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Wednesday, 24 August 2016

#BetweenTheSheets: Points, Rankings, Multipliers and More
Could a ranking system be more confusing than curling?


With the 2016/17 curling season right around the corner, teams are in full preparation mode.  The consistent off-ice gym routines are slowly being phased into on-ice practice schedules and tour management preparation.  Each team enters a new season with the big dream of winning a grand slam, winning a provincial/territorial championship, winning a national championship and, ultimately, ending the season being crowned World Champion!

Throughout the season all curling teams and fans pay attention to the rankings.  The Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) and Order of Merit (OOM) points system plays a pivotal role in the opportunities presented to teams.  The higher your cumulative point total, the higher your world ranking.  A higher ranking equates to more opportunity to win money and receive national attention playing in big events, like the grand slams.  More national attention can also potentially lead to more sponsorship dollars.  It is a circle of opportunity....once you get there of course.  It is the getting there that is causing the great divide within the curling community. 

We have our “Elite” teams.  These are the teams we see consistently at grand slam events.  Then we have our “B-level” teams.  These are the teams who play a consistent tour schedule but do not qualify for grand slam events.  Then we have our “Pack” teams.  These are the teams who play a few events on tour but are not likely to play grand slam and big tour events throughout the season.

Now before everyone starts freaking out about these “categories” let me present a clear statement here.  Yes, I realize teams put in amazing hours of training, gym time and on-ice practice time to become the athletes we see competing throughout the season.  These “categories” are not meant to disrespect one group over another nor pit one group against another.  There are numerous factors in play outside of the sport itself that lends to the schedule a team can play during the season.  I mean no disrespect to any player and/or team in the elementary categorization of teams.  However, this is the way the rankings and season has been unfolding over the past few years....and ignoring it is not going to change anything.

So how does a team accumulate points?  How can you raise your world ranking and qualify for the grand slam events?  Well, it is quite a confusing convoluted process my friends.  Grab your calculators and math skills learned way back in the day...you are going to need it all!

Let’s start simple.  Teams accumulate points through two categories of events: Tour Cashspiels and Playdowns/Special Events.  The Tour Cashspiels are the events taking place every week during the season.  These events are the core foundation of the world curling tour.  The Playdowns/Special Events include the following: Provincials/Territorial, Nationals, Worlds, Europeans, Canada Cup, Olympic Trials, Olympics and the 4 Grand Slam of Curling events.  Pre-qualifier events such as regionals and zones are also eligible here.  So far so good right?

Here is where it gets really mathematically exciting.  Each event on tour is subject to a different total point score.  The factors determining the point score for an event depend on the Strength of Field Multiplier (SFM) and the purse size.

The SFM is calculated based on the teams registered to compete in the event.  Each team’s ranking on the Tuesday before the event begins plays a vital role in the calculation.  For instance, the #1 ranked team adds a 0.45 value.  The #5 ranked team adds a 0.41 value.  Team #14 adds 0.32 and so on.  The Top 20 teams each have their own ranking value.  Teams ranked 21-30, 31-50, 51-100, 101-200 and 201+ are grouped with a common SFM contribution value.  Add up the SFM value for all teams competing, scale it back to a consistent 24-team event format and BOOM...there is your event’s cumulative SFM value.  The value is scaled to a 24-team format because more events on tour are 24-team events.  If an event is under or over the 24-team format, the SFM needs to be balanced out to make it fair in comparison to all other events.  Here is a quick example of a 32-team event:

Total teams: 32
Cumulative SFM of all teams competing: 5.6
Event SFM: 5.6 * (24/32) = 4.2

The max value for a Tour Cashspiel category event is 5.0, remembering a Tour Cashspiel event must have a minimum number of 12 men’s teams and 10 women’s teams to be points eligible.    

Now let’s look at purse size.  For points eligibility, a Tour Cashspiel event must equate to $300/team playing.  Basically the standard 24-team event would have a minimum purse of $7,200.  In our example above, let’s say the total purse is $50,000.  The purse factor total would be determined through a simple (?) formula:

1 + (p – 500) * 0.00017
The value of “p” is determined by taking the total purse divided by the number of teams entered.  

