Saturday, April 25, 2015

Burning out on the PBR?

Well, dear readers, if indeed any of you are left, it is perhaps obvious from the lack of posts that enthusiasm for the PBR is waning here at Turn Him Out. An ominous feeling started with all the announcements about the new point system at the end of last year, and has continued to grow with the feeble attempts by TPTB to defend their new system as "simpler" and "easier for PBR fans to follow," besides somehow promising to reward "bull riders who perform at the highest level both within individual events and throughout the season."

First of all, it is completely ludicrous to say that the new system is easier to understand. In fact, it was the old system that was simple to understand-- the points a guy got for a ride were his points. Yes, there were bonus points awarded for placing highly in rounds and for winning, but a guy who rode something at least got some points, and whoever had the most points at the end of an event/season won. Straightforward. The new point system, with its "appropriate" number of points for placing highly in a round is anything but straightforward, and it's insulting for the PBR to assume that everyone is buying it.

In fact, the new system means that guys who place under 5th in a round, and/or 15th in the aggregate, can leave the weekend with basically nothing (or actually nothing), and this could keep piling on for the season. Let me show you an example.

Rider 1
Ride PointsRound PlaceOld SystemNew System
Long Round 181.758th81.750
Long Round 283.256th83.250
Champ. Round013th010
Rider 1 Totals16510
Old SystemNew System
Rider 2
Ride PointsRound PlaceOld SystemNew System
Long Round 188.5188.5100
Long Round 20N/A00
Champ. RoundDNQN/A00
Rider 2 Totals88.5100
Old SystemNew System

In my example, under the new system, Rider 1 scored below the 5th place cut-off for points in both long rounds, so got zero "world points" for two long round rides. He bucked off in the championship round. The total of his two previous rides placed him 13th in the average for the event, which ended up with him leaving the weekend with a whopping 10 points. Meanwhile, Rider 2 got the highest score in the first round, which gave him 100 points. He bucked off in the second long round and did not qualify for the championship round, but of course, still had his 100 points from his one ride.

So, as you can see, under the new system, a guy could ride two bulls and end the weekend with 10 points, while another guy could ride one bull and earn 100 points. (And this is after the PBR changed it-- the initial announcement had only the top 10 in the aggregate getting any points, with #10 getting 5 points, so conceivably, a guy could make the championship round and leave with no points, which was completely absurd; now at least they get a pitiable 10 points for effort, I guess.)

I honestly don't remember the exact bonus points per round by placement in the old system, and I can't find any documentation on the old system, but they did say in one of the articles about the scoring changes:
In the old system, there was only a 10-point discrepancy between finishing first or second in a BFTS round. Now, that difference improves to 40 points. In terms of winning the aggregate in 2015, there will be a 160-point difference between first and second compared to the 30-point (two-day event) and 40-point (three-day event) difference there was for placing the highest in the event average in 2014.
Of course, this doesn't really clarify that the old bonus points were in addition to ride points, rather than the ONLY points.   Even assuming Rider 2 got some amount of bonus points for his long round one placement under the old system, he's making out beautifully under the new system.  Meanwhile, Rider 1 had 155 points of effort disappear under the new system, and he's 90 points behind a guy that he surely would have been ahead of under the old system!

The only way this point system would make any sense is if every bull in every long round had the potential to give a rider the highest score in the round. This is, obviously, impossible. A cowboy can only ride the bulls he is given in the long rounds-- no matter how he flashes it up, some bulls will have borderline re-ride outs, and under this system, that is a severe disadvantage. This system might make sense with the draft, in that it would encourage guys to choose the rankest bull they think they can ride, but when they just get a bull in the draw, well, we're seeing how that goes. The old system allowed fairly easy recovery from a weekend where a guy performed badly or his bulls performed badly; not so much under this one. The new system as it has played out firstly rewards consistent, high-scoring riders, followed by inconsistent, high-scoring riders, with consistent, lower scoring riders trailing ridiculously far behind (with inconsistent, low-scoring riders where they would be under any system).

Now, who would benefit from (and who would be disadvantaged by) a point system that rewards streaky guys who pull off big rides on occasion over guys who consistently ride in a less flashy way? Hmmmm....

I'm not a huge conspiracy theorist, but the fact that the PBR decided that the way some riders were winning was inappropriate and so therefore they were going to redo the entire point system was not as clever and sneaky as they thought. I mean, they pretty much spelled out what they were doing. (from here):
PBR worked with statisticians to analyze the performance of bull riders over the past 10 years and the relationship between event wins, Top 3 event finishes, Top 3 15/15 Bucking Battle finishes, Top 5 event finishes and Top 10 event finishes, among numerous other factors, to ensure that the riders who perform the best are awarded the appropriate level of points. It was determined that under PBR’s old system, first adopted in 2004, riders who placed first, second and third in rounds and events were not being awarded an appropriate number of points in relation to those who finished fourth and below.
So, from this I infer that the PBR looked at what had happened, and what they wished had happened, and changed the system to hopefully get the results they want in the future, which also has the added bonus of forcing the guys to ride the way the PBR wants.  To wit:
“It’s always been about scoring as high as you can on every bull,” Lambert said. “That is the essence of the sport. To get the highest score you can on every bull. The whole foundation of the sport is the guy getting on the toughest bulls and trying to ride him and that was always the best strategy until now. We want it to go back to the best strategy being guys trying to win every time they try to get on a bull. Not just play it safe and get a score.”
Lambert continued:
“Silvano is good enough to win more World Championships, but he is not going to be able to do it by lying back anymore,” Lambert said. “He is going to have to attempt to ride the better bulls, which he is very capable of doing.”
So, there you have it, the goal of the new point system, surprisingly laid right out for all to see.  The PBR runs the show and can do what they want, but that's not leaving me feeling so great about it, that's for sure.

