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I'm searching for a neutral phrase that conveys the concept of the initial condition/situation/position/set of givens or factors impacting an outcome. For example, the idea of a 'headstart' conveys an advantageous initial position toward pursuing a goal. I am searching for something similar without the connotation of an advantage - but simply indicating the 'start' position, and a certain 'opening' configuration of facts.

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The sports or competitive analogy is apropo. I can't use the notion of 'odds' - because I'm not describing probabilities, but if there were a word for the sum of the abilities of a sports team - (individual averages, the team's prior successes etc.) as considered before the match begins - that would work as a good metaphor –  Ilana Jun 21 '11 at 6:50
    
@llana - A handicap is what judges (in horse racing, bowling, golf, etc.) apply to the situation you're describing in order to even the playing field. So that's where I'm searching - what do handicappers call the situation before they apply a handicap? –  MT_Head Jun 21 '11 at 7:07
    
@llana - I just remembered the word: form. The Daily Racing Form is a paper dedicated to all aspects of racing, but in general terms "form" refers to a horse's record PLUS his race-day condition, while the form refers to the condition of all entrants in a race: "What's the form?" It has also come to be used conversationally: "You're in fine form today, aren't you?" –  MT_Head Jun 21 '11 at 7:16
    
I think I may just use 'handicap' for the context I need - Thanks!! –  Ilana Jun 21 '11 at 7:20
    
@llana - Fair enough, but be aware that your readers may take away a different meaning than you intend. A handicap is a penalty added to the stronger competitor - in horse racing, faster horses must carry extra weight - or (as in golf) subtracted from the score of a weaker competitor. It is not the initial position - that's the form. –  MT_Head Jun 21 '11 at 7:23

How about:

Original

As in the original condition, or situation, position

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