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National Qualifications Standard Report
submitted by John Wright

I.A. Background

At the NESSFTA National Open delegates meeting in Big Rapids, Michigan in November, 2001, several delegates spoke in favor of increasing the qualifying standard for the event. Several others spoke in opposition to the idea. The discussion foundered, in part, due to a lack of agreement not only on whether there should be a change in the qualification standard for the National Open, but also on the question of what form a change in the standard might take. A five-member committee, distributed among the regional Interclubs, was subsequently appointed to consider possible alternatives to the current one point per calendar year standard, and to submit their findings for consideration at the 2002 National Open delegates meeting. The committee consists of Jason Givens from the Mid-West Interclub, John Wright from the Rocky Mountain Interclub, Ben Martin from the Mid-East Interclub, Dominique Savoie from the Western Interclub and Gary Wilson from the Eastern Interclub.

At its inception, the qualification standard presumably arose out of a desire to add credibility to a National Championship event. In an earlier era, the size of Nationals was small relative to the current situation, and the one-point standard allowed sufficient numbers for a national event while providing a form of quality control. In recent memory, a one-point qualification standard has been the norm, with the exception of 1996. In 1995, the delegates at the National Open approved a three-point qualification for the following year. That standard was returned to the one-point standard for the 1997 National Open.

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of dogs participating in English springer spaniel field trials. Not only has the number of dogs increased, but also the number of clubs hosting field trials and the number of field trials held annually have increased. These circumstances have led to an increase in the number of opportunities to qualify dogs for the Nationals. The net result has been a significant increase in the size of the National Open. For example, in 1990, the National Open entry was 82 dogs. In 2001, the National Open entry was 148 dogs. This represents an 80 percent increase. A survey published in Spaniels in the Field in 1999 reviews field trial entries for the period 1992-1998. The survey shows a 37 percent increase in the number of individual dogs participating in Open All-Age stakes during this period, a 45 percent increase in the number of Open All-Age entries, and a 9 percent increase in the number of trials between 1992 and 1998. More dogs are entered more often in more trials, and hence the size of the National Open entry is increasing.

I.B. Purpose, Goals, and Recommendations of the Qualification Committee

The committee will:

    1) Review the issues and concerns with regard to the National Open that led to the formation of the committee, summarize the debate, and present the arguments, both pro and con, for changing the qualification standard.

    2) Identify the most practical options for alternative qualification standards, discuss the strengths and weaknesses of different options, and identify the likely effect on the National Open that different options will have.

    3) Circulate findings to the NESSFTA, member clubs, and the field trial community at large through mail, magazine and Internet venues with sufficient lead time for meaningful discussion prior to the 2002 delegates meeting.

The committee believes that these goals will promote informed discussion prior to and at the 2002 delegates meeting. The committee emphasizes that all decision-making power remains in the hands of the delegates. The delegates will collectively decide whether change is necessary or desirable, and what form change will take if it is found to be desirable. The report of this committee is intended to inform rather than advocate change upon the field trial community.


We urge individuals and member clubs of the NESSFTA to consider the report, to discuss the issues related to the qualifying standard, and to reach a decision at a club level to direct the vote of the club's delegate at the 2002 National Open. We also suggest a two-step process at the 2002 National Open delegates meeting: first, a debate and vote on whether the qualification standard should be changed, and secondly (if necessary), a debate and vote on what form a change should take.

II. Summarizing the Debate

Some field trialers believe the increase in the size of the Nationals is a healthy situation and like the status quo. Others believe with equal fervor that the increase in the size of the Nationals is undesirable, and wish to reduce the size of the event (the entry) by making the qualification standard more rigorous.

Those who like the status quo of the one-point qualification standard tend to adopt one or more of the following positions:

  • The increase in size of the National entry reflects the health of the field trial pastime and therefore is a positive phenomenon.
  • It is important that the Nationals be accessible to as many as possible. The one-point standard allows greater accessibility to the Nationals.
  • Changes which propose to make the qualification standard more rigorous and serve to reduce the National entry would have adverse financial consequences for professional trainers. More rigorous standards will result in fewer qualified dogs, which results in lost revenue to individual trainers.
  • Problems related to the increased size of the National Open are best addressed by increasing the duration of the event.