So, for our example, we have:
1 + ({50000/32} - 500) * 0.00017 = 1.18

Now, our final event value is determined by the teams cumulative SFM multiplied by the number of teams factor multiplied by the purse factor.  In our example above:
4.20 * 1.50 * 1.18 = 7.43

Now that we have our event value, we can determine our points value per final position.  To do so, we take our event value multiplied by the standard base points system:

1st: 7.43 (event) * 7.00 (base) = 52.04
2nd: 7.43 * 5.50 = 40.87
3rd – 4th: 7.43 * 4.25 = 31.58
5th – 8th: 7.43 * 3.00 = 22.29

There you have it.  If you enter this 32-team event, with a total purse of $50,000, and claim the championship, you win the money and add 52.04 points to your team’s world ranking score.  Got all that?

Of course, for the Playdowns/Special Events categories, additional points are available on a per-win basis, points percentage increases due to the weight of the event and bonus points can be claimed.  I won’t go into the summary of this but for a FULL BREAKDOWN of the entire structure for both categories, please visit HERE!!

Am I the only one who finds this process to be very convoluted and confusing?  Really?  This is the simple process we developed for determining our team world rankings?  Who doesn't want to calculate a world ranking with point totals of 52.04 and 31.58?  That's not confusing at all right? Yikes!

Aside from the mathematical complications associated with each event, here is where I am even more frightened with this process.  A Tour Cashspiel event can never know its actual final event total until the Tuesday before the event.  Sure this is not a big deal to event organizers but what about the teams?  Teams are setting their tour schedule for the year at the beginning of the year.  How can a team continuously accumulate world ranking points when events do not even know how many points can be awarded until days before the first rock leaves the hack?  This seems a little bit like throwing a dart at the tour schedule and hoping the events you choose to compete in can yield strong enough event values to accumulate enough points to qualify you for big events like the grand slams.  Now of course, regardless of a team schedule, you still have to perform on the ice and do well and/or win events to maximize your point total and up your ranking.  I get that.  But let’s just put that obvious fact on the back burner and assume it to be a given, for sake of argument.

This is where the governing bodies of the sport really are presenting a disadvantage for teams.  Ok so to qualify for a grand slam you need to have a certain world ranking spot.  To have a qualified world ranking spot you need to accumulate as many points as possible on tour up to the cut-off date.  To accumulate points on tour, you need to enter numerous events, do well of course, and hope the event points total is high.  Meanwhile, “Elite” teams are already earning bonus points for competing in the grand slam events while you, as a “B-Level” team, are competing in cashspiels trying to earn enough points to qualify.  Does this almost seem impossible?  A team can compete in a grand slam, win 2 games, earn bonus points per win, finish 8th overall and earn more points than a team competing in a 24-team event and making the final (or even winning?).  Need proof?

Team A: Competes at Grand Slam event, finishes 2-2 and loses quarterfinal. Total points = 36.15
Team B: Competes in Tour Cashspiel, 24-team field with $50,000 purse, loses the final.  Total points = 31.02

Team B, many would argue, had a more successful event making the final.  But, in comparison to the grand slam team, Team B actually lost 5.13 ranking points to a team who won 2 games all week and probably was featured and/or discussed on national television.  A team makes the final and loses ground in the world rankings to the grand slam teams.  Really?

Oh, I can hear the arguments already though.  Well the grand slam team played tougher competition.  Team B was beating teams ranked in the mid-30’s or lower (maybe?) while Team A was competing with the Top 10 teams in the world.  Team A beat 2 top ranked teams, shouldn’t they earn more points?  Ok, perhaps you are right.  But isn’t that the definition of being elitist as well?  Team A played the top teams because they continue to earn the larger amount of points every grand slam.  How can we know how Team B would compete against the best at a grand slam if every time they enter an event they are losing world ranking, and grand slam qualification, points to Team A?

