Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rules & Officiating 2

Before I get started today let me clarify a bit of yesterday’s hyperbole. Yes, of course, penalties have a punitive impact–otherwise they wouldn’t be called penalties. And, yes, the intent, in part, is to have those penalties act as deterrents – but, there is a point where deterrence doesn’t work and a point where it becomes overkill. Where that place is can be debated endlessly (I'm sure) but I'm inclined to think that penalties that almost invariably result in a score change is a pretty severe penalty--particularly when it's the assigned penalty for nearly every possible infraction. But maybe that's just me.

Let’s talk football. More specifically the holding penalty. Holding, along with a number of other rules, address what is allowable contact and provide penalties for forms of contact that aren’t allowable. Holding in particular however is instructive because it is a rule that has been re-written a number of times and the current iteration of holding doesn’t come close to barring actual holding, it describes what sorts of holding aren’t a violation of the rules and what sorts are. My point here is this: holding is not an inviolate rule. It is a flexible rule and it is a flexible rule because the first concern is the play of the game. While it is necessary that football have rules that regulate physical contact the rule is rightfully understood to be a means to an end, not an end unto itself. And even under these conditions there is a football truism that says an official can call holding on every play if they chose to–but of course they don’t because it wouldn’t serve the game. (And the reason a holding penalty could be called on any and every play is because blocking and aggressive physical contact are elements of the game play–not because everybody is a compulsive cheater.) My larger point is that until competitive paintball writes a rule book based on what game we want to play the result will be a rule book that results in something less. And I would go further and argue the current rule book(s) are little more than band-aids on top of past band-aids that, each in their turn, simply addressed problems that arose over time but have never been considered as the foundational means of describing and defining the game we want to play.

Now this is necessarily a rather esoteric argument and one that might be difficult to grasp (or easy to ignore) but today’s game isn’t yesterday’s game and the rules (and the common interpretation of those rules) ought to reflect today’s game.

The other aspect of this I’d like to address is the very limited nature of the penalties paintball assesses and the potential for disparate impact of those penalties. Ever since the game was 15 on 15 (at least) bodies have been pulled as a form of penalty. But what made sense in a slow paced game with 15 or even 10 players strikes me as overkill in a lot of common penalty situations when playing the format formerly known as xball. The penalty needs to fit the infraction. Or else the penalty should only be assessed when it literally has a game altering effect and redress is required.

Player A makes a move from one dorito to the next upfield dorito and comes up shooting. In making the move Player A is hit. By rule Player A has committed (at least) a minor infraction that should result in pulling another body. But how often in the couple of seconds it takes the ref to signal the player out does it actually affect the other team one or two bodies worth? (And how often do real live refs actually make that call by the letter of the rules? They certainly don’t in the pro game.) But I can hear the sticklers beginning to whine that it isn’t fair. Player A broke the rules and must be penalized. To not penalize him encourages more of the same. (But then so does the nature of the game.) To which I respond of course it isn’t fair but the nature of our current rules and penalties means somebody pays an unfair price. One question that follows is how do we minimize that unfairness. The other question is what impact does any given rule have on the play of the game?

(For those who will argue a definition of "fairness" that, in practice, dramatically alters the outcome of scoring points – or even assigning points – that issue really comes down to what impacts the play of the game with the minimum impact. Sure, you can try to pummel violators into submission but as the NTP posts suggest that actually following the letter of the rules in every instance doesn’t make the game fair, it can make it unplayable. Remember that whole rules aren’t the ends, they ought to be the means? This is where the rubber meets the road.)

Am I trying to say the game is all screwed up? Not at all. (It does amazingly well sometimes considering.) What I am saying is that the playability of the game is dependent on the officiating and varying application of the rules results in wildly different experiences on the field of play. And if we want to create and provide as much consistency as possible it begins with rules designed with the gaming experience we want to promote in mind and with a unified interpretation for the referees to rely on when they are officiating actual game play. No big deal really.


raehl said...

And here we are back to my major gripe with Baca's griping:

No solutions.

Not that I particularly agree with your gripe in the first place, but let's assume for a second that the current penalty scheme is fundamentally broken. What, Baca, would you propose as an alternative penalty scheme?

AS for your 'example', if a player gets up and moves up a Dorito and gets hit and the ref sees the hit and signals an elimination, there should never be a minor penalty called in that situation. If it's an unobvious hit, ref signals elimination, player leaves field, no penalty. If it's an obvious hit, ref gives player a couple seconds to check the hit and eliminate themselves, and assesses a major if they don't.

So you're right, the Pro refs don't assess minor penalties in the situation you are referring to because the refs apparently know what they are doing.

Your football "analogy" also doesn't fit. A particular action is either holding or it isn't, and the standard is the same for every game, at least in the same season. Like all leagues, the NFL does adjust their rules from time to time, and they have revised the types of physical contact that are legal or not based on balancing the safety of the players, the progression of the game, and aggression allowed on the field. (Allowing more holding reduces movement, a bit like allowing more paint in the air does.)

But it's not like whether a particular action by a player is holding or not is a game-time decision for the official. Either it is or it ain't.

