Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Constant Referee

I have made some comments recently that may not have been fully understood on the subject of officiating so I'm taking this moment to (hopefully) offer some clarification. (The voting pace on The Monday Poll(s) has dwindled considerably so don't think that saved you from another St. Tropez post, it didn't.)
Before getting into paintball officiating however I want to offer a neutral analogy that may help separate fact from friction. In baseball the umpire calls balls & strikes. While no penalties attach to the process it is integral to the play of the game and defined in the rules. Despite that the interpretation of the rules has changed over the years and the so-called "strike zone" is not what it once was. But whatever the purist may think of an evolving interpretation of the rules the game remains fair--at least within the context of called balls & strikes--as long as the umpire calls them the same for both teams. Imagine a game where one team plays with the current strike zone that includes the rubber and sometimes even proximity to the rubber if the other team is forced to play to the old smaller strike zone. There can be no fair or balanced or impartial game for the competitors unless the rules, whatever they are, are understood, interpreted and enforced the same way for everyone. When I refer to the consistency of the officiating this is what I'm talking about.

When the MS tries to remove subjective determinations from the officiating by, for example, largely eliminating the concept of the unobvious hit the intent is to produce greater uniformity (or consistency) in the calls by the refs as a group. Which is a) a proper goal and b) indicative of the league's attempt to continue improving the officiating. What it doesn't tell us is whether or not it's a good rule. (The guiding principle here must be what sort of game do we want to play.)
In the recent St. Tropez event post where I was critical of elements of the officiating that criticism was principally directed at the inconsistencies on display but not entirely. A lack of perfect consistency is a part of the game (of any refereed game or sport) as we will never have perfect refs. But striving toward that goal remains worthwhile and the burden falls to what I commonly call institutional control to oversee and regulate. (To be fair to the MS this is on their radar. In my conversation with Laurent he described a merit-based system in talking about the training and placement of refs. In follow up discussion with some other long time MS watchers it seems clear a purely merit-based approach may be a goal but isn't yet a reality. Nor was it clear beyond generalities just what mechanisms were in place to assure such outcomes. Even so it is a path to continued progress.)
Institutional control when it comes to officiating covers a number of things. Real institutional control means that a plan and goal(s) exist aimed at achieving a well defined standard. It means that personnel and a system are in place to implement the plan and oversee the process and make changes as necessary. But as with the playing of the game failure or success comes down to execution. The MS appears to have the pieces in place. That leaves only the question of whether or not the league has the will to make it happen. All things considered they haven't done badly. (And I would say the same about the PSP. The NPPL took steps in the off season to provide some institutional control but the jury remains out as to whether or not it will be implemented or effective.) I will detail the inconsistencies--at least as we experienced them--in the next St. Tropez post.

The other area I criticised is really an issue of game philosophy. (I know, I'm losing the few of you who are still with me. It's okay but somebody has to talk about this stuff.) All games & sports are defined by the limitations imposed by rules. They give it shape and describe how it works. They are tools. They are not the game or sport they define. That said my Big Picture criticism of the MS is nothing to do with the refs--it is to do with the rules and the impact some of the rules have on the play of the game. I will cover this aspect in greater detail in a separate post.


Pete said...

Looking forward to your opinion/analysis of the effect of the rules on the game as played.

Ken said...

Dammit Baca! These posts that introduce great discussions only to end with "details in a separate post" are frustrating! What am I to do with the intellectual chubby you've given me?! It's not as though I can get a release from some other paintball site. You, sir, are a mental tease of great renown. A slave to your whims I am, and its pure torture at times. I thirst in a dry and dusty land.

Oh well, maybe I can troll the seedy side of town and find some action with Missy...

yay said...

" Removed subjective determinations from the officiating "
This is the best way to obtain a fair and consistent refering in my opinion.

Nick Brockdorff said...

I think your baseball analogy is bad.

In baseball, it's the same umpire who calls strikes & balls for both teams, and that naturally means it is far easier to get consistent calls.

A better analogy, would be football refs, where you often see one ref throw a flag, and another not - then debate ensues - and the head ref makes a call..... so they too struggle with consistency, but have the luxury of constant breaks in the game, to avoid negatively impacting the game result.

In paintball, you have 8-10 different guys, simultaneously making calls, in a game with no breaks (unless you want to allow for changing calls during turnovers) - and I suspect a lot of the inconsistencies you talk about, are down to that.

- If they are not, I'll agree a singular ref who is inconsistent, is a bad ref.