Again, let me remind all of you, this is not a commentary blog post on the teams competing on tour.  They are all just competing within the parameters, rules and points system provided to them.  This is by no means meant as commentary for or against any team competing and working hard on tour all season.  All I would like to see is a more fair and level rankings system in place.  Let the results speak for themselves on the ice, not through a complicated mathematical format defining each event and tour schedule. 

To make matters even more interesting, did you know the final point totals can change during and at the end of the season?  Up to four weeks after an event, the point totals can be re-adjusted due to teams registering late, changing the point total allocation.  At the end of the season, the entire season is re-run using the final OOM team list to create the final standings.  This can actually change some point totals and affect the final rankings and points.  In a way, I understand this.  Players jump teams all the time in the sport, for various reasons, throughout the season.  Teams have until October 31st to finalize their lineup and maximize their season point totals.  Team changes made after this date cause the re-calculation of points throughout the season.  On the flip side, this creates more uncertainty on the total points earned during events.  A competing team could change their lineup mid-season and negatively impact the points you earned at an event.  Really?

Now, let’s get into the exciting stuff.  Here is a #TwineTime exclusive proposition.  I say we scrap the entire current points system and model.  No disrespect to those who worked tirelessly to create the system but I don’t think it is working.  I say let’s learn from other sports and capitalize on a system that works already.  Isn’t that just copying someone else’s work you ask?  Yup, sure is!  And what is wrong with that?  The sport itself, the competition, these are factors unique to the sport.  Why do we also need some crazy math and inconsistent formula determining our world rankings too?

To find a new system, we need to find a comparable sport.  A sport that offers various purse amounts per event.  A sport with various entrant formats.  A sport with grand slam events but also strong seasonal events.  A sport like....tennis?  Let’s look at the current tennis model on the ATP (men’s) tour.  Note the WTA (women's) tour uses a similar model with a few changes in the actual points distributed.

The ATP Tour is comprised of 7 event categories: Grand Slam, Tour Finals, ATP World Tour Masters 1000, ATP World Tour 500 series, ATP World Tour 250 series, ATP Challenger Tour and ITF Men’s Circuit.  All of these categories offer various total prize money amounts and differentiate between winner’s rankings points.  The starting point, ranking points, is a huge difference just on first glance.  Unlike the current curling system, in tennis the winner’s points are pre-determined per event from the start.  If you enter and win a Masters 1000 event, you earn 1000 ranking points.  Enter a 250 series event and win, you earn 250 ranking points.  Imagine that, even round numbers.  And numbers pre-determined before the event where everyone knows what’s at stake before even registering to participate.  What a concept?!

Tennis also has a running cumulative ranking system, moving from year to year.  Great, so does curling.  This is a good sign.  However, tennis also promotes equal (or better) results from year to year.  If you enter a Masters 1000 event and make the SF, great job you earned 360 points.  The following year, you should plan on re-entering and competing in this event once again if you want to keep those points.  If you do re-enter and make the SF again, you keep your 360 points towards your season total.  If you only make the Round of 16, you only earn 90 points.  Oh, see how the results will now affect the world rankings?  This player would actually lose 270 ranking points from one year to the next.  Similar format with the World Tour 500 series.  Now with the World Tour 500 series, players may not necessarily compete at the exact same tournament but have a requirement to compete in 4 of the 13 World Tour 500 events over the season, including one after the final grand slam, the U.S. Open.  The best 4 results in the series are used towards your points total to determine your world ranking.  A similar format can be used in curling.  Develop a series of “World Tour 500” type events, place a mandatory number of them teams must compete in and the highest earned points from the minimum required events participated in earns you the ranking points.  The next season, each team needs to compete in the minimum required amount of “World Tour 500” events once again; however, now if they do not replicate or beat those results they see a rankings slip.  Reward for results!  You want to stay at the top and have those perks of competing at grand slams and having that television time, you need to earn it...year in and year out.  If you slip up at a grand slam, you may not make the next one!  We could see a more level playing field....and maybe a few more surprise contending teams along the way.  Now that is how you #growthesport I think!  #Parity in sport?