Those who would like to see the qualification standard changed to become more rigorous tend to adhere to one or more of the following arguments:

  • Dogs that cannot, given the current number of opportunities for National qualification, accumulate more than one point in a year lack merit and should not be included in a National Championship event intended to showcase and promote competition among the top performers of the year.
  • Large National entries shortchange dogs and their owners, as judges and organizers are under pressure to move rapidly through the running order.
  • Large Nationals place greater logistical burdens upon organizers, especially with respect to finding grounds that can accommodate a 135-150 dog event.
  • Some good judges are less likely to accept an opportunity to judge very large Nationals given the physical and mental demands of doing so. Under current circumstance, judges will be out from dawn to dusk in all weather conditions for five consecutive days in the late fall. If high-quality judges remove themselves from consideration, the concern is that less experienced/knowledgeable/judicious judges may end up judging a National.
  • The longer duration of the National Open means that, in order to participate, working people will need to take additional time away from work. Limited vacation time and other commitments, family or professional, may inhibit the ability of such people to participate in the National as the duration of the event increases.
  • The long hours in the field and the added demands placed on the organizers and participants by the large entries adversely affect the social aspects of the National experience. People are either too tired or do not have time for the social events.

III. Options

A. Discussion

The data appended below in Section IIIB demonstrates the increase in the size of the National Open entry over time, from 82 in 1990 to 148 in 2001, an increase of 80 percent. It also demonstrates that the increase in size appears independent of location. E.g., the hypothesis has been put forth that Nationals held in the West will be smaller than Nationals held in the Midwest or East. This point of view is not supported by evidence. For example, the 1994 National Open in Washington had a larger entry than the 1992 National in Pennsylvania, and the 1999 Illinois Open and the 2000 Utah Open had entries of virtually the same size.

The information also demonstrates the high rate of entry of qualified dogs. In 1999, 76 percent of the qualified dogs actually entered the National, in 2000 and 2001 the percentage was 75 percent and 86 percent, respectively.

The entry for 1996 appears as an anomaly. For that year, the entry had been increased to 3 points, and that change is presumably reflected in the change in entry from 103 the previous year to 83 in 1996. The qualification standard was returned to 1 point for the 1997 National Open, which is reflected in the 41 percent increase in the '97 entry. Clearly, the increase in the point standard for 1996, intended to reduce the entry size, appears to have been very effective. Additionally, the entry for 1998 may reflect the fact that the National Open and Amateur events that year were "split," with the Open held in Indiana and the Amateur in Pennsylvania.

Three options for increasing the qualification standard have been suggested for consideration. They are:

    1. Increase the number of points required to qualify for the National Open.

    2. Increase the number of points required to qualify for the National Open, but retain an exemption for dogs which have achieved an FC title. As an example, require a qualifying standard of 4 points, but allow dogs with the FC title to qualify with 1 point.

    3. Created a weighted points formula, whereby the points which dogs receive for field trial placements would be weighted relative to the entry size in the event which the placement was received.

Each of the options has strengths and weaknesses, and each may have varying effects upon the size of the pool of dogs qualified for the National Open. These considerations are discussed below. For each option, the standards chosen for the various options represent suggestions that were put forth at the 2001 delegates meeting. Clearly, delegates at the 2002 meeting could choose some variation of the options below. Rather than a three-point standard, the delegates might select a two- or a four-point standard, or the delegates could choose a different weighted formula from that which was put forth at the 2001 meeting. Those decisions are collectively up to the delegates.

1. Points:

Increase the number of points required to qualify for the National Open.

This option has the advantage of being the most straightforward. Point standards are uniform, predictable, and clearly understood. Handlers and owners know instantly whether a dog has qualified for the National. This method is also the existing "gold standard" of sorts, as points are the means by which championships are earned, national and regional High Point awards are achieved, and how National qualifications have been earned to date.

Critics of this option typically do not like the fact that points earned in a trial are independent of the size of the trial. They feel that a placement earned in a larger event should merit greater consideration than a placement earned in a smaller event.

Likely effect: A review of the data for the three years 1999-2001 shows the following: an average of 32 percent of the dogs qualified each year have only one or two points (with very little deviation around the average). Therefore, increasing the qualification standard to three points will have the likely effect of reducing the entry by approximately one-third. On average, 49 percent of the dogs qualified during these years have three points or less. Therefore, choosing an entry standard of four points would have the likely result of decreasing the qualified pool by almost 50 percent.

