Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Disasters

Last time, I explained what the bout committee does when everything goes right. This time, I'll talk about some of the factors that can make for a less than perfect tournament day.

Reseeds
One of the problems we hate most are reseeds—those dreaded times when everything goes perfectly right up to the point where fencers are reporting to their strips and fencing is starting, and then we discover that someone is missing from the pool list or that the #5 seed is #173 on the seeding list. Usually, this type of problem is our fault—someone who checked in at registration was inadvertently withdrawn from the event, someone was added to the right event in the wrong weapon, or the points lists used to seed the event were incorrect. Occasionally, this type of problem can be fixed without having to reseed things entirely, such as when an unrated fencer can be added to a pool of 6, and after one of those mysterious "Stop fencing!" announcements, we tell everybody to start fencing again. In other cases, as when the problem involves a highly rated or ranked fencer, the seeding is so disrupted that we have to throw out all the pool sheets and redo everything.

Over the past few years, we've become much better at catching seeding problems before the pools are posted. At this year's Summer Nationals, we had very few reseeds, and those we did, we were able to take care of before the fencers were called to their strips, with no apparent disruption.

Slow pools or quadrants
Sometimes delays are caused by problems within a single pool or DE quadrant. There might be technical problems with the strip—something wrong with the reel cord or the grounding or one of those baffling intermittent electrical gremlins. If the trouble lasts more than just a few minutes, we can move the fencers to an empty strip, but sometimes all the strips are being used and there's no alternative but to wait until the problem is fixed.

Injuries, of course, also cause delays—minor sprains or strains might use the whole 10-minute injury time-out for taping, and more serious injuries that need more complicated treatment or even an ambulance can take half an hour or more to clear the strip. (We won't even go into how major injuries can affect the fencers who have try to refocus on their bouts after such an incident.)

And then there are the rules disputes—a fencer might ask a question that the referee chooses to consult with one of the FOCs about for the proper interpretation of the appropriate rule. Or a fencer might appeal a referee's decision, in which case an FOC, the BC chair, and perhaps the Tournament Committee representative might take a walk out to the strip to discuss the matter and render a decision. Whatever the outcome of the appeal, the result is a delay.

Sometimes fencers just fence slowly. It's not unusual in the point weapons for a stunned-looking referee to return one of the last pool sheets in an event, muttering about how every fencer had at least one weapon or body cord fail and each and every bout went to time.

Whatever the cause, DEs can't start until every single pool has finished, and even if only one DE quadrant gets bogged down, it will delay the completion of the entire event.

Insufficient resources
This is more and more often a problem—not enough strips or not enough referees. (One could also describe this as too many fencers, but that's an entirely different discussion.)

The extreme example of this was the 2002 SN in Austin, when first thing in the morning on the first day we needed at least a dozen more strips than the 50 we had, and of those 50, about 20 lacked electricity (and that was only the beginning of a week remarkable for its many lengthy delays).

Or consider this year's SN in Atlanta, where more than once we had to double-flight pools or use fewer strips than we had available because there simply were not as many referees as we needed for all the events that day.

Even though USFA is using more strips and hiring more referees for both NACs and SNs, it's still not enough—but that's the topic for next time.

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