Based on the tennis model, curling could adopt the following event category structure:

Grand Slams – 4 events (Masters, National, Canadian Open, Players Championship)

Tour Final/Special Events – 4 events (Tour Challenge Tier I, Tour Challenge Tier II, Elite 10, Champions Cup)

Tour 1000 Series – 9 events (Total purse: $40,000 - $99,999)

Tour 500 Series – 44 events (Total purse: $10,000 - $39,999)

Tour 250 Series – 22 events (Total purse <$10K)

Note: The total number of events listed above is based on the World Curling Tour event listing for the 2016/17 season.

How would the ranking points be distributed you ask?  Well you know #TwineTime has thought of that as well.  What do you think of this suggestion: Keep the point values the same as tennis!  If the wheel ain't broke why go fixing it?

Tour 1000 Series
Winner – 1000
Final – 600
SF – 360
QF – 180

Tour 500 Series
Winner – 500
Final – 300
SF – 180
QF – 90

Tour 250 Series
Winner – 250
Final – 150
SF – 90
QF – 45

This set point system can also give teams flexibility with their scheduling.  Let’s set a mandatory number of tournaments teams must compete in to be grand slam eligible.  For sake of argument, let’s just say teams must register for 3 Tour 1000 Series events, 5 Tour 500 Series events and 2 Tour 250 Series events.  This would mean teams must compete in a minimum of 10 tour events throughout the season to be eligible for grand slam events.  Teams can now go through the full tour schedule over the summer and be strategic on selecting their tournaments.  Do you go hard at the beginning of the season and register for more big events hoping for strong results and entry into the opening season grand slam?  Do you leave yourself some cushion space where, should you struggle at the beginning of the season, you give yourself some big tournaments in the middle of the year to register in and try to make up the points you lost early on?  Tennis players do this all the time.  They set their schedule for the year but then either add or subtract events throughout the year depending on results and whether they need the extra points.  It is not uncommon to see a top 10 or even top 5 player ask for a wildcard entry into a smaller local Tour 250 Series event to try and make up points lost earlier in the season.  It’s a strategy! 

This also means top teams still need to register and compete in lower series events, usually more local events.  The mandatory requirement here is more towards a #growthesport mentality.  Local teams who may not be able to play a full schedule still would have the opportunity to compete with the best teams in the world.  The Tour 250 Series may see more junior teams or up and coming teams registered who could benefit from some competitive ice time against the best teams in the world rankings.  Can the top team from Saskatchewan or Manitoba compete in all the minor events going on in their province throughout the season?  Probably not because they are busy filling their schedule with the bigger events.  However, with an added requirement of needing to compete in these lower tier events, they maybe enter in 1 or 2 local events.  Imagine the marketing potential for these smaller events as well when you can list a top team like Gushue, Koe, Laycock or McEwen now registered to compete! 

Worth noting with this proposed #TwineTime system, a fair mix of international events would be evenly distributed within the category structure.  We need to also ensure we #growthesport around the world, not just within Canada and/or North America.  Europe, Asia and, now, USA are hosting bigger events throughout the season.  These events need to have equal importance towards the ranking system and the international events would be fairly categorized across the board as equal as possible.  I have not forgot about you my international curling friends!  Maybe we could even see more Canadian teams travel to international tournaments rather than always forcing international teams to travel to Canada to play big events and try to acquire the big rankings points.

#TwineTime also recognizes that some teams just won't be able to play with the mandatory fixed qualification schedule as noted above.  Due to work commitments, travel, finances, family...there are numerous factors in play for all teams during the season.  However, just because a team may not be able to play a grand slam qualification schedule does not mean all hope is lost for the season.  Perhaps the team decides to enter all Tour 500 Series and/or Tour 250 Series events.  They can still see their world rankings increase and, perhaps, even find a reward at the end of the season?  More on that below though....

