Reader, I have attempted dearly to give a hoot about curling’s tick shot. It’s an emotional non-starter. Having said that, I do enjoy fresh ideas on the subject, in particular Håvard Vad Petersson’s tick-free circle idea, mostly because it’s a new thing to name. I wonder what we could call those small rings that fully protect free guards. Extra-free guard zones? Turrets? Håvard Yards? I’m happy to come up with even worse ones for a consulting fee.
The reason ticks don’t tick me off is because this is purely an elite curler problem, and look at me. I might care deeply if a supposed ban extended to club play, because the “accidental tick” happens more frequently there than the called one. But I don’t think ticks are the problem here.
Let’s think about what baseball has done. Here’s another sport with a passionate interest in the rules, constantly memorizing them and changing them and then memorizing them again. In the last 10 years Major League Baseball has stopped throwing balls for intentional walks, limited mound visits, stopped batters from wandering outside the batter’s box between pitches, forced new pitches to face a minimum of three batters, and placed a runner on second base to start extra innings.
These rules were intended to improve the pace of play and shorten games. Some of these rules had marginal effects, but they’re experimenting with other rules including automatic ball-strike calls, pitch clocks, and limitations to pickoff throws. They are also toying with the idea of moving the mound back.
But the strongest comp to curling’s tick shot is the baseball shift.
The history of defensive shifts dates back to Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, but David Ortiz may be the one everybody remembers. As a left-handed pull-hitter, he mashed everything to his right. The third baseman would move to shortstop, or sometimes all the way to short right field. And it worked, at least for line drives (home runs, not so much). Shifts have evolved into a commonplace tactic, and with data on every batter’s tendencies readily available, fielders now carry cheat sheets in their back pocket so they know exactly where to stand for each plate appearance.
MLB’s batting average this year is .243— a near-historic low— so optimizing the defense must be the reason, right? Unfortunately, the data shows that it's not the primary reason. It may not be a reason at all, based on the batting average on balls in play. Rather, strikeouts are way up, and have been for 40 years. That’s the problem.
So, no, I wouldn't particularly miss ticks if they were nullified. Teams will adapt and exploit something else. They always do. But when curling is trying to identify “the problem,” it's easy to pick on the most cosmetic difference and say "stop doing that." It might be more useful to look at larger trends in the sport and see where it's going. Personally, I would look into deadening the rocks. My goodness, they’re like superballs these days. Now there’s something to experiment with: bring a set of 20-year-old rocks to the world championships and see what happens. I bet you would see less effective ticks and fewer blank ends.