Saturday, 20 April 2019

Development Tour eligibility

There's been a bit of a discussion on Twitter earlier re: the situation where Jeffrey de Zwaan, major semi finalist and Pro Tour winner, should really be allowed to play on the Development Tour. This is seemingly based on a series of games where de Zwaan has had four good legs and been able to put up a 100 average. Oddly, nobody's making the same argument about Corey Cadby playing, possibly because he had a bad match.

Now leaving aside that looking at averages to make a point like this is hilarious, it's something worth discussing. Right now, anyone who's under 24 at the start of the year who isn't in the top 32 of the PDC is eligible to play. This is a pretty easy thing to understand, but the underlying question is what is the Development Tour supposed to be doing?

For me, the clue is in the name - to help develop players. There's two approaches you can take here - either you're always developing, or at some point you're considered developed as a darts player. I'm leaning towards the former, and that there shouldn't be any restrictions. If you're young enough, you're still developing your game, if you're that high up in the main Order of Merit then if you want to play, you can do so, but you're probably going to be picking and choosing events to some extent (i.e. you're going to be making the European Tour with some regularity and wouldn't actually be able to play this weekend in the first place, or going to be having exhibition value etc) and probably won't be bothering, at least not every week.

Right now the restriction is kind of pointless. I don't think there's anyone that's ineligible based on their world ranking (I don't think Hopp quite got into the top 32?). Last year, there certainly wasn't. The previous year, it was just Benito (who was certainly too good then, but right now, maybe not so much), and the year before that, it was just Benito as well (at least according to Wikipedia). So why bother? Looking at the current tentative seedings for Ally Pally, it'd only be Hopp and de Zwaan in the picture to be ineligible next year (JdZ just being young enough by 3 months - whether allowing anyone all the way up to 23 to play is another question, and whether limiting to over 16's is another, but I guess with that side it could be safeguarding issues).

So if you're not going to say that anyone can play, then I think you need to expand who's ineligible to play. I've seen someone suggesting any tour card holders shouldn't be able to play, which seems ridiculous. There have got to be plenty of players who have only entered Q-School to be eligible to play in the Challenge Tour, or in the case of European players, to be eligible to play the (now associate) qualifiers for the European Tour. This is certainly something that, say, George Killington was doing prior to winning his tour card out of nowhere - now he's quite clearly still developing, looking at his Pro Tour record. Effectively banning him for two years from the Development Tour would certainly be a huge hit on his development - if they allocated cards in such a way where it was actually the best players making it (i.e. turn it into a Swiss event as I've suggested previously), then maybe, but you can win one by having a combination of a good draw, your opponents underperforming, and hitting your very best form for an extremely short period of time. Looking at those who have won cards in 2019, you can argue that everyone that won their cards outright on the European side (Labanauskas excepted obv) is in something of a similar situation. I can't imagine that any of Zonneveld, Bunse or van Duivenbode would have expected to win their card, and given how they have all started, they're clearly not looking like they're ready for the senior level. Maybe chuck Harry Ward into that equation as well.

I think that if you're not going to remove all restrictions, then you should extend things to those who were in the top 64 at the end of the previous season. This has the effect of removing players that have not only won their tour cards, but have done enough over a two (or, in the case of de Zwaan, one) year period to retain it. If you've done that, then you're doing enough on a consistent basis to show that you can cut it at the highest level of darts. Right now, this'd eliminate Hopp, de Zwaan, Schindler, Humphries and Cadby. I don't think that anyone can say these players aren't ready for the senior level - maybe Schindler's not quite there, but the rest of them have all won senior titles or gone extremely deep in major events. Or both.

The only other thing to consider is what the players would think. I think that for most players that are playing in the Development Tour, they're either doing it for fun, or doing it as part of progression as a darts player. In either case, would you really want to deny them the opportunity to play a Hopp, Cadby or de Zwaan? In the former case, being able to go "I played that Max Hopp once" is a story to tell, in the latter case, do you not want to be able to see where you are in relation to the best at your age level? To develop, you need to see how players better than you play, and play against them - removing the cream of the crop seems counter-intuitive. It's an interesting debate and something the PDC should look at one way or another.

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