Since rolling out the new system, the PBR has continued to attempt to explain just why this system is so great without explicitly calling out Silvano Alves (although there didn't seem to be a lot of outright fan backlash about the points, probably because no one really understood them, until Kaique Pacheco, a Brazilian, won an event over Stetson Lawrence, an American, based on "world points" from round placement-- make of that what you will). Unfortunately, their attempts to justify the system have been feeble, probably because there is no real way to justify it. Justin McBride posited entirely ridiculous scenarios on the PBR Facebook (this is the second one, on February 20th):
Rider A rides Asteroid and wins Round 1 with 90. He gets bucked off Mick E Mouse in Round 2. He picks Bushwacker in the championship round, rides him for 94 points and wins the round but finishes 2nd in the average with 184 points.
Rider B rides a bull in Round 1 for 80, rides a bull in Round 2 for 58 but declines the option for a re-ride. He is #1 in the championship round draft and picks one of the easier bulls and rides him for 86, does not place in the round but finishes 1st in the aggregate with 224.
Who is the better bull rider under that scenario?
For example: Should Rider B automatically win or should there be an opportunity for another rider who went 2-for-3, selected the rankest bull in the championship round and rode him for 90+ points to have some way to beat him?
-Justin McBride
I mean, really. It would be too exhausting to pick apart everything wrong with this supposed discussion point/justification, but get back to me when a guy draws Asteroid and Mick E Mouse in the long rounds at a regular event. All this unrealistic hypothetical really proves is that getting high-performing bulls in the long round is the key to success, although I think the PBR thought we'd all be cheering, "J.B. Mauney the Dragonslayer rules! Silvano Alves, who never takes re-rides, drools!"

Unfortunately, besides the obvious attempt to get the results they want, in their quest to change outcomes, there have been, unsurprisingly, unintended consequences. One of the guys severely hampered by this new system has been Tanner Byrne, who rode a whole lot of bulls to earn very few points under the new system for a whole run of events. I don't like to name names when it goes the other way, since the cowboys don't make the rules, however, there are some who rode well and then dismally, and are hanging around in the top of the standings because of the disproportionate amount of points round wins awarded and the difficulty this poses for other riders to catch up. (As in, one guy who qualifies for the championship round getting 500 points in a weekend and another guy who does the same getting 10 can really throw things off-- it's a lot harder to come from 490 points back rather than 70-100 points back; have a few weekends like this and it's not looking good.)

I am well aware that with any system, guys who are smart and who consistently ride well will rise to the top... eventually, if there's enough time. I don't think the PBR can change that, no matter how hard they try. But it is disheartening to see the constant undercutting of some riders and the constant attempts to prop up others. I keep saying it and I'm getting tired of saying it: this isn't the WWF. There's no need to create or curate storylines. The sport is dynamic and interesting without interference, and all this ridiculous meddling and sad attempts to spin it are just making me burn out on caring about any of it. I don't like being frustrated and angry when I watch what used to be a sport I very much enjoyed, but sadly, that is the state of affairs, and part of the reason why there has been so little activity here. The new point system is only the most obvious symptom of the underlying problem.


Jean said...

I'm still here Pearl :) I like to check in and see what the news is on the riders and bulls. I was worried that there hadn't been any updates in so long so I contacted SQ. I sure do miss all of you.

This is indeed a sad state for the PBR. I'm almost glad I can't afford to watch it anymore. It wasn't the same watching without William, but I think even if he were still alive he'd be so sickened by this that we'd be finding something else to do or watch on weekends.

It was always a thin line with us anyway. We were getting pretty tired of being insulted (do the riders and others really think all their fans are Republicans and Tea Party members?), but we brushed them off. It was insulting to see points shaved that shouldn't have been, points added that shouldn't have been and to think those of us religiously watching for years wouldn't notice. Heck, they don't even come to Phoenix anymore (in spite of the packed stadium attendances). I think the new point system would have been the final insult.

There are some involved in the PBR that I wish the greatest luck to, others, not so much lol.

I hope you and SQ won't stop writing and updating the site when you can muster the will and/or interest to do so. It's always a good read and it's nice to be in the company of old friends.


Pearl de Vere said...

Good to hear from you, Jean! Hope we see you around, even if we don't retrieve our enthusiasm for the PBR.

I know I'm more than ready for the break, maybe not as much as the banged-up cowboys, but I need some mental distance from the sport!

The Last Cowboy Standing was insufferable-- the in-arena commentators were rhapsodizing about how if JB Mauney won a few rounds and the event, he would take over the lead in the standings. On the TV broadcast, they did an interview with him to give us a "rare glimpse" into his life (what is there even left for us to discover at this point?). So over-the-top, and then he bucked off and they had to pretend to care about Stetson Lawrence, because JRV increasing his lead was not part of their desired storyline. Too bad JRV isn't interested in their script.

I don't like rooting against a cowboy, but man, the PBR is testing me here.

It's just so... depressingly expected from the PBR.

Anonymous said...

Numbers make my head swim, so I delegated the math to my guest bloggers, Rosinette and LicoriceWhip. Rosinette did the math for my Mar. 29th post, and LicoriceWhip did his thing on May 22. We all saw the same thing: the new points system is aimed at undercutting Alves, and the guys in the middle of the pack are getting screwed, Tanner Byrne being one example. The more people who yell, "The Emperor has no clothes!", the better.

Pearl de Vere said...

Now that the point system has achieved the goal of crowning Mauney again, I'm sure the PBR is delighted with it and we won't be seeing any changes. Hopefully more people are seeing what is happening, although I think the complicated and confusing nature of the new system is obscuring the issue for many fans.