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Friday, September 19, 2008

A Short History of the Points Per Round System

Scott Gerber is not a name that will ring a bell with most of you, but what he does--providing statistical analysis of trends in junior tennis, specifically in the state of Ohio and the Midwest section--should give him a much higher profile than he has.

He recently sent me a report on the restrictions that states in the Midwest place on high school tennis players regarding USTA/ITF play, and it is a comprehensive and well-researched piece that uncovers the startling fact (for those who don't live there, of course) that Ohio prohibits all such play during the high school tennis season. I'm sure there was a good reason for this, but I can't fathom what it is from today's perspective. I am posting Gerber's chart here for those interested, but it is his history of the points-per-round system leading up to his plea for changing Ohio's rule that has the most relevance for all juniors in the U.S. Gerber writes:

In approximately 2004, the USTA moved to a points per round system for ranking players for national tournaments. This system was based on the ranking used by the pros. Players get “points” for each round in a tournament they win. Important tournaments yield far more points for each win than the smaller, typically local tournaments. Gaining enough points allows players to get into other important tournaments and obtain good seeds. Getting good wins in important tournaments is very important if a junior wants an opportunity to play college tennis.

Prior to the points per round system, a “head-to-head” process was used. A simplified example is as follows: if Player “A” beats “B” and “B” beats “C”, then “A” is better than “C”. Under points per round, if “A” beats “B” in a small tournament in Ohio but “B” travels to Chicago and beats “C” in a high level tournament, “B” could be viewed as much, much better than “A”.

The points per round system works reasonably well for professional tennis because it encourages players to participate in tournaments. Fans want to see the best players so they are more likely to purchase tickets to watch them play. The organizers are happy, the fans are happy, and the players have to deal with it. Professional tennis also has ways of dealing with the good, popular players who may not have enough points to play in a specific tournament because they do not have enough points due to an injury, etc. Unfortunately, a win over Roger Federer in this system does not yield any more points than beating the worst player on the tour (but it may help a player earn more money from a sponsor). Of course, in the pros, you also get more prize money as you win more rounds.

Unfortunately for junior tennis, their points per round system was ill-conceived and poorly implemented. It is safe to say that the goal of professional players is to play professional tennis. The goals for juniors are far more numerous. Many juniors (ages 10-18) and their parents still care about doing well in elementary, junior high, and high school; playing other sports (especially the non-high school students); and just being a kid. Kids are also more prone to suspend tennis during family emergencies, family illnesses, or other family priorities. Many kids also encounter injuries as they rapidly grow while playing a demanding sport. To make matters even more difficult for kids, juniors lose their points when they move up to a new age group (at intervals of 10, 12, 14, 16, and 18 years). (The points “roll off” for both pros and juniors after 12 months.) This means that many juniors play more than one “age group” so that they can “hit the ground running” when they age out of their current age group.

To make matters even more confusing, time-consuming, and expensive for juniors and their parents, there are also USTA District (i.e. Ohio Valley, Northwest Ohio, Northeast Ohio), Sectional (i.e. Midwest, Florida, Texas), and National points. (Think of this as three different currencies that cannot be exchanged for each other.) Most players try to play a combination of the three while the best players focus simply on Sectional and National tournaments. Initially, the USTA Midwest Section (which includes Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and parts of Wisconsin, Kentucky, and West Virginia) refrained from using points per round system for the Midwest Section. This was a wise approach because of the geography of the Midwest (i.e. numerous states with different high school rules, large geographic area, many large population centers, and great big lakes and a traffic nightmare (Chicago) to prevent easy travel throughout the Section). Eventually the Midwest succumbed to the USTA National organization in 2005 and implemented a point system for the Midwest.

Those who defend the points per round system do think it has encouraged more play, although they often concede that it has led to more expensive travel as well. There isn't a perfect system--all systems are compromises-- but I preferred the head-to-head method that serves as the basis for The Tennis Recruiting Network's rankings.


McLovin said...

A great review of the system that has made junior tennis so expensive. The Points Per Round system has effectively raised the cost of junior tennis which further distances the sport from the masses, the exact opposite of what American tennis needs. Juniors are not pros who play tennis for a living. I am so glad that my son will be player college tennis next year to get out of this $$$ treadmill. He will get to improve his game in a competitive team atmosphere and receive a great education in the Ivys.

