Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Op Ed: Protocols, Protocols

I sent out a Tweet during the European Championships: "I'm over the code of points judging system."

I followed that Tweet up with another: "6.0 Anyone?"

The second tweet was met with mixed response. I got everything from 'I'm with you' to 'Eeeek...not 6.0!'

I agree that the 6.0 system is full of inadequacies and issues. I also agree that the current code of points judging system is full of inadequacies and issues. We've got two apples and BOTH are kind of rotten.

Phil Hersh recently blogged about the ladies final in Spokane. While I'm not always his biggest fan he made some valuable points (no pun intended). Chiefly among them, he correctly pointed out that somewhere around two years ago the judges began to get ridiculous with using the system in a negative way. Phil Hersh wrote:

This time, the problem was the system, not the judging. And, as I have frequently noted in this Blog since the 2008 Skate America, it isn't as much a fault with the system itself as much as with the decision to use it negatively that took effect two seasons ago.

The judging system is beginning to really work against the sport. At the recent U.S. Nationals, scores in the three of the four events came under attack because of this judging system and the protocols. In the Pairs event, Inoue and Baldwin slammed the judges on their protocols after landing a throw triple axel in the free yet getting the Olympic Team snub. In the Men's competition their was bickering about who should be ahead of who after the short, Johnny or Evan. The biggest fallout has been the ladies competition where Mirai Nagasu seemed to pull off an easy victory in the free skate only to find herself hanging on to second because of those tiny little downgrades that absolutely no one saw until the slow-mo rewind.

This isn't a problem contained to this event. There was bickering about protocols after Joubert lost the 2008 World's to Buttle who didn't do a quad. There was bickering about protocols at the Grand Prix Final this season with Kim Yu-Na's jump landings (and another added chapter of the mini war between Korea and Japan that we are all so sick of). At last season's European Championships, Carolina Kostner went as far as to appeal her silver medal on the belief that the protocols were wrong and she deserved the title, not Laura Lepisto.

Protocols, protocols, protocols...I'm sick of them! Anyone remember the days when you won a medal in competition, was happy about it, and had a parade down Main St. in your home town?

Now we pour over the protocols and find ways to complain about the judging and how the skater we 'thought' should have won or our favorite skater was wronged. It seems more and more often we aren't happy about the winner.

Phil Hersh also correctly points out (I know, right...he was actually on point in this article) that Mirai Nagasu's loss made absolutely no sense to the majority of people watching the Ladies Final that night at home or in Spokane Arena. Sure us die-hard skating fans get it but that is NOT the majority of the people who are watching. Most tune in to see who lands the most jumps with a nice outfit, a little sparkle, and a little pizazz...and to the common public, that was Nagasu, not Flatt (can I just say, however, I love Rachael Flatt and I think she was also deserving of the title).

All I could think about Saturday was, "Wow...because Sasha Cohen is in the competition we have all these eyes on these girls who will represent us in Vancouver and we blew it once again with the judging system." So much for making skating appealing to the masses...

Maybe a return to the 6.0 (with some tweeks of course) wouldn't be such a bad idea...I think it would, at the very least, be better than this constant bickering over protocols. In the end we have to ask, is the Code of Points Judging System doing more harm than good?


Tonichelle said...

while I will agree that it's difficult for teh "average joe" to understand - and so that makes ratings tank because people get frustrated and tune into a rerun of Golden Girls instead - I don't think it's bad for the SPORT aspect. you want your athletes to be the best they can be.

nit picking has always been part of this sport, and is one of the reasons CoP came into being to begin with. 6.0 or CoP - you're going to have people (avid fan and average joe alike) who don't like the outcome. Presentation over Sport, Sport over Presentation, hot chick over girl next door, over average looking technical wizard... it's subjectivity that makes the sport so frustrating, but also wonderful.

Aaron said...

But shouldn't we have a system that, at the least, makes sense to the majority of people?

Agree or disagree with the outcome...people understood the 6.0 system.

In this system, people don't get it at all.

Xan said...