Now, what about those grand slams?  Well, the grand slams would still be weighted with more points for teams who qualify.  I still agree with that mentality.  If you qualify for a grand slam, you should be rewarded as such.  The changing of the guard would be in how teams can qualify for a grand slam.  Ok, let’s keep a certain number allocated to the world rankings.  Let’s say the grand slam event allows for a 15-team format.  Great...the Top 7 teams in the world ranking earn automatic qualification.  Done!  Now for those next 8 spots.  Those spots would be earned by teams with the highest cumulative Tour 1000 series points totals.  Think of it as a similar system to tennis’ U.S. Open Series.  The U.S. Open Series takes all the summer hard court events and combines them into one series.  The player with the highest cumulative point total is declared the series winner, earns some extra prize money and, most importantly, can earn bonus money by winning the U.S. Open grand slam event.

The Tour 1000 Series would follow the same principle.  The cumulative results of teams competing in the series will be used for qualification to the grand slam events.  The 8 top point earners, outside of the automatic qualification teams, would then be invited to participate in the next grand slam event.  But maybe we want to allow for a sponsor's exemption?  Ok, I like that idea too, with the caveat the sponsor's exemption must go towards either a local team or a junior team.  If we allow the sponsor's exemption team, we go to now 7 open grand slam spots available.

Now I recognize one major flaw with this idea.  8 of the 9 Tour 1000 series events take place before the opening season grand slam.  How do we fix that problem?  Here is how:

The Masters Qualification – First 3 Tour 1000 series events accumulated points
The National Qualification – First 6 Tour 1000 series events accumulated points
The Canadian Open – All 9 Tour 1000 series events accumulated points
The Players Championship -  All 9 Tour 1000 series events + 3 Special Events (Tour Challenge Tier I, Tour Challenge Tier II, Elite 10) accumulated points

Now we have an on-going qualification system.  Teams who may struggle at the beginning of the season can ensure they enter the remaining Tour 1000 series events and, with strong results, can still qualify for one or more grand slam events.  Also, The Players Championship adds in the 3 Special Events, providing an ultimate build-up towards the end of the season while ensuring the 3 Special Events still hold added weight on the calendar and towards the rankings.

And those Special Events?  Well the Tour Challenge Tier I, Tour Challenge Tier II and Elite 10 would all see special event-only point structures assigned.  These would be less than the Tour 1000 Series but perhaps more than the Tour 500 Series.  The qualification for the Elite 10 would need to be changed though.  Since this event is more of a gimmick, marketing-friendly event, perhaps we take the top 5 Tour 1000 Series points leaders and top 5 Tour 500 Series points leaders at the end of Week 20?  Give all teams a fair shot to qualify for this event.

The point here being this adds intrigue, interest and innovation into the next tier of events below the grand slams.  The tour needs the events throughout the season to be successful for the sport to stay strong, relevant and professional.  The players need these events to earn enough points towards grand slam qualification.  The spiels themselves need the players, fan support and high impact performance factor to continue to succeed.  With this format, wouldn't all teams try to register for Tour 1000 Series events?  Oh no, what if they do but the entry level is capped at 32 teams?  You mean we might have to increase the amount of Tour 1000 Series events?  We might need to create Regional Tour 1000 Series events to cut down on travel costs for teams but by also keeping a level, open playing field for all teams?  Oh no....imagine the pandora's box we would be opening!

As for the Champions Cup?  Qualification wise, we keep it relatively the same.  Last season I went on record saying I love this event.  I love the idea behind it.  I love how it wraps up the tour season.  I am a HUGE fan of the entire concept.  This season it has recently been announced the qualification has changed slightly, reserving a spot for the defending champion.  I am not a fan of this change.  Why would a champion receive an automatic berth?  We only do this for the Scotties and Brier.  We don’t do this for any other event, nor should we!  So basically a team can win the Champions Cup this season, have a horrible following season and not win a single event but still be invited back to “defend” their title, earn some ranking points and collect a paycheque?  Or a team can lose a player, go through a team reboot in the off-season and still have this one event locked into their schedule?  Really?

