Elites: The art of the start

With the 2012 Bassmaster Elite Series season kicking off today, it's easy to think about it being a long season — a marathon rather than a sprint. But if you're one of the 99 pros on the water today, that might be a mistake.

While it's true that no one's season will end this week on the St. Johns River, it's just as true that most will be practically eliminated from the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race and a few will put their hopes of a 2013 Bassmaster Classic berth on life support.

Since the inception of the Elite Series in 2006, the eventual AOYs have typically gotten off to a very good start. Michael Iaconelli was 16th at the 2006 opener. Skeet Reese was ninth in 2007. Kevin VanDam (going for his fifth consecutive AOY in 2012) had the worst start of all; he was 31st in 2008. VanDam started eighth in 2009 and 29th in 2010, but the regular season wasn't nearly as critical those years because two postseason events gave him the opportunity to make up big ground at the end of the season. Last year KVD started strong with a fourth place finish in the season opener.

If 31st is as far back as you can start and still win AOY (and it just might be), then more than two thirds of the field will be eliminated from contention after two days of the 2012 season!

And if qualifying for the 2013 Bassmaster Classic is your goal, you can screw that up in the first tournament of the year, too. Greg Hackney has the distinction of making the biggest comeback in Classic qualification history in 2008. He finished last in that year's opener — 109th out of 109 — but still bounced back to qualify for the championship.

The more ordinary occurrence is that the bottom 10 percent or so in the first tournament never rebound. They miss the Classic. Sure, you could argue that they're typically not the strongest competitors in the Elites anyway, but there are always some stars that struggle early and most never get the ship righted before it's too late.

Adding to the drama this year is a new Elite scoring system. Whereas the winner got 300 points for a victory in years past, now he'll get "one point for each official boat in the tournament." That means the winner gets 99 points and the last place finisher (as long as he weighs in a legal bass) gets one point. There are no bonus points for leading a day of the event.

On the surface, this may not look like it's going to change the AOY race very much. Some quick math shows that KVD's 31st place finish in the 2008 opener earned him 213 points to the winner's 305. That's 70 percent of the winner's total.

This year at the St. Johns, the 31st place finisher will earn 68 points to the winner's 99. That's about 69 percent of the winner's total.

Not much difference, right?

Well, not much different at the top, but the further down you go in the standings, the bigger the difference gets. Let's take the most dramatic example.

Under the old scoring system, the 99th place angler (assuming he weighed in a legal bass) would walk away with about 77 points to the winner's 305. That's 25 percent — bad, but not the disaster that a last place finish will be this year.

This year's last place finisher will get exactly one point — one percent of the winner's total — and that's a much, much, much bigger deficit to make up.

So, is it a long season?

Yes, it is. But rather than being a marathon, the 2012 Bassmaster Elite Series is a group of sprints, and you can't afford a really bad one if you hope to challenge for AOY or a Classic spot.

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