I'll also agree it is a problem, when 2 (or more) different refs on a field, interpret the rules very differently, and I tend to think that problem largely stems from "team refs" - because in my experience, the "real" euro refs, as a crew, are very consistent.

So, to me, the consistency problem is largely a financial problem - if the league could (or would) afford staffing all fields with a set crew, that officiate together event after event, the consistency will become apparent rapidly - not least because Ulrich Stähr, who is in charge of rules and refs, is actually really attentive to these kinds of problems (some would say anal - but that is what you need for a guy in that position).

As for the philosophical side, I look forward to that post, but I can tell you already now, what the major difference is between PSP and MS:


Way back, the MS made the decision, to take intent out of the mix, and penalise players irrespective of whether they intended to break the rules or not.

I think it is the right philosophy, because when a player is playing on, he is negatively impacting the opponents, and in that sense, it makes little difference if he meant to or not.

I think taking intent out of the mix, is a fairer way of officiating..... but I suspect a lot of american players view that matter differently, because the philosophy of game rules have been different in the US since the beginning of paintball.

Baca Loco said...

I set the table and you and other VFTD readers run with the ball. So start running. ;-)

Conceptually I agree. Given the game we currently play I tend to favor more flexibility--but that also requires a bigger focus on institutional control. I'll be digging into all that soon.

Baca Loco said...

Ah Nick
A longer comment than the post that elicited it. How unusual.

At least you are consistent. Consistently off course and off target. For example, one or multiple umpires in the analogy isn't a relevant point to the explanation I was offering.

I would direct you to a perhaps more fruitful line of inquiry to suggest you consider the "impact" of penalties vis-a-vis paintball and other sports but I suspect it would prove pointless. Even so ...

And your concluding paragraph suggests you can't divorce yourself from a parochial perspective even if you were inclined to try.

Nick Brockdorff said...

Ofcourse it's relevant - your analogy includes the phrase "as long as the umpire calls them the same for both teams". - And there in lies the rub.

Consistency is easy, when it's one person making all the calls, and while you may not like me saying it was a bad analogy, I still think it is, since it is not at all an analogy for why there is inconsistency in paintball reffing.

As for your "parochial perspective" remark:

Feel free to expand it old man ;) - I rather feel my perspective is the opposite of parochial, since I have extensive experience with reffing on both sides of the pond :)

Looking forward to your post on the philosophy of reffing!

Ken said...

I would have to disagree with "Consistency is easy..." Nick. Master Kilbourne would often instruct us that pushing the edge later in the day was easier than early. I know its anecdotal, but time and time again, we would watch refs lose their zeal after several hours in the sun. And whether you argue it as fatigue, or as bias (which is what I think Baca's analogy may be pointing towards) it's still inconsistent.

There Baca....I'm sittin' at the table...happy now?

Nick Brockdorff said...

I agree with that Ken - and Ron was always one of my favourites - in terms of attention to detail and devious plotting :P

However, when the refs are fatigued, they are that with all :)

Back to Ron:

I remember a Maxs Masters back in the day (7man), where he devised a plan for him to run down the centre of the field, off the break, get shot to bits, and then stage a whole big show... screaming in pain, falling to the ground, loosing his goggles, rolling around on the ground, fake fainting, etc.

The whole opposing team stopped playing and watched Ron in shock... and while that happened, his two fronts ran down the wires and shot everyone in the back.

Ron then got up, nice and calm, and walked off the field.


Baca Loco said...

Yes, Ken, I am happy now. Alas, it's a transitory state.

One last time. The number of refs is immaterial to a discussion of the CONCEPT of consistency. I am focusing on conceptions and abstractions. You shift to the concrete and/or anecdotal and the result is that we are in two different places whether you see it that way or not.
You are welcome to carry on--I'm just not interested in that particular discussion right now.

Missy Q said...

The baseball analogy was fine, really. 100% clear.

Oh, and Nick - cool story bro...

yay said...

The first Nick's post is all i would like to say if my english was better.
This man speak the truth !!!

@Baca : Dont let a bad first event disturb your jugement about the different kind of refering that offer millenium.
Every Psp players who came over in the past struggled with it.
But at the end, i'm sure they know it's better.

(CPL refering is maybe the best thing in the cpl .... )

Anonymous said...

Nice try Nick.

Baca Loco said...

No it isn't--and my views have nothing to do with our experience. (Although I have lots of video of that and you might be very surprised to see what it shows--and fails to show at times.)

Still you continue--along with Nick--to be welcome to your opinions. :)