Spare change

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LAS VEGAS — Team roping header Riley Minor has a throw he'd like back from the first night of this year's Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

Unfortunately, second chances are harder than ever to come by for this year's crop of talented team ropers. For the first time in the history of the WNFR, the PRCA has instituted a two-loop rule, meaning that each team is allowed a total of only two loops per run. Under the new rule, the team receives a no-time if either partner misses; in previous years, the team was allowed to rebuild their loop if either partner missed, giving the team a total of three possible loops.

For Minor, who ropes with his brother Brady, the rule change meant no second shot during Round One of this year's event.

"The first round, yeah we could have just went and been 30 seconds and still been in the average," Minor said. "So that would have been nice to have a third loop, but we didn't have it, so it is what it is."

But Minor, like seemingly the entire team roping contingent, says he doesn't think the rule change has affected anyone's approach significantly. The rule change was spearheaded by Matt Sherwood, the 2006 and 2008 world champion header and the team roping event's representative.

"I felt like it would be beneficial to the rodeo itself and hopefully beneficial for the team roping and the sport of rodeo," said Sherwood in a statement released by the PRCA. Sherwood finished 21st in the world this year.

"When someone makes a really good team roping run, I feel like it's as good of watching as anything, but when someone starts chasing a steer around the arena, I feel like that's about as bad as anything."

Early predictions, including one made by nine-time world champion Trevor Brazile, were that the new rule might affect the aggressiveness of teams in early rounds. Through five rounds, however, that hasn't seemed to be the case. Three teams are five-for-five on the week, while four more are four-for-five.
Times have also been comparable to previous years, including a blistering 3.8-second run from the Minor brothers to win Round Five on Monday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.

In fact, most team ropers said the greatest effect the two-loop change could have might not be apparent until the final few rounds, when the average picture becomes clear.

"I'm thinking if you catch eight out of 10, you're gonna place, where normally you gotta catch at least nine," Minor predicted. "One team last year caught 10 in a row and didn't have to rebuild, but most people have had to rebuild to place in the average."

That means that teams with only three head or less needn't worry just yet — with five rounds left, they've still got breathing room to put together a late run.

"A no time isn't as bad as it used to be, and it's going to affect how the average turns out," said Travis Tryan who, along with his partner Michael Jones, split the Round Four win and is in ninth in the average on three head. "There's no precedent for it, because it's always been three loops. I'll let you know at the end of the 10 days how it works out."

In other words, while the rule change might have affected the big picture for team ropers at this year's WNFR, it hasn't changed the day-to-day approach of many ropers.

"The rounds pay $17,000 a night here — the average is great, it pays a lot at the end — but you can't pass up $17,000 a night, whether it's two loops or 10 loops," said header Nick Sartain, who is second in the average with his partner Kollin VonAhn and a perfect five-for-five so far. "When you back in there for $17,000 a night, you better just get after it."

"It's honestly easier to rope faster here than it is to just try and catch," agreed Tryan. "We just try and be aggressive. Our horses allow us to do what we do and still rope aggressive and be consistent at the same time."

And it's not just the headers who haven't changed their approach in the wake of the rule change. The majority of heelers also seem to agree — in part due to the smaller layout of the Thomas & Mack Center, which forces teams to be aggressive early regardless of how many loops they have.

"In this little building you can get in trouble being conservative, and I don't really want to do that anyway," Jones, Tryan's heeling partner, said. "I like the day monies and I like going to the South Point at night, and it (the two loop rule) isn't going to change me."

The WNFR will be televised nightly on ESPN Classic and ESPN2. At the conclusion of the 10th performance on Dec. 12th, the contestants with the highest earnings in each event will be crowned as the 2009 world champion.

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