The USTRC Creates TRIAD

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It is impossible to satisfy all the team ropers all the time. And with over 122,000 profiles in their database and 35,000 active members, it is especially hard for the United States Team Roping Championships (USTRC) to satisfy even some of the people some of the time. Often, team ropers perceived that squeaky wheels got the grease, politics played too significant a role and the pressures to show a profit polluted a well-intentioned idea. Regardless, about two years ago, the USTRC set out to fix compression and create a new standard by which ropers were ranked. The process was not without dissention, arguments and bumps along the way, but in the end, they created the TRIAD system in 2005. It is here to stay and ropers have to adjust.

Problems With The Old
Before the recent Team Roping Information And Data (TRIAD) system was put in place, most ropers would agree that the USTRC's original number classification system was flawed and outdated. Proof of that is in the numbers: in 2003, 80 percent of USTRC members were either Nos. 2, 3 or 4. As a result, No. 3 ropers (about 40 percent of the membership) were winning almost 60 percent of the prize money. This became known as compression and clearly, the USTRC wanted to fix it to create a more equal distribution of money, equality in competition and not to penalize improvement. In essence, people of the same caliber should rope against each other. The USTRC has been aware of this problem for years. Prior to the ownership change, solutions were being brainstormed. However, due to the timing of the sale and the incredible cost involved of implementing a new system, the plans were never put into motion.

When formulating a plan to contend with the problem, two major obstacles were realized. First, the original system was too subjective and second, the data necessary to make classifications more objective was not readily or easily available.

I Feel Like a Number: Descriptions of Each Classification

"I think that a lot of people are afraid of a two-number jump.
But if you look at the criteria for, say a No. 3 on the TRIAD, you'll
see that it's not much different from a No. 1 on the old system.
Don't look at the number, look at the criteria first." -Kirk Bray

A No. 1 Is…
…A true beginner, still learning to ride and swing a rope.
Learning takes priority over competing.

A No. 2 Is…
…Uncomfortable roping from a horse and has difficulty controlling both the rope and the horse, yet is motivated to compete.

A No. 3 Is…
…Competing more and more and catch percentages have increased, but due to limited horsemanship skills is very inconsistent.

A No. 4 Is…
…A person with solid horsemanship and rope handling skills on slow or average steers, but struggles on fast steers.

A No. 5 Is…
… A header who is catching more than missing, but rides the
barrier conservatively. Heelers can sense being in time with the steer, but struggle catching many steers in succession.

A No. 6 Is…
…A header who is better at riding the barrier and skilled at handling steers. Heelers know when they are in time with the steer and can make adjustments. May track a steer for several jumps. This roper will seldom miss a steer, but often catch a leg.

A No. 7 Is…
…A header that is dictating the speed of the run, catching in the upper 1/3 of the arena. A heeler is a solid catcher with intermittent ability to speed up the run who sets the run up using a wide angle relative to the steer and rides aggressively through the corner.

A No. 8 Is…
…A header who is riding all barriers well and roping steers on the gain. Heelers are catching two feet consistently on the third or fourth jump and dallying on a shorter rope.

A No. 9 Is…
…An NFR-quality header. Heelers are professional who rope most steers by two feet on the second or third jump.

A No. 10 Is…
…An NFR-quality heeler.

*These descriptions are extrapolated from the USTRC's original,
longer text. For a full description, visit www.ustrc.com.

What the USTRC Did
Since 2002, the USTRC had been discussing solutions to the compression problem. Before the National Team Roping Finals in October of 2004, the USTRC announced the new TRIAD system, which would adjust most members up two numbers and create an overall four-number increase in all divisions. (If you were a No. 4, you become a No. 6. If you normally rope in the No. 8 division with a No. 4 partner, under TRIAD you would rope in a No. 12. Most likely your partner would become a No. 6 as well.) The scale of ranking has also increased by one number, that is, headers will now be numbered from 1 to 9 and heelers from 1 to 10.

The other primary innovation of the TRIAD system is the fact that it is data-driven. Data from team ropings across the country are compiled into "Roper Performance Profiles." These profiles take into account money won versus money spent, partners, times, consistency and geography.

"That data doesn't only come from our sanctioned events, it comes from other non-sanctioned events, rodeos and other team ropings," said Kirk Bray, President of the USTRC. "Just because it's not a USTRC-sanctioned or affiliated event, doesn't mean that data isn't useful. We just like to get all the data we can get."

And, Bray points out, they receive data to go into their RPPs from all the 90 USTRC sanctioned events and all of the 350 affiliated events.