Out of curiosity Baca, have you ever participated in sports?

Anonymous said...

Baca when did it become the refs job to pull people? Its the refs job to make sure players are pulling themselves, to start and stop games, and to observe un-obvious hits on players.

They are there to assist the game not run it. The penalties need to be as strict as they are because we need a reason other than for the love of the game to pull ourselves.

Crusificton said...

We all know Baca gripes. One of our problems seems to be being able to think outside the box in regards to penalties. We are so used to pulling additional players that that's all we know.

I know this isn't a great idea, but how about rather than pulling extra players you just extend the penalty times for infractions.

In divisional play the penalty time would carry over to the next match and on depending on the infraction. Since we're playing Race2 and not Xball anymore maybe just doubling or adding 50% more time on each penalty would be an alternative.

Crusificton said...

Comparing paintball to other sports doesn't really fit well. We can't move teams 5 yards for a penalty, or give penalty kicks, or free throws.

We can't very well model the sport after others. Moneyball tried to do that and no one even knows about it now.

Although the idea of clearly defining what is and is not a penalty situation, following the football holding example, sounds like a great idea. But it's difficult to define the situation. While holding can be obvious especially on replays, playing on is not. For that we need to know what went through the players mind. If they were able to acknowledge they were hit or not.

Then again what do I know, I'm not a PSP Pro ref. I'm sure if you locked those refs in a room together for a week with endless supplies of paintball footage they could define most situations, and as cheaters adapt so would the rule book.

anonachris said...

Maybe make a great big list of possible penalties...

Automatic point
Lose a point
Penalty Box
Lose a player or more

But that's not nearly fun enough, time to get creative.

Other team gets an insertion! (power play, that could be strangely fun)
Limited Paint
Pump gun penalty (other team has to play with pumps for a point)
Hand tied behind back penalty
Penalty Shot (ring of fire to the chest of the offender)
The creative penalties could go on for ever...

Baca Loco said...

Step one is getting people to acknowledge that there's a problem. Back in the days when teams reffed events I "griped" about that too. And I heard exactly the same things then, when they were being nice, and much worse when I offended somebody who took it personally. We're still at step one.

Why is it incumbent on me to offer a solution when nobody accepts the problem? And even if they did, so what? Are you suggesting the problem can't exist if I don't also tell you how to fix it? Since when is that my job?

Regarding dorito example--now you want to give a player a second or two to recognize and act on being hit? Last time you had refs making complex decisions in fractions of a second but now it's "legal" to give players a second or two? They didn't get a second or two from you running and gunning a corner.

That's the idea if not quite the spirit I had in mind.

Just because penalties have always been pulling bodiesa doesn't make it the only or the best way to regulate the game.

raehl said...

You're right, it isn't your job to fix the problem. But just sitting around griping about things you perceive to be problems while simultaneously having no idea what might be better is pretty worthless. It's not like reffing improved because you griped that team reffing was bad. Reffing improved because the leagues got rid of team reffing. It's not like the people whose job *IS* to make things better can't see where things can be improved without your help in pointing it out. Team reffing is bad? Really Baca? I don't think anyone would have picked up on that without your griping!

And your griping is especially worthless when you don't seem to even understand what you are griping about. This whole penalty thing is pretty simple to understand and apply. I think you didn't understand it when you started these blogs, and now that it's been explained, I can't decide if you're just unable to understand it or unwilling to do so because it kinda makes this whole series blogs of yours moot.

Let's try and explain this one more time.

A player gets hit in an unobvious location. If the ref sees the hit, they pull the player immediately, no penalty. If not, a minor penalty is assessed when the hit is discovered.

A player gets a hit in an obvious location. The player may wait to call themselves out until they have had enough time to immediately proceed to cover, if necessary, and check the hit to see if it broke. If the player does anything else after they are hit, they get a major penalty.

It's really pretty simple. Anyone with a few brain cells should be able to take those basic concepts and expand them to pretty much any game situation. But wait - even if you don't have the brain cells, PSP sends Tim around the country teaching people how to apply those rules in game situations, so you can go to one of his classes and be taught how to apply them!

For example, I bet you're thinking to yourself, "Well, what is immediately?" It's as long as it takes. I think any person with any paintball experience has a pretty easy time determining how long it takes to check a hit. Player gets a hit on their goggle lens, they should be exiting the field in tenths of a second. Player gets hit on their arm, they should be exiting the field in as long as it takes them to turn over their arm and look at it. Player gets hit in the back of their shoulder, player should be exiting the field in as long as it takes them to turn their shoulder to the ref, point at it, and get a clean/not clean call.

Pretty simple stuff really.

Baca Loco said...

How could I have been so foolish? Wow, once you explain it like that it all becomes so clear. Thanks ever so much.

Yep, back in the day everyone was clamoring for "professional" refs and the promotors were just chomping at the bit to make the game better. Sure, I remember that too.

Oh and from now on I'll send you advance copies of posts 'cus I sure wouldn't want to look stupid.

raehl said...

You're welcome.