams in AM B that wouldn't move out because they said, "We can only keep playing paintball if we're winning." They sounded like a bunch of momma's boys to me...

Anonymous said...

I like this thread: it clearly defines the trouble area of the classification system (D2). Things work fine at the top of the system, but it is this transition area that seems to be an issue.

Also Mike brings up an interesting point: about players staying in lower divisions because they want to keep winning. A team that used to play local tournaments (D3) now has to choose between stepping up to national tournaments (D2) and splitting up (or joining a non-APPA league).

How do you fix this issue?

MikeMfromPrime said...

@Anon - Just to clarify, I believe there is a rule in place that says teams cannot be forcibly bumped out of D3 locally to play D2 nationally. They have to play D2 in their local league (though usually not available), but they can still play D3 nationally. When they earn those points in the PSP series, or play a single D2 tournament anywhere, they are promoted to D2 for the PSP.

Also, teams shouldn't get to stay in just because they want to keep winning. That's called sandbagging. Division 2 used to be the worst offending division for this by FAR. Now it appears the league has either solved this OR overcompensated depending on who you talk to. Or teams have just gotten more honorable about playing the most challenging level they can.

For a variety of reasons, many of which John Smith commented on in the last post, strong teams have left divisions and good teams have taken their place. Should those middle pack teams be better than incoming teams? Logically, yes. They should be more experienced at a higher level.

But teams that are successful nationally find ways to make it carry over in the next division. Static/Revo/Boom/187 have strong teams to scrim against and have the organization/finances in place. Most teams don't play every single tournament. These programs do.

How is this diffrerent from Strange/Trauma/Kapp Factory/Vicious or 187. Teams that kept running the table in their AMB (Divisional) to Pro runs? Did we say, "Well, you can't tell if Vicious is good. They could just be playing soft opponents this season?"

Baca Loco said...

Lovely notion. Please give examples of records broken every year in any team sport. I will grant you there have been changes and that players improve faster than they once did but that doesn't speak to team improvement. I will also grant that the game is substantially different in key ways but in accepting that idea I think it makes your notion of comparisons more not less problematic. And as for your locked divisions couldn't the inverse be true and that the differences in quality is a result of the top declining? And since you don't think so got any ideas on how you could convince me or anyone else otherwise?

They wouldn't be disproportionately weaker--they would be proportionately weaker. :)
The real question is what is in the best interests of the game as a competition and sport. To say it needn't be a particular way isn't to say much of anything. Nor is the "fact" that D2 in 2012 is tougher than D3 from 2011. The real question is: Is D2 as tough now as it was in 2008 or 2009?

Okay, please name winning AM B teams that wouldn't move up.

In the case of Strange and Trauma they also competed against Pro teams in their prelims and their comparative strength was evident. KAPP doesn't belong and Vicious and 187 are from a different era. However if you want to push that comparison both Strange and Trauma were successful highly competitive pro teams immediately.
Maybe you didn't say--but some of us did and always have. And with that I'm gonna avoid adding any other comments that won't endear me with the current crop of divisional teams, thank you very much.

Ken said...

"Is D2 as tough now as it was in 2008 or 2009?"

Sounds like a great question for the Monday poll.

I'll start the sample...I played D2 7man in the very first HB. I also, played D2 7man in the most recent HB (thanks to a 2 year hiatus my previous Pro/Semi-Pro rank no longer counts, go figure). I would vote that D2 is not as tough now.

NewPro said...

I think the piece touches on the core of a fundamental issue. Anytime we/you/national tournies attempt to structure, itemize, legitimize "attempt to make players conform", there is a backlash. When you could enter any division, , many teams entered pro, ran back and told everyone they played pro, regardless of finish. Thank F^%$ those days are over.
It may not be perfect but national leagues with fledgling regional series are our best shot towards legitimacy. As you mentioned tho, unless their is a demand or surplus, you cannot demote teams, 1.because their are no replacements and 2.because of the "hurt feeling, stamp my feet, I now hate your league because i couldn't make the grade.

Baca Loco said...

That's an interesting idea but my concern would be that most of the respondents to such a poll weren't playing then and don't even have an anecdotal way to come at the question.

New Pro
Many teams entered pro? You mean like the NPPL?

The real problem early on was fast-tracking teams (and players) outr of the league by rank. Half or thereabouts of the earliest teams pushed from D2 to D1 never played an event. And if a team was dedicated and serious and played most of the events and was any good at all--relative to their competition--they were in and out within 4 years. Plenty of factors contributed but the system didn't help keep anybody in the game even if it wasn't solely responsible for all the attrition and now that the UPC has extended to the local level via affilaite status with the PSP and the use of APPA we're running players ouf the game BEFORE they even get to the national level now.

Steve said...

D2, and every division for that matter, is stronger than a few years ago... IMHO.