"The RPP formula is very complex," said Bray. "Basically the TRIAD System and the RPP analyze all the characteristics of a roper. It looks at times entered, times placed, money won, short rounds made-a true measure of consistency-as well as the speed of the run. Every division has a speed index, so if you're consistently faster than that standard, then maybe you're classified incorrectly. We look at who you rope with and the online votes are counted in that formula. Finally, we have quality control. We send representatives around to many of the ropings and their role is to watch every roper on every run and classify them on every run. Subjectivity is still factored in, but it doesn't count near as much toward a roper's classification as it used to. We're looking at a lot of objective data now."

The online balloting from other ropers is a way for some subjectivity to be considered. In order to be eligible to use online balloting, a roper must be a current member of the USTRC in good standing. Secondly, ropers must be over the age of 18 and classified as a No. 4 or higher. Ropers will have the opportunity to rate their fellow competitors only from within their own area. For more information on how to vote, log onto www.ustrc.com.

This system was unveiled and the USTRC asked their members and producers to look up their new numbers online. Initially, a good deal of those ropers' numbers were only raised by one, which was essentially lowering their numbers under the parameters of the new system. After considerable feedback from ropers and producers, USTRC tweaked the initial change to where only about 10 percent of members in the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 classification levels were adjusted by only one point (lowered) rather than the original 40 percent. When the USTRC used voting committees, the average change every voting period was .02 percent.

"One percent of the 2s, 3s and 4s got moved three numbers and 10 percent got moved one number and 89 percent received a two number change, or lateral movement, with TRIAD," said Bray. "We had to start somewhere with those numbers. To find the breaks, we found groups that fit together. From here, we'll let the TRIAD system take effect; we're using the Roper Performance Profile data for adjustments from here on out. But just to start it, those were the approximate percentages.

"The 2s, 3s and 4s is where the compression existed. With the 2 and 3 headers and heelers and the 4 headers we split those over three different numbers. For example, the top end of four headers moved to a 7, the middle end moved to a 6 and the bottom end, those who are really struggling, moved to a 5, which was like getting their number lowered. The No. 2s, 3s and 4s were spread over from a No. 3 TRIAD to a No. 7 TRIAD. Once we got beyond the 4 headers and 3 heelers, there wasn't as much compression, so all of those ropers received a two-number, or lateral move, with the top-end ropers going up three. We loosened up the bottom end of the scale, which had the most ropers and needed it, and the upper end of the scale none of those ropers were moved down, so we didn't compress it anymore, we just stretched out the bottom end.

"Part of the reason for doing the TRIAD system is to open up the bottom end for the true beginner. The No. 1 and 2 classifications aren't going to be used that much anymore except for the true beginner. People just learning to ride and rope, that's a No. 1. A No. 2 on the TRIAD system is starting to want to compete, but still very uncomfortable roping from a horse. While there's a lot of ropers out there that fit those two descriptions, the problem with the past classification system was that it lumped all those ropers in with ropers who were competing steadily.

"The true No. 1 isn't ready to compete anyway. For the No. 2s who are ready to compete, we have a No. 8 pick/draw that is our lowest level roping for beginner novice ropers. It's an 8, but we take two seconds off for a No. 7 team and three seconds off for a No. 6 team." Beginner ropers can, of course, also rope at other non-sanctioned or affiliated events.

Happy with the changes, the USTRC made them official and effective beginning January 3rd.

What It Has Done So Far
In the immediate short term, the changes created some confusion. When ropers initially thought they were being lowered, then found out they weren't, many felt jerked around. Not only that, many ropers wondered what had happened to their contemporaries. Did they stay lowered? Also, many ropers' numbers were raised and as a result that transformed into an attitude of "wait-and-see" on the part of many ropers.

"The reason we announced the numbers in October," Bray said. "Was to get feedback from the ropers and producers."

The feedback they received confirmed what Bray says they already knew, that not many ropers needed their numbers lowered.

"We didn't look to create confusion," said Bray. Instead, he says, they made the changes in response to suggestions that more people need their number lowered. Once those people saw that lowering that many numbers created more compression, they bought in to TRIAD more readily.

So that period of initial adjusting might be the worst repercussion of the change. Someone who doesn't rope that often anyway might be less likely to go if he was originally a No. 2, was adjusted to a 3 initially, then to a 4. Now the challenge for the USTRC is to make ropers feel assured that moving up and down the scale isn't as disruptive under TRIAD as it was under the old system-if indeed that's true. The danger comes in moving too many people who don't understand that.

On the other hand, entries in many of the 5, 6 and 7 divisions had flat-lined (something that shouldn't occur if the sport is growing), so some theorize that this number shift will bring some of those types of ropers back (under TRIAD that would be the 9, 10 and 11 divisions) who feel they can compete in those divisions more fairly now. The other consequence of opening up the No. 1 and 2 classification levels is that beginners have an easier transition to competition. Each of those changes should help the growth of the sport.

