003.007 Zone Championships are Unfair

In our previous post, we saw that the 2018 age group championships sanctioned by twelve large LSCs offered more opportunities to men than women (link).  In this post, we’ll compare the five elite age group championships sanctioned by the four USA-S Zones in 2018. We’ll learn that four of these five meets are remarkably unfair to women athletes.


A previous post described the geographic organization of USA-S into zones and local swim committees (LSCs) (link). As explained there, our analysis focuses on athletes aged 9 to 14 so that we can more fairly compare age group championships across LSCs and Zones.


Our analysis consists of three main parts.  Firstly, we describe the five Zone age group championships held in 2018.  Secondly, we compare these five meets with respect to recent swims, qualifying times, and acceptances.  Thirdly, we analyze a surprising age imbalance in the EZ2018L meet.

Five 2018 Zone Age Group Championships.

The four USA-S Zones sanctioned five zone age group championships in 2018.  As shown in the following table, these meets were significantly different.


MeetID

CZ2018L

EZ2018Y

EZ2018L

SZ2018L

WZ2018L

Zone

C

E

E

S

W

Course

LCM

SCY

LCM

LCM

LCM

Date

2018-08-02

2018-03-29

2018-08-08

2018-07-31

2018-08-08

Standards

PDF

PDF

PDF

N/A

PDF

Announcement

PDF

PDF

PDF

PDF

PDF

Days

4

3

4

5

4

Pools

2

1

1

1

1

Converted

N

N

N

N

N

Non-Conforming

Y

N

N

N

Y

Bonus Times

N

Y

N

N

Y

Athlete Ages

14/U

18/U

18/U

11-18

14/U

10/U Events

11

12

11

0

10

11-12 Events

17

15

14

11

15

13-14 Events

14

14

14

13

14

15-18 Events

0

14

14

13

0


Some highlights from this table:

  • Course. Four were long-course; one was short-course.

  • Non-Conforming. Two accepted non-conforming times; three did not.

  • Bonus Times. Two provided bonus times; three did not.

  • 10/Under. Four provided a 10/Under age group; one did not.

  • 15/Over. Three provided a 15-18 age group; two did not.

  • Recognized Events. Only one (CZ2018L) sanctioned all recognized USA-S age group events.


The Southern Zone meet (SZ2018L) did not have qualifying times. Instead, each of the 15 LSCs in the Southern Zone chose 48 athletes to participate, with 8 male and 8 female athletes from each of the three age groups 11-12, 13-14, and 15-18.  Without qualifying times, we won’t be able to report qualifying time likelihoods or expected acceptances for SZ2018L. Nonetheless, we will be to use the “equal acceptances” analysis of a previous post to quantify the gender-fairness of that meet (link).

Expected Recent Swims.

First up is the expected number of recent swims.  EZ2018L and SZ2018L allow the fewest recent swims because they only accept conforming LCM times.  CZ2018L and WZ2018L admit significantly more recent swims because they also accept non-conforming SCY times.  While EZ2018Y does not accept converted or non-conforming times, it is a SCY meet, and age group athletes have more than twice as many SCY swims as LCM swims.


As in the previous meets we’ve seen, women have slightly more recent swims than men.

Qualifying Time Likelihoods.

Next up are the qualifying time likelihoods.  On average, an athlete aged 9 to 14 who has recently swum a recognized event has approximately a 6% chance to make a zone cut. SZ2018L does not have qualifying times, so no likelihoods for that meet appear here.  We can see that the qualifying times for these meets are similar, although EZ2018L is the easiest.

As expected, it’s easier for athletes at the top of their age groups (aged 10, 12, 14) to qualify for zones.  For example, 12 year olds have more than an 8% chance of qualifying, while 11 year olds have less than a 2% chance.

WZ2018L is the most difficult for women while CZ2018L is the most difficult for men.

It’s easier for men than women to qualify for each of these meets.  CZ2018L is the most gender-fair while SZ2018L and WZ2018L are the least.  Overall 9-14 men are 1.47 times more likely than women to qualify for events in SZ2018L but only 1.04 times more likely in CZ2018L.

Further investigation reveals that CZ2018L used the “AAA” USA-S Motivational Time Standards for its conforming LCM and non-conforming SCM and SCY qualifying times.  


Previously we saw that it was significantly easier for men to qualify for SZ2018 than women in the 11-12 and 13-14 age groups; this chart repeats that information.

The following ratio chart shows that it was significantly easier for men in every age group to make WZ2018L qualifying times.