2. Points Plus FC:

Increase the number of points required for qualification, but allow dogs with a FC title to qualify with fewer points.

This option recognizes that handlers with dogs that have already achieved the FC title may not wish to run them in many events, but rather may wish to put them "on ice" for the National championship events. Some find it desirable that FC dogs receive this special dispensation.

A criticism of this option is that it is not uniform. For example, FC dogs which are no longer top quality, which have aged, become trial-wise, and so forth, will be carried into the Nationals with a lower standard of performance.

Likely effect: The suggestion was made that this option be considered with a 4 point standard, with a 1 point standard for FC dogs. If we apply that standard to the last three years:

Year 1999 2000 2001
Qualified dogs (1 pt status quo) 177 176 172
Dogs with less than 4 pts. 83 90 84
FCs with less than 4 pts. 16 20 21
Number of dogs qualified 110 106 109

With 4 pts or FC + 1 pt.

On average over the last three years, a qualification standard of 4 points or an FC title plus 1 point would have reduced the number of qualified dogs by about 38 percent.

3. Weighted Formula:

Create a weighted formula to reflect the entry size of the trial in which placements were received.

A weighted formula has the advantage of being uniform. It reflects the size of the event in which placements were earned, which some feel is important and which others either do not care about or feel adds an excessive level of complexity.

A weighted formula has the disadvantage of being less straightforward than the other options. Some feel that this method reflects a regional bias. Others are concerned that this method would create a disincentive for entrys at small trials, and that these events which need the most help would suffer as a consequence. The same logic implies that large trials would tend to receive more entries. This method of qualifying would also be more logistically demanding and would place a modestly greater burden on record keeping than other options.

The suggestion was made at the 2001 National Open delegates meeting that weighted points be awarded in the following manner, with 50 weighted points necessary to qualify for the National Open:

  • 1st place... 5 points x number of starters = weighted points
  • 2nd place... 3 points x number of starters = weighted points
  • 3rd place... 2 points x number of starters = weighted points
  • 4th place... 1 point x number of starters = weighted points

Likely effect: If we apply this standard retroactively to the 2001 qualified pool of 172 dogs to determine approximately what impact this method might have, we find that this method is not particularly effective at reducing the size of the pool of qualified dogs. Of the 172 dogs, 23 would not have amassed enough weighted points to qualify. Of the 23 dogs that would not have qualified, only one had a third place and the balance had a single fourth place.

The regional distribution may be of interest. Of the 148 dogs that actually entered the 2001 National Open, 18 would not have qualified under the weighted points method. Of the dogs that would not have qualified, 2 were from the East Interclub, 3 were from the Mid-East, 6 were from the Midwest, and 7 were from the Rocky Mountain. One dog from the Western Interclub did not achieve the 50 weighted points level, but was qualified regardless by virtue of a National Open placement the previous year. This regional distribution contradicts the commonly-held belief that a weighted points system would favor potential participants from the portions of the country which tend to have large field trials, such as the Mid-West or Rocky Mountain Interclubs, and would disfavor potential participants from areas like the West or East, which tend to have events with smaller entries.

B. The Data

Growth in Size of National Open entry*:

Year Location Entry
1990 Illinois 82
1991 Washington 91
1992 Pennsylvania 87
1993 Illinois 113
1994 Washington 98
1995 North Carolina 103
1996 Kansas 83
1997 Utah 117
1998 Indiana 90
1999 Illinois 134
2000 Utah 132
2001 Michigan 148

* Due to variation in available data, the figure for some years reflects the number of dogs entered and, for other years, the number of starters. Regardless, the figures yield a ballpark idea and illustrate a trend.

Percentage of Qualified Dogs Entered:

1999 2000 2001
Illinois Utah Michigan
177 qualified 176 qualified 172 qualified
134 entered 132 entered 148 entered
76% 75% 86%

Distribution of qualified dogs by points (less than 5 points):

Points 1999 2000 2001
1 pt. 29 dogs (5 FCs) 21 dogs (4 FCs) 33 dogs (6 FCs)
2 pt. 25 dogs (3 FCs) 35 dogs (7 FCs) 22 dogs (6 FCs)
3 pt. 29 dogs (8 FCs) 34 dogs (9 FCs) 29 dogs (9 FCs)
4 pt. 8 dogs (1 FC) 8 dogs (1 FC) 13 dogs (1 FC)

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