PDGA eases down slippery slope in hopes of squashing sandbagging

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.

harmer_sigThough 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?

images-1Then it can get even stickier.

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: pj@rattlingchains.com.

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4 thoughts on “PDGA eases down slippery slope in hopes of squashing sandbagging

  1. I too had read the new rules, and can see some sense in them, like the article points out, some of this is beyond my understanding. However, one observation about tanking the scores, it would take some effort to figure out how many strokes you would need to add to move your rating down, if that was your goal. 1. You would need to understand that any round rating “more than 2.5 standard deviations or more than 100 points below your average are dropped” (PDGA Tour Player Ratings Guide), therefore you couldn’t allow your score to be that low or it just wouldn’t count. 2. You would have to understand how all players are playing that day, at least the propogators, then curb your playing to them. 3. Even with all this, unless you are on the cusp of a division break, moving down will be difficult as all your previous rounds act as buffers, even if you could move down, then you would probably move right back up after 1-2 tourneys depending on how often you play. So, in the end, I’m not sure this new rule affects sandbagging that much. Where it does work wonderfully is in preventing people protecting their score from going down. If you do not finish, the round does not count. If you do really, really bad then the round will not affect your rating. So, in these cases, which is probably the majority of the cases this new rule will be implemented, it is to deter people protecting their score from going down. Lest you think this is abstract, I played in a tourney last Summer, first round wasn’t my best, but not terrible, but I had been getting over the flu (turns out, I wasn’t over it as the next round and next couple days would attest), and the second round was going from bad to worse. I had read about the rule quoted above, so I thought, I could just not finish, then my round wouldn’t count or I could just take a few more strokes and do so bad my score is dropped. However, realizing neither option jives with who I am, I played on, as best as I could that round. In the end, that round was not counted towards my rating. No one on my card would have said I was tanking, I was on the second card in my division in the second round, meaning I was 5th, and with a round similar to the first round I would have taken 3rd or 4th. But I do acknowledge that the issue of purposefully tanking a round score should be allowed to be brought up at time of the cards being dropped off and all people on the card need to be asked their thoughts, especially the person who committed the error. Not sure how that would be done, but thoughtful TDs should explain the rule and how it will be implemented during the players’ meeting.


  2. I think this new rule is aimed more at the high-level Open Pro who is trying to protect his 1000+ rating. Rating is one of the criteria used by sponsors to select players for their team. There are also some sponsors who pay bonuses for being in the top 5 or top 10 of the ratings list. [enter math-geek mode…] Most top players are very consistent in their scoring, so their ratings have a very small standard deviation. Round ratings that are more than 2 standard deviations below their average rating will be dropped from their ratings calculation. The more consistent a player is, the less they have to go below their average rating for a round to be dropped. […exit math geek mode]


  3. PJ- to clear one thing up for you. As things stand currently, a DNF does not get computed into a players rating. So a pro player trying to keep his/her rating as high as possible (the magic 1000 level, for instance, carries benefits as well as cache) may be tempted to DNF if a round is going horribly to avoid a big hit to the rating. It actually happens fairly often. They figure their chances of winning or cashing in that event are over anyway, so why not just quit and at least spare the hit to their rating. Unseemly, I know, but it happens.


  4. You would think that there would be a better way to handle the situation. And I admit that I do not know what.

    Something like…
    1. A player cannot drop to a lower division in a given year (i.e. drop from pro to am 1 in any given year).
    2. If you finish a tournament in the top 10 (or 10%) within a division, and your score is above 50% of the next division up, you are moved up to the next higher division for any subsequent tournaments.
    3. You may play in a division lower than your official division, but you forgo any prize support (other than the general player package) for that tournament. Perhaps, your score from such a tournament is also not applied to your ranking.
    4. DNF (unless the TO provides an exception for unusual circumstances such as injury, family emergency, etc.) will result in a score equal to the last player in your official division for that round.

    This would result in sandbaggers having to shave enough points off of their scores to fall below the major cash/prize support levels in a division, and would NOT result in dropping to a lower division (to increase the chances to “cash out” in a lower division).

    The downsides would be:
    1. TO’s would have a harder time confirming the “official division” level of players that do not pre-register.
    2. Players may purposefully register at a lower division hoping that their play will move them up to a higher division (to avoid the extra $25 membership fee). Perhaps, such players would need to pay the difference before they could receive prize support in their upgraded division?

    Again, it seems that there should be some way to avoid players having to cast dispersions on other players and TO’s having to make value judgements on a player’s reputation.


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