Man in the Moon said...

Colette, Mclovin,Scott

I agree with all of you-- points per round shows how well your Dun & Bradstreet is not your tennis prowess.

The points per round has been a disaster and I hope that it will eventually change to at least a combo of head to head / points per round- sooner rather than later.

I think the very top echeloen of players would do well in either environment- except it costs way too much money in the points / round atmosphere.

You can't compare a pro environment to a junior environment because the goals are much different.

myob1776 said...

I would love to see more comparisons like this one. Even within the USTA, there are substantial differences in the way the regions run their junior ranking and national tournament eligibility determinations. The Balkanized management of the regions means that juniors training in different parts of the country are operating under different systems. When and how did the regions gain such power?

IMHO, points per round allows you to 'buy' a ranking (up to a certain level). If you can afford to fly cross-country to that undersubscribed level 3 you stand a decent chance of earning some big points.

tewnet said...

A way to modify the PPR system would be to award more points for significant wins, i.e., head-to-head competition. Which would place less emphasis on rounds played. Which would retain some benefits of both approaches while avoiding the problems of using either system exclusively.

kraa said...

tewnet: that would be something like pro tours used few years ago (quality points). Only for juniors probably even greater emphasis would have to be put on quality vs quanitity.

BTW talking about rankings - how are ITF world junior rankings conected to all this?

Marcia Frost said...

To play devil's advocate here, let me tell you a bit about the other end...

Head to head is VERY deceiving because you had many players deciding which tournaments to play (after the draws were out) and which matches to default from depending on who they were playing. Higher players would decide that they couldn't take a chance they would lose to a lower player and that player never had the opportunity to pick up the "head to head" win. You also had the lower ranked players analyzing and worrying about who they would play and how it would affect their points, rather than concentrating on advancing -- which should be the object.

I've seen this as both a spectator at National events and a tournament director at Local ones.

I'm not advocating points-per-round or head-to-head (both could use some tweaking), but I believe there are definite arguments for BOTH.


love-tennis said...

Wow, Marcia, that all scares me. Thank you for that information. Very interesting.

As my daughter has progressed through the tennis ranks, I have heard of people doing that. Can they really be doing that? What kind of parenting is that? What are they teaching their kids? To back away from competition, fair and square? To not play sportsmanlike because they might lose, so they withdraw?

Along those same lines, I have never understood those parents that let their kids not play the backdraw after they lose first round. What a terrible example for them to set for the rest of that child's life.

All for a tennis ranking? Agh. Yes, it might be for a college scholarship, but if most of those families are wealthy enough to travel to a national tennis tournament (& pay for training & privates, et al) , then many of them are not worrying about college costs.

I think a lot of it is about ego, and parents passing their parental ego down to their kids. So sad.

AM said...

I seem to recall in the old days (80s) a default was counted as a loss, so there was no benefit to defaulting. Also, I can't believe the number of defaults I see at tournaments these days - lets go back to a head to head system and count a default as an actual loss. I bet the number of defaults would go down.

Point based rankings make it easy to put out rankings on a weekly basis but that should not be the goal. I would suggest going back to issuing end of year rankings only - you could probably rank the first 50 or so numerically and the rest in alphabetical groups of say 50-100, 100-150 etc.

The greatest American tennis generation ever (Agassi, Courier, Chang, Sampras, Martin, etc) grew up under a system like this for what its worth.

Point Chasing 10is Mom said...

...and maybe if they changed the system, the good players would stop pulling out of the backdraw...10 points per round in a Level 3 doesn't make it worth it for kid's to even play (and pay) to get/stay at a tournament in the first place...give them some incentive to stay. And, for the other kids who pull a high seed, lose first round and basically get a few points for the consolation...it can get very costly.
Take if from a Mom who is playing for it....

eye of the tiger said...

Just to add in new zealand the use the top dog system which is a head to head ranking system it has its good an bad points, if you do lose to a lower ranked oppenent you do lose points so the case of people pulling out of draws depending on who they play is alive and well.The only way you can move up the rankings is beating higher ranked oppenents, however local club matches are also calculated in the system and winning a national title you could gain less points than playing and interclub matches, there are many negative factors in a head to head based ranking system , no one has got there rankings system correct and their are good and bad points with each.