At the very least, the announcing needs to meet the scores halfway. Scores need to be announced WITH ALL PENALTIES, something like, "Score for the free skate: technical elements 50, component score 50, with 1 deduction for a fall, 2 rotation downgrades and an edge call." That's clear enough for fans to look up what it means, without scrapping the system. Again. But as far as "tiny little downgrades that absolutely no one saw until the slow-mo rewind" I won't pass a Freestyle 6 class test for a kid with a 1/4 short rotation, let alone award a national medal. If Mirai wants to skate with the big dogs, she needs to rotate the jumps.

Aaron said...

But Xan...do you have the benefit of slow-mo replay when evaluating those kids? Can you say you've never missed one those barely cheated landings?

My point, if it wasn't for the scrutiny this judging system brings we would have never questioned Mirai's landings...

En Pointe said...

I agree & disagree: the judging protocols make sure it's more fair (not totally fair, more fair). You shouldn't win with cheated jumps, simple as that. If the slow mo replay in hockey shows the puck didn't cross the line, it's not a goal, the same should be true in skating: if the slow mo shows it wasn't a triple, it shouldn't be counted as a triple. I like the bonus for the jumps in the late aprt of the program. It's definitely harder to knock of the big jumps when your legs feel like rubber and the skaters should be rewarded for that.

Where I disagree w/ CoP is that I'm sick of seeing all the ladies grab their foot & stick it in the air for the extra points it gets. Enough Bielman spins, unless the skater does it well. Enough strange variations on the spins. Some of the US ladies produced some very beautiful layback positions, then had to grab a foot or swicth an edge to make sure they got level 4 for the spin. What's wrong with leaving it at the beautiful layback? I skated and it's not that hard to grab your foot in a spin. It's harder to so a perfectly centered spin in the perfect position. A high death drop is way harder than a bielmann; I know because I've done them both.

I want the spiral sequence to become a field movement section. This would eliminate the "see how high I can put my foot in the air?" bit and encourage skaters to rediscover the beauty of the spread eagle, the ina bauer, etc., which now garener no points unless being a jump entry.

Another problem with CoP is there is still that second grey area: "program components". Here, judges still get to do what they want most of the time.

I also feel the jumps should count for a little more. Someone with only a barely landed triple axel shhouldn't outscore someone with 2 quad combos & a triple axel combo unless the second skater basically just skated around and jumped.

On the whole, I like the CoP. It makes skating a little closer to a sport than an artform. In an ideal world, it would fall directly in the middle, but to be in the Olympics, it neeeds to err on the edge of sport.

Unfortunately, the 6.0 system used to work great. Remember the Battle of the Brians? Both guys had balanced programs with jumps, spins and artistic. One made a little mistake on game day and one didn't & the results reflected that. Then we took away figures, the venue that allowed judges their gamemanship because no one really knew what was on the ice. I read that Katerina Witt missed her center more than once in the 88 Olympics and still sat first after figures. No more figures seemed to mean a little more gamesmanship in the 6.0 system. Maybe it just so happened that the end of figures coincided with Olympic medals meaning more to countries and thus corruption became more frequent. That I think I'd have to research much more to have a definitive answer, and I'm still not sure I'd have more than a theory.

The one thing I am sure of figure skating has always had an element of gamemanship and it always will.

For now, I'll take the CoP but I think it needs some revamping. I definitely think the jumps vs. footwork/spins, program componenets will be much talked about at the Olympics when the "quad kings" meet the "edge emperors" and one style wins over the other. For the sake of the sport, I hope whoever wins the mens has the whole package.

jumping clapping man said...

i thought another suggestion to give a cap or max to each of the discipline's scores (ie: 100, or whatever) was great, because that would allow them to keep the current system, but give the audience a number to hold their breath for, and react to.

it's SO ironic, because this system is what audiences really asked for after Skategate...OBJECTIVITY!!! the problem with OBJECTIVITY is that everyone thinks they can then measure everything, and in an equal, balanced manner. it's not possible.

i personally think the edge deductions are ridiculous. if someone lands what looks like a triple lutz, it's a triple lutz. and, if they "cheated" the landing, more power to them for still pulling it off. that degree of nit-picking is to me unnecessary. that being said, even without edge deductions, i thought flatt had won...she did a 3/3 (albeit with a shaky landing on the second jump), and although a degree less vivacious then nagasu, she was on...and, frankly, nagasu has her gold...so, it was rachael's year, and her turn.

abyotis said...

