Rule changes, in any sport, can be a slippery slope.
In disc golf, it can be much more magnified, considering there’s a smaller group of people who play the game under the enforcement of rules.
With rule changes, too, there is always looking at both sides of a situation.
Though I’ve only been a disc golfer for a few years, I’ve kept tabs on the PDGA rules. Mainly because I play in tournaments from time to time, but also because I like to see what is allowable and what isn’t.
Much like ball golf, disc golf is one without referees and is ruled by players. It’s up to us to keep things on the up-and-up. Whether it’s calling a foot fault at a tournament or just trying to help along other players to understand the rules, players are those who keep the game in check.
Kind of like ball golf in that it should be a gentleman’s game of sorts.
Something that seems to be a big topic in recent years is sandbagging. Basically, the idea of sandbagging is somebody purposely tanking a round for a bad score, thus hurting their PDGA rating. That, in turn, allows said player to play in a lower division should they wish, which in theory will give said player a better chance to win.
It’s unfortunate, but sandbagging is going to be something that happens in many sports, disc golf included.
Before, there was not much that could be done. The reality is, anybody — even top professionals — can shank a few shots or miss some putts, turning a decent round into an awful round. And who can say if it’s on purpose or just a bad day?
There’s a bigger issue, though – leaving a tournament before it ends. Some golfers will get frustrated and storm off. This basically results in a DNF for that player.
Now, though, things are changing.
According to a release from the PDGA, the board of directors asked the statistics committee to develop a procedure with the goal of improving Section 3.3 B (13) of the competition manual, which is “deliberately seeking to manipulate one’s player rating through intentional misplay or withdrawal.”
The reality is many — if not most — DNFs are legitimate. Lower or mid-level amateurs are not going to storm out of a tournament worrying about their rating. High amateurs or pros might be more apt to do it.
As for intentionally missing shots to hurt their rating? I would hope that’s extremely isolated.
But these types of situations are hard to report because it’s extremely hard to prove if somebody is doing something intentionally.
The PDGA release notes two other reasons these are not usually reported is because it’s not easy for players or tournament directors to report it, and because there’s no true penalty for the issue.
That’s now changed.
Starting with this season, there’s a new code — 888 — that TDs can enter as a player’s score if there is an issue. The release said TDs will enter this number “for the round score when players or the TD wish to report their consensus that a player clearly attempted to have their round dropped to protect their rating by either not completing a round or by padding their score with extra throws.”
Insert the slippery slope.
I’m all for penalizing sandbaggers. But this is opening a rather large can of worms.
The penalties are interesting.
If somebody gets an 888 on their scoring, they get a five-point ratings deduction. For the pros, the deduction will come in the first ratings after the event is officially reported. The deduction continues until the ratings are updated at least six months later.
For amateurs, the deduction can be up to five points, or to the extent it does not drop them into a lower division. The deduction goes for at least six months.
These penalties, specifically for amateurs, are where I have issue.
If somebody is tanking a round and purposely adding strokes to their score, wouldn’t that mean they are hoping their rating won’t go up? So how is it a penalty to give them a five-point deduction in their rating? Unless I fully don’t understand the game or ratings, I wouldn’t think somebody purposely trying to score worse could help them, could it?
Despite acknowledging these situations are often judgement calls, the PDGA is putting a lot of power in not only tournament directors, but players.
What if somebody is just having a bad round — or a bad day? His or her shots are looking pretty shaky, especially considering the division this person is playing in.
What if his or her playing group are ones who have never seen this player? At then end, the consensus is this player was tanking shots. They don’t know what’s going on with this person. They don’t know if this person should have actually been playing in a different division or if he or she had something bad recently happen.
It’s a judgment call, though.
So said person leaves the tournament after it ends. The others report the tanking, the TD agrees and reports an 888.
Is that fair?
I do hope there’s a way for players to appeal any decision so they get a fair shake with all of this.
Now, I do think this is a fantastic penalty for people leaving a tournament without informing a tournament director. It’s not fair to a TD for somebody to up and leave without giving notice.
This penalty also gives TDs the opportunity to decide if the reason for pulling out is legit or to protect a rating, if the person tells them they are leaving. Sometimes, things come up. People get hurt. People might not have the stamina because of heat or some other factor. There are a lot of legitimate excuses.
There are also ones that aren’t. And a TD should have the power to give that “888” in those situations, or if somebody leaves without saying anything directly to the TD. (I don’t think, if somebody is taking off, they should relay the info through another player.)
In the release, the PDGA noted the committee will be tracking DNFs, tanking and 888 codes to determine future actions.
The game of disc golf continues to grow and the PDGA is an obvious leader in the future of the sport. Rules like this are necessary, but it’s my hope the PDGA will be able to take a look at this as the season goes on and tweak it as needed to make sure it doesn’t hamper the development of the game.
P.J. Harmer is the founder and executive editor for Rattling Chains. E-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.