It's baaccckkk! I'ma dusting off an old bugaboo and going another round with universal classification. (Which, for the record, has been improved upon greatly in recent years, but ...) I am also still following my old teammates in their return to competitive paintball. [If you missed those posts a bunch of guys I used to play with in the Dark Ages got together and started competing again two seasons ago. That was after nearly a decade of not playing. The majority, as you might guess, are older, mostly thirties and forties. Their return to the game also spawned a second team.] Their story, while purely anecdotal, is instructive because universal classification is, well, if not universal it's close to it in the U.S. And I remain unconvinced that in the current competitive paintball environment that it's a universal good.
What is the point of universal classification? Most would probably say it stops sandbagging. Let me suggest it also exacerbates the problem and the fear of sandbaggers. The more divisions you create between players the more opportunities are created for more sandbaggers of every stripe, size and marginal skill level. And it's sillier than that. At D4 a couple of D3 players is "fair." Yet three D3 players is sandbagging or cheating. At what point is the cure worse than the disease? Once upon a time we had Amateur, Novice & Rookie. Was there sandbagging? Sure, most noticeably where valuable prizes were at stake. Now it's conceivable that D4 players can "sandbag" D5 players. Are we really better off? [And APPA could serve much the same purpose by simply tracking all the events a player plays and in what division.]
Maybe but universal classification allows teams from all over to see how they compare with other teams. Does it really? Or does it simply quantify results the same way across the board? Is a successful team from the Northwest necessarily a strong team in national level competition within the same division? The easy answer is nope--that's why we play the games. To find out who is the best. I'm not sure you can even say the results must be close. Is D3 competition more intense and demanding in Cali compared to the Northeast. And isn't the likely result of that breadth of competition better teams across the board despite their similar classification ratings?
Let's return for a moment to my friends, the kids on Team Voodoo. They played D4 Race 2-2 these last two seasons. The first year they were a mid-pack team. This year they won one event and finished near the top of their division a sufficient number of times for the bulk of the team to finish the year ranked D3--if only just. As a result they are now classified out of the chance to play D4 Race 2-4 locally--which is the highest option available at present. (They tried Race 2-4 once last season and struggled, mostly with the logistics.) These are exactly the kind of players that the local level needs desperately and yet, after just two seasons at D4, they don't have any place to play locally anymore. The system now regards them as "sandbaggers" if they were to compete (or try to compete) in D4 Race 2-4. They lose out as does the local tourney scene as do the young and developing players they've helped over the last two years. How many times in how many places is this happening to other teams and players?
Granted it isn't the fault of the classification system that no division above D4 Race 2-4 is offered locally but the system can't (or shouldn't be) divorced from its real world impact. We have seen positive signs in the last year or so of a resurgence in team numbers at the grassroots level. It is a trend (hopefully) that requires nurturing not a blind eye and a one size fits all classification system.