I have a hard time understanding the rationale behind this change.  All this did was take away a spot from a team who would have won a tour event and deserved their spot.  In the new #TwineTime system, the auto spot for returning champion would be a burnt stone...an idea sent off to the side of the house and out of play.  The standard qualification of events works for specific tournaments earning auto berths here (i.e. Scotties, Brier, Europeans, Asia/Pacific, Word Juniors, Grand Slam winners etc).  It is those 3 or 4 other spots.  I would give one to each of the Tour Series Champions.  The team who accumulated the most points from Tour 1000 Series, Tour 500 Series and Tour 250 Series events throughout the season (of course assuming they did win at least 1 title!).  Imagine the excitement to have a team perhaps only able to compete in mostly Tour 250 Series events but win 4 or 5 of them.  They finish the season as the top Tour 250 Series point earners and qualify for the season-ending Champions Cup.  Wouldn’t that be a cool story?  It would provide the opportunity to compete on the grand slam stage for a team who wouldn’t have had the chance under the current system plus...who doesn’t love cheering for an underdog story?  This is what makes sport exciting!

Of course, as mentioned above, team lineups change during the season and in the off-season.  We cannot ignore this fact.  The current system in place makes sense to me.  Front end players can take a certain percentage of points earned with their old team over to the new team.  Back end players can do the same.  I don't have a problem with this.  Sometimes teams just don't work.  Each player should still be able to carry with them the positive rewards of playing with their old team during the season.  So let's keep this rule in play under the new #TwineTime system.

Let's keep that rule but also remember we are adding the reward factor into the points structure.  As in tennis, consistent results at specific tournaments and during the Tour Series events can keep a team near the top of the rankings.  Falter in a few events, show inconsistency in play or decide to play less events the following season and your rankings points will suffer.  Yes you keep your points from the previous season on a rolling basis....until those point totals from Week 6 come up again the following season during Week 6.  It's a double-edged competitive sword.  You win an event one year, congrats you are earning major ranking points and, more than likely, grand slam opportunities.  But don't get too cocky.  If you can't back it up year in and year out, don't expect to stay at the top.  How do the best tennis plays stay at the top...consistency!  Teams should be rewarded for outstanding play and results but they also should not earn cushion space for the next year or two because of their strong play over a few months.

You may have noticed I also swept away from the heated rock known as the "Backdoor".  Oh you don't know about the backdoor?  That newly created automatic qualification spot into the Scotties and Brier for the top ranked CTRS points leader, should they fail to win their own provincial/territorial championship.  Now you know what I mean by the "backdoor".  I won't get into my thoughts on this here...trust me though it is coming!  However, since this is the way of the future now, the new #TwineTime proposed ranking structure at least, I feel, creates more opportunities for more teams to claim that spot.  As mentioned above, a team can crush the Tour 500 Series and still end up with a high world ranking at the end of the season and, perhaps, even earn the auto spot in a national championship due to their CTRS ranking.  It's not out of the question.  Can we say the same about the current system?

There you have it curling fans.  A #TwineTime proposal on how to not only elevate the sport during the season but also remove the confusion towards the rankings system.  We don't need some crazy multiplication and division formulas that make sense to nobody just to tell us who the #14 ranked team in the world is do we?  This proposed system reduces point confusion, provides clarity towards event  point totals and ultimately adds a new level of excitement to the sport for ALL teams from the beginning of the season.  What's not to love here?

Agree?  Disagree?  Like some points but hate others?  Feel free to share your comments with me and other curling fans in the comment section below.  Or find me on twitter and engage me in a conversation.  Are there flaws in the #TwineTime system?  I am sure there are.  Are there flaws in the current system?  Heck yes!  Will there always be some flaws in any system with people finding reasons why they love or hate the system in place?  Oh hell yeah!  But change can also bring opportunity for all: governing bodies, sponsors, equipment manufacturers, players and...of course..fans!  Always remember #growthesport my friends...#growthesport!!

The #TwineTime 2016/17 Season Preview will be sliding down the hack into your house shortly as well....#StayTuned