The next chart shows that men were advantaged in all but one event (the 11-12 200 Back) of WZ2018L.  The least fair event was the 11-12 50 Free, where men had 3.1 times greater likelihood of making the qualifying time than women.  Men and women had the same qualifying times in that event (29.39L/28.59S/25.69Y).

Expected Acceptances.

We now consider the expected number of acceptances.  While EZ2018L has the easiest qualifying times, its refusal to accept converted and non-conforming times causes it to be nearly twice as difficult to enter as the three other zone age group championships with qualifying times.  On average, every 10 athletes aged 9 to 14 will collectively be accepted to 4 zone events.


WZ2018L is the easiest for men to enter, while CZ2018L is the easiest for women. Although not shown, SZ2018L is the most difficult for either men or women to enter.

The ratio of men’s to women’s expected acceptances repeats our earlier conclusion, namely, CZ2018L is the most gender-fair for athletes aged 9 to 14, while SZ2018L and WZ2018L are the least.  In SZ2018 and WZ2018L, 9-14 men qualify for 1.4 times as many events as 9-14 women.

While CZ2018L is the most gender-fair overall, it is not equally fair to all age groups.  The following plot shows that men have a slight advantage in the 10/Under age group.

The next plot shows that many of the CZ2018L events are in unfair, even though the meet as whole is fair.  Men are significantly advantaged in eight events while women only in three. Men are most advantaged in the 9-10 50 Back (1.47x), while women are most advantaged in the 11-12 200 Breast (1.30x).

Age Group Zone Championships are for 14/Unders.

Above we saw that EZ2018L has the lowest acceptance rate for 14/Unders, in large part because it does not accept converted or non-conforming times.  The following chart shows that EZ2018L’s low 14/Under acceptance rate is coupled with an unusually high 15/Over acceptance rate. An average 15/Over athlete qualifies for 1.1 events in the EZ2018L.

As shown in the next chart, the unusually high EZ2018L 15/Over acceptance rate is due to generous 15/Over qualifying times.  On average, 15/Over athletes who swam a LCM event in the past year have stunning 35% chance to qualify in that event at EZ2018L. That’s easier than all but two of the twenty eight JOs we analyzed!  The 15/Over women are 7.65 times more likely to qualify for an EZ2018L event than the 11-12 women, while the 15/Over men are 5.44 times more likely to qualify than the 11-12 men.


The following chart shows that EZ2018L has the lowest 10/Under, 11-12, and 13-14 acceptance rates while also having the highest 15-18 acceptance rates of the LCM zone championships.

When compared to CZ2018L and WZ2018L, the EZ2018L qualifying times transfer participation opportunity -- and the associated athlete recognition -- from 14/Unders to 15/Overs.  This seems unfair since 14/Unders have no other championship meets outside of their LSCs, while 15/Overs have many, including a dedicated LCM Senior Zone Championship, Sectionals, Super Sectionals, Futures, and Junior Nationals.

Observed Attendance.

Finally we consider the actual 14/Under attendance at these meets.  The plot shows that CZ2018L had the most 14/Under women, while SZ2018L had the fewest.

To assess the gender fairness of athlete attendance, we’ll compare the fraction of female athletes in attendance to the fraction of female athletes in the overall population.  We’ll use those two fractions to calculate an attendance fairness ratio, which represents the likelihood that a male athlete attends the meet divided by the likelihood that a female athlete attends.  Values above 1.0 indicate men have a greater likelihood of attending the meet than women, while values below 1.0 favor women.


The plot shows that 14/Under women are most disadvantaged in SZ2018L and EZ2018L and the least in CZ2018L and EZ2018Y.  For SZ2018L, 14/Under men are 1.4 times more likely to attend than women. For CZ2018L, women are 1.01 times more likely to attend than men.



Turning now to swims, we see that CZ2018L had the most swims by 14/Under athletes while SZ2018L had the fewest.


The next plot confirms that women had fewer swims per athlete than men in every zone meet.


Men had 1.17 times as many swims per athlete in CZ2018L. The discrepancy was smallest in SZL2018L, where men only had 1.02 times as many swims per athlete.



We’ve seen that 14/Under men had a substantially greater likelihood of attending the 2018 Zones age group championships, where they swam more often than women.  This confirms our prior fairness analysis based on qualifying times, namely, that the 2018 zone age group championships were unfair to women.

Conclusion.

We’ve seen that the Zone age group championships provide significantly greater opportunities to men than women, like the LSC age group championships.  It is notable that the fairest age group championships sanctioned by LSCs (Lake Erie and North Texas) or Zones (Central Zone) use the USA-S Motivational Time Standards to set their conforming and non-conforming qualifying times.  This is a notably transparent and athlete-friendly process, that creates the most gender-fair championships.