The best thing to happen to skating at Spokane was the Skate Bug Radio. Actual technical experts called the programs. I learned sooooo much about skating and just what makes up each level, the points awarded, how the GOE works etc. I totally understand now why one skater scores higher than another. It brought my enjoyment of skating to a new level. What a gift.

One thing they pointed out is that the skaters LOVE the system because they get a report out that shows every detail of what they did. They now know what it takes to improve their scores, where in the 6.0 there was no accountability for the scores.

It was also pointed out that the IJS is ever evolving. New features are given credit based on collaboration between coaches and technicians. The fact that it can and does change helps improve the sport and encourages growth in the skaters.

Skate Radio will be given to everyone at the Olympic events. It should be used on TV broadcasts also. Men sitting around me who came to the event to please their wives were very impressed with the commentary and learned to appreciate skating.

jumping clapping man said...

En Pointe...what if in the Battle of Brians Orser hadn't made that mistake. with a 6.0 system, it would have been left up to total subjectivity as to who should win...rather than allowing that mistake to make the decision. That is a dangerous place to be in...total subjectivity.

Delonjo said...

This is a sport, not a pageant. I disagree that the COP is hurting skating. I like the COP. Skaters now have to earn their scores more than they did in the past. If skaters want to win big-league competitions, they need to rotate their jumps. It's just that simple. Mirai underrotated her jumps consistently during this season. Rachel's performance was blah, I must agree, but technically proficient. Mirai's was technically flawed yet fiery. I think the technician should win in a SPORT. I'm a hard-core FS fan and viewer and I like it strong and tough. That's what SPORT is all about.

Xan said...

CoP fixed the flutz-- pretty much every lady at the senior level now jumps a lutz off the correct edge (and yes, it does matter, as the lutz is harder; flipping to the inside edge at the last second makes the jump easier and should get an edge call and alower score than a proper lutz). I believe CoP will fix underrotation too, by being hard on skaters like Mirai, with huge talent and appeal, but these technical flaws.

(Aaron, when you're down on the ice with someone testing at a low level like FS6, you can easily see the underrotation w-o slow me. And yes, I've been known to walk out onto the ice and look at the print. On the other hand, in the long run, my students don't underrotate their jumps, because they know I won't let them get away with it).

I think the problem of transparency can be fixed; the problem of over-complexity is tougher.

Anonymous said...

Well I'm an "average joe" and I personally don't like the new scoring system because I don't understand it. All we get is a total. Nothing is really explained and when a commentator tries to explain it, it's still confusing. It's hard to enjoy a sport when you have no idea what's going on.

Robin Agnew said...

If they're going to have this picayune system they might schedule some time for analysis - like say, football, which of course wallows in hours of analysis. I'd be happy for a few minutes of explanations of under-rotated jumps, instead of Bob Kostas trying to goad Dick Button into saying smething outrageous, enjoyable as that is.

I was lucky enough to go to nationals last year (I have been a fan since I saw Torvill & Dean, so I am not a casual fan) but I was happy to be sitting in front of some actual skaters who were able to explain the reasons for some of the scores (and my friends & I were able to explain to them that Karen Kwan is related to Michelle Kwan). The 6.0 system had the virture of drama, even though it was so subjective. The gymnastics scoring system might bear a look as it's simpler number wise but grades the complexity/execution of the elements.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Xan. In addition to announcing the scores and the fall deduction, they should also announce rotation downgrades, edge calls, etc. That would make Mirai's skate scores instantly very clear to the audience and everyone at home regardless you are a serious or casual fan.

Xan said...

Robin, the CoP is already pretty much exactly the gymnastics system-- you start with a base value for the announced skill, you get downgraded if you do a simpler skill, and then penalties/pluses for execution and style. They even call it "CoP."

The difference is that gymnastics is scoring just one skill at a time, whereas a figure skating program scores 9 specific skills plus all the stuff in between.

For an interesting idea on scoring check out Monica's latest post here: http://savefigureskating.blogspot.com/2010/01/why-skating-needs-two-panels-of-judges.html