"There was too big of a difference between the top, middle and bottom in the No. 2," said Dale Atkinson of Kiowa, Colo., who was a No. 6 and was adjusted to a No. 8. "Being spread out, it should bring some of the lower guys back."

According to Bray, that is already happening and membership numbers look healthy. At the first event under the TRIAD system at the Bayou Championships in Kinder, La., ropers adjusted well, understood the new rules and the USTRC even signed up 510 members. Plus, producers are getting on board with the new numbering classification.

The Kinder event, as well as the Heart of Texas Championships in Waco, are getting rave reviews from the USTRC as well as bolstering the hopes of producers across the country. Entries for those ropings were up or even from last year and many producers are counting on the same for their event.

"It's going to take a while to get it sorted out," said Atkinson. "I think it's a great deal."

The second major change that ropers will have to deal with seems simple, but with the USTRC redefining the numbering system, they are forcing ropers to rethink what a No. 3 is (See sidebar on page 56.) For years, people had an idea about what a roper in each division looked like. Perhaps this is also a short-term problem, but it does require the roping industry to redefine ability levels. This also applies to other associations and backyard ropings that used the USTRC classifying system to designate where a roper should compete.

Finally, since the USTRC backtracked from lowering 40 percent to only 10 percent of ropers down, the new system became a number shift and not decompression. According to the USTRC's literature, "It's important to realize at this point that this is merely an adjustment on the scale to be applied to all ropers. In other words, it is simply a shift up the scale."

There was approximately 87.4 percent of the membership within the 1, 2 and 3 divisions under the old system. Now, there are 80.1 percent in the 3, 4 and 5 divisions under TRIAD.

"The TRIAD system is not meant to reinvent the wheel," said Bray. "The old system we had did a good job for many years. It just got to the point where it was overloaded. It was difficult to move ropers up and down the scale because it was relying on too much subjective data. When a roper got moved from a No. 2 to a 3, it was a monumental move and they felt like they couldn't compete there because there was a real top end to those threes. To start off with, we were able to shift the top ropers out, make a lateral move on the middle ropers and give the ones at the bottom a break. That right there initially decompresses the system. As time goes by and more data is obtained, we'll be able to constantly tweak and shift those ropers up and down the scale more easily. If you get moved from a No. 3 to a 4 on the TRIAD system, that's not near as big a move as it would have been on the old system."

Critics, on the other hand, will say that moving only 7 percent is not much of a decompression. Another concern is the fact that if there is constant tweaking and movement, partnering won't be as easy, and ropers won't always be able to rope with who they're accustomed to.

Ultimately, Bray asserts, the new data collection and RPPs will prevent any further compression and get as close as possible to a fix. However, ropers are still asking questions about the RPP system.

Are the online ballots too subjective? How accurate is all of the data? Are the formulas used properly weighted for the difficulty of the roping?

"There needs to be a handful of guys keeping an eye on the ropings," said Atkinson. "It's not fair to be bumped based on some of the small ropings because the competition isn't as tough, but if a guy gets dominant, they better be looking at him."

TRIAD's Legacy
Regardless of its disputed effect on compression, the RPP data-gathering system and formula is one very positive legacy the new TRIAD system has a chance to leave. If the RPP data is complete enough, which Bray insists that it is, then there is a better chance of accurately judging a roper's ability.

Ropers can only hope that the correct amount of subjectivity and objectivity have been mixed into this formula to create a balanced system.

In college football, the Bowl Championship Series was created to take subjectivity out of determining post-season match-ups and the eventual national champion. It is the nearest thing in sports to what the RPPs under the TRIAD system are doing. A complex formula, now with some subjective input, is run through a computer to determine rankings.

So, ropers who want to see into the future and know what the TRIAD System will do to their sport should consider looking at the BCS and the results of its implementation. Basically, football observers will tell you, there's no perfect system and with the BCS there is always the chance that someone has a right to complain. However, it's a cleaner, more efficient system that nearly everyone bought into when it began.

Will that be TRIAD's legacy? To some degree, probably, even Bray agrees that no system will please everyone. However, he feels that the system they have spent countless hours and tens of thousands of dollars (some reports had the figure near $100,000) to put into place is what's right for the sport.

"Ropers know how they rope and they know how they should be classified," said Bray. "For the most part throughout the years they have done a good job policing themselves, but there's so many ropers roping today and the sport has reached such a level that we need a way to tweak it. Keep in mind that some ropers will never be satisfied with their classification. There are a percentage of ropers that feel like they need an advantage and if they don't have it, they're not going. The objective of the classification system is to give people a chance to compete, it's not supposed to make you win."