Mark is a technology executive in his professional life and a lifelong tennis player. He has played on and captained USTA League teams since 1988. When he learned that the USTA decided not to run 2020 Year-End NTRP ratings he decided to start his own letter-writing campaign as a protest to make the USTA Board change their minds and reverse the decision.
Dear USTA - You can do better!
By Mark Sweeney
The USTA recently announced that "while the NTRP System remains sound…the USTA has made the difficult decision not to run or publish year-end NTRP ratings for 2020." Part of the issue is a USTA-reported 62% drop in league and tournament matches played through August 3 (as compared to 2019) due to COVID-19. Add in that limited sectional play and no national play will occur this year and it certainly seems to present a challenge to calculating year-end ratings.
This decision means all league players will remain at their 2019 year-end NTRP level even if they have played the requisite number of matches to receive a year-end rating. The decision also means one’s rating type (computer, self, and appeal) will also be held over through 2021, again, even if a player has played the requisite number of matches. It applies even to players who completed a full season before or after the COVID hiatus. Speaking as a long-time league player, USTA seems to be making the easy decision more than the right decision.
So, is a two-year rating really the best possible course of action? According to tennis player and blogger Kevin Schmidt who has analyzed NTRP rating information for years, this could result in as many as 23K new and returning league participants playing in the wrong level during 2021. Kevin’s analysis has revealed that, historically, 37% of new players and 15% of returning players change levels at year’s end. I doubt USTA would embrace a system that intentionally misrated 23k players in addition to the thousands that are inadvertently misrated.
If the NTRP System remains "sound," and matches were played in good faith, calculating new 2020 year-end ratings seems like the best way to proceed even with fewer matches to process. If USTA has concerns about the accuracy of year-end ratings using this limited match population, they can easily make some allowances for those concerns like allowing 2020 appeals based on the player's current dynamic rating, expanding the appeal range from 2019, or even allowing mid-year appeals in 2021. USTA can definitely do better than enforce two-year ratings.
If you’d like to see the USTA do better, please send an email to them expressing your opinion. Their customer service email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
If the letter below reflects your opinion, please feel free to use it in your email to the USTA. If not, express yourself in your own words. Just make sure USTA knows your opinion.
Mr. Craig Morris
Chief Executive Community Tennis
United States Tennis Association
Dear Mr. Morris,
Let me start by thanking you, your staff, and the USTA for providing leagues that have allowed me to create and maintain some semblance of physical fitness and lifelong friendships. Some of the best people I know I've met through tennis, many of them via USTA Leagues. Unfortunately, that's not why I am writing to you.
The USTA's decision to enforce year-end 2019 ratings for two years due to the Covid-19 disruption is unacceptable to me as a USTA League player. While I am sympathetic to the challenges of calculating ratings with fewer matches and no intersectional play, there has to be a better response than to just give up and extend this year's rating through next year.
Why is the USTA's decision not to publish 2020 YE ratings unacceptable? Because it ignores the results from matches that were played in good-faith this year. It also ignores the physical decline of the human body (.5%/year according to WebMD). It also ignores the 23% of players who would have otherwise moved either up or down as a result of year-end ratings. Furthermore, it shows that a group of USTA League decision-makers are more interested in taking an easy path rather than serve the interests of their members.
What alternatives would I suggest? There are many available...among them are:
Just process 2020 results as normal. Sure, it won't be as precise because of fewer matches and no intersectional play, but you did say in your email that the "NTRP system remains sound." If true, why would you not trust it? Why wouldn't calculating ratings on matches played in good faith not be more accurate than just ignoring those results?
If not all sections or players have played enough matches, at least process those sections or players that did play enough league matches. Again, if the NTRP system remains sound, why would you not?
Expand the appeal range for 2020 using the 2019 YE rating. This would recognize the physical decline of players 30+ years old.
Allow 2020 appeals using the player's current dynamic rating. This would allow 2020 results to be considered without publishing an official rating.
Allow 2021 dynamic ratings to be appealed during 2021. This would allow players to appeal their current rating before the end of 2021 while using current results from 2021 seasons.
Institute appeal rules that apply to players of a certain age and over. This would recognize that older players decline faster than younger players and allow them to move to their proper level if their results call for it.
Personally, I think 2020 results should be used to calculate a YE rating, but that's just me. My main point is that the USTA needs to be more creative in this solution rather than punishing all players because of the difficulties of calculating a 2020 rating. In other words, act like you care about those who play leagues.
Please don't make me and my fellow league players choose between playing unfair leagues and playing no leagues at all. It could be costly for the USTA and would deprive me of league tennis. Let's rethink this decision and come up with a better plan for 2021.