I was very disappointed to read Jim Dileo's article, "USTA Team Tennis: Increasing Your Chances to Play for a National Title" in the May/June 2009 edition of Long Island Tennis Magazine. Mr. Dileo takes the approach that, in order to be competitive and win, you need to “game” the system when self-rating players. His article is an attempt to show the flaws in the self-rate process and how to exploit a "loophole" in order to gain a coveted spot for a team at Nationals. Speaking from experience, nothing can be further from the truth. Attempts to "game" the system have not only failed miserably, but they have led to multiple captains, as well as players, being suspended, placed on probation and re-rated. Countless matches have been reversed due to disqualifications for abuses in the self-rating process and many teams who saw Section Championships within their reach have seen their teams go from playoff contenders to also-rans at the stroke of a computer key. The unfortunate aftermath is all of the innocent players on these teams who are just trying to go out and play with their friends and have a good time.
Truth be told, whether you are a fan of the old system of verifiers or the new self-rate system, attempts of abuse in both systems were and are prevalent. Under the old system, many times players would show up at a verification clinic and obtain a lower rating than they deserved. Stories of players showing up at Section Championships and being disqualified during the warm-ups for being out of level were folklore. Interpretation of verification standards in one section/region differed from verification standards in another section/region. This article will attempt to explain the myths of self-rating and the role of the Eastern Grievance Committee in the self-rating process. Most importantly, how you can follow the rules and self-rate successfully while avoid being suspended, placed on probation or re-rated.
The Section Grievance Committee is made up of six members representing each of the regions in the Eastern Section. Members of the committee are players, captains and coordinators just like yourself. None of the members of the committee work for USTA Eastern. The members are all volunteers who do not receive remuneration for their participation. Whereas, many of the grievances involve the self-rate process, some also include administrative grievances as to interpretation of rules or player conduct. Our goal is to provide a detailed explanation as to the rationale in each and every one of our decisions. Our decisions usually involve multiple pages of explanation, and are written after numerous e-mails back and forth between committee members, and sometimes, involve conference calls depending on the complexity of the issue. Our decisions are reviewable by the Sectional Grievance Appeals Committee.
When looking at a Self-Rate Grievance that contains supporting documentation, we initially review how the player filled out the Self-Rate Profile. This, of course, begs the question, "What are we looking for?” The answer to this question is easy. We are simply looking for you to tell the truth. Tennis is a game built on sportsmanship and rules. All of us must follow the rules as written so that there is consistency in ratings. When filling out the Self-Rate Profile in order to obtain your self-rating, answer "Yes" if you were ranked as a junior, or played in college or high school. Be upfront about your tennis background. Don't attempt to deceive.
Once you have obtained your rating by answering the questions truthfully, you will then be given an opportunity to appeal your self-rating by manually filling out a USTA Player Background Form. On this form, you can then explain your playing history and provide an explanation as to why you should have your self-rating lowered. On many occasions, players who have fully disclosed their player backgrounds have had their self-ratings adjusted. On the other hand, many players who have attempted to "game" the system by failing to fill out the Self-Rate Profile correctly, or worse yet, have compounded their deception by failing to answer the USTA Player Background Form truthfully, have not seen their ratings lowered. In many cases, these ratings are adjusted to a much higher level than if they had answered the questions truthfully. In short, players who tell the truth are given the benefit of the doubt and players who attempt to deceive are not.
Many players have come before our committee on Self-Rate Grievances who have failed to disclose their true tennis backgrounds. In each and every case, they have attempted to "fly under the radar" and are shocked that their true identities have been revealed. In today's computer age, it's very easy to identify a self-rated player. Just Google their name and it will reveal a wealth of information about their tennis background. Many self-rated players have misspelled their names, used married names or have changed their names altogether in order to hide their true identities. In many of these cases, their attempts have failed. Someone knows someone who knows that player's true tennis background.
Whether a first-time player is playing third doubles or first singles, I can almost guarantee someone is watching their match results. Attempts to play sparingly and play close matches or take losses do not factor into many of our decisions. A player's background history, especially if there is deception when self-rating, will always take precedence over match results. The Grievance Committee has granted grievances and re-adjusted ratings on players who have played one match at third doubles and have lost if it has been revealed that their player profile was answered inaccurately.
Per the Eastern Director of Adult Leagues in the last 10 months, more than 280 players who have self-rated honestly have had their ratings manually re-adjusted to a lower level given to them by the computer. Whereas, they may not have been lowered to the level requested by the player, they nonetheless have been lowered taking into account outside factors such as age, tennis history and medical. Less then 20 players have been denied to have their initial self-ratings lowered. National has made it quite clear that visual verification of a player’s level is not going to come back to league tennis. First off, there is a shortage of people willing to do the training necessary to accurately verify players. As stated above, there is no consistency in visual verification across the country and the unfortunate reality is that there is no budget to pay for it. Ideas such as increasing registration fees to pay teaching pros to watch matches are economically not feasible and would be a logistical nightmare. Providing captains with challenges is a novel idea, but one that would be abused and burden local league coordinators who already have too much on their plate. In the Eastern Section alone, approximately 23,000 players participate in leagues each and every year, of which around 2,000 of those players advance to Section Championships. Long Island alone has more than 4,000 players who have registered to play league tennis. Even taking into account some players who play on multiple teams the individual number of players is still very large. Many of them who are playing for the first time and have self-rated accurately.
We can all agree that no rating system is perfect. The National Tennis Rating Program (NTRP) was designed as a “self-rate” system to provide compatible play and allow for quick easy participation. Let's not lose sight that the goal of league tennis is to socialize with friends, promote the sport, and play some good competitive matches. Sure, all of us would love to play at a Section Championship or attend a National Championship, but at what cost? One thing is for sure, “gaming” the system is not the answer.