The Dilemma of Sandbagging in Pool Leagues
The best thing to happen to the sport of pocket billiards is the introduction of pool leagues. We all have seen leagues in other sports. Now it was our turn and in came BCA and a hand full of other pool leagues. The intention was to give the players a place and format to compete in outside of gambling. We had a professional tour for both men and women. The women’s side of the pro tour takes their members from regional tournaments around the country. Many of those competing in these regional tours came from pool leagues. The men’s pro tour is defunct as of 1997. It is much more of a grey area how men go professional in the absence of pro organization. Many of them tend to come from pool leagues and entering in open tournaments like the US Open or Derby City. However, unlike the women’s pro tour they do not have a selection board for admission. The problem that seems to have come up is sandbagging.Thus, the dilemma of sandbagging in pool leagues. It came into existence in the APA at some point in the 1990s. Players wanting the paid for trip to Las Vegas hid their true skill level. They did this to make it easier for themselves to get to Vegas and possible win. Let us go over a few league formats first to familiarize yourself with the landscape.
The American Pool Players Association or simply APA. The APA has a handicap system that suggests that any player can compete with any other player regardless of skill levels. The algorithm seems to follow how many innings you take in a game you win. A defense shot takes away an inning, and a time out adds an inning. Every time the second player, the one who did not break, sits down that is an inning. You average the innings out over say ten games to see where you place in their skill level format. The game of 8 Ball has skill levels from one to seven. One being the lower level and seven being the highest. Later 9 Ball was added and skill levels from one to nine. Same principle applies as far as who is high skill and who is lower. The handicap system works well in my opinion. A lower skill level player can win a match against a higher-level skill player. The problem that does come up is the inability to truly analyze a player’s skill at the pool table. This has led to a major issue of sandbagging to the point many members have left the APA upset. There are many forms on the internet dedicated to this harsh reality. While the APA is the largest pool league with 250,000 members, they could be four times that size in my opinion if they dealt with the sandbagging issue. This would mean a major rewrite of their skill level handicap system, so I do not see that happening this century.
The Billiards Congress of America or BCA has a pool league format but a different skill level rating matrix. The Fargo Rating is their latest effort at determining skill levels. It seems to focus on who you beat and by how much to determine your skill level. Most BCA leagues do not use the handicap format, so you tend to have less sandbagging in BCA. The league is smaller in membership, but BCA is highly respected among high end players. The problem with this system is of skill level detection is only looking at wins. It is not looking at anything happening on the pool table during the match. What types of shots can the player do? How often do they do it right out of total attempts? Thus, there is a way to hide a person’s skill in BCA too. What is the advantage? Well there are some handicap formatted divisions in their league. Also, there are tournaments that are conducted by Fargo Rating. Example, a tournament can be rated 500 Fargo Rating and below only. BCA has taken the time to try a few different skill level detection systems before resting on the Fargo Rating. I think the main problem is not many operating pool leagues and tournaments know how to accurately rate a player in an organized system. Thus, giving way to major sandbagging.
TAP pool league is another one out there. It is not very big, but they do a better job in my opinion at detecting skill of players. They will look at some shot types and try to analyze them. They do a decent job at this. However, operationally they have had many other issues that prevents their growth. The website looks as if it was made in 2003. It is very outdated and the address for the league is the creators home address. They are at least using an app to run scoring matches. However, it really does look kind of cheaply made. The stats are nice, but the score buttons are kind of funky. If I am new to TAP my question is what is a MoB, LoT, or DB? There should be a legend to explain this stuff. However, outside of all that I would say they did a decent job here. I like it better than BCA or APA as far as operations. They definitely go into better detail than BCA or APA in what happens on the able to determine the skill of a player. My suggestion is spending some time and money to devise a better mobile app.
ACI Pool League seems to have the best answer so far in skill level detection. Their scoring system is asking for a score keeper to use a mobile app to annotate each shot. If the player makes a straight in shot the score keeper marks this. If the player makes a bank shot, defense, or say a jump shot the score keeper hits the appropriate button. The buttons to annotate each shot are much easier to understand. There is a legend for shot types if someone is unsure. There is an edit button that undoes the last shot. There is another edit feature before submitting the match for record. That is two chances at correcting any errors. Visually the ACI app is much more pleasing, easier to navigate, and does more operationally for the league. Why should a league operator be chasing down envelopes of cash? We are in the 2020s, right? Anyway, the app stores the information put in, and outputs the skill level in real time after the match is over. Everything about their league is ran off the app to include paying weekly dues, accepting winnings, what place is my team in, and following your progress in baseball type stats in an app dashboard. I think this pool league while in its infancy size wise it has the best chance at limiting if not eliminating sandbagging. Not to mention it sure makes daily operations as a league operator much easier. Players do not have to wait a week or to see what place their team is in. Everything is in real time in this app. Well done ACI!
I wrote this in the efforts to talk about the elephant in the room which is sandbagging. Earl Strickland and some other notable pool players cite the APA as ruining the sport. Their system rewards bad behavior in sandbagging while the effort should be to get better as a player. I am not saying I agree or disagree with their take on things. I will say sandbagging is a major problem, and it needs to be dealt with for the sport to grow. Unhappy players will not continue to compete and thus watch our numbers go down instead of up. The more people that play pool on a regular basis and compete in leagues and tournaments the better off our sport will be. This will make way for businesses like Alamo Billiards to expand and hire more staff. It will make the prize money larger in our pool related events, and that could inspire more players to do this full time as a career choice. More people might aspire to become master cuemakers like Jacoby Cues. Sponsors would come back with their money and others would join like Budwiser, Ford, and other major corporations.