Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Tough Black Flag Situation

I was an umpire at the Friis-Marchiando trophy this weekend, a college team race co-hosted by MIT and Tufts. Interesting weekend of racing, with lots of calls. The College of Charleston won over BC, with Harvard and Brown in third and fourth, respectively.

Here an interesting scenario we ran into:

Team A, B, C is winning the race with a 1, 2, 3 combination at the top mark. Downwind, their opponents (X, Y, and Z) make some gains, and at the leeward mark X is inside C, who was in third place. Both X and C believe they have mark-room; C argues that she X did not establish an overlap by the time they entered the zone, and X saying that she did. C refuses to give room, and X is forced to the outside. A, B, and C round the leeward mark in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd respectively. The boats are all very close together (bow to stern).

X protests, and asks for an umpire decision. The umpires were certain that X had established an overlap in time, and accordingly, the C owed mark-room to X.

We discussed the incident briefly, and then displayed a red flag (to penalize C) and a black flag (to indicate that C's team may have gained an as a result of the foul).

Here are the relevant rules:

D2.2(d)(5):
An umpire may take action without a protest by another boat when a boat or her team gains an advantage despite taking a penalty.The umpire may impose a penalty of one or more turns, each including one tack and one gybe, signalled by displaying a red flag and hailing the boat accordingly, or report the incident to the protest committee, signalled by displaying a black flag, or both.

D3.1(c)(1):
After a hearing the protest committee may penalize as follows: When a boat has broken a rule and as a result her team has gained an advantage, it may increase that boat’s points.
C spun her penalty circles, and her team went on to win the race with a 1, 2, 6 combination (9 points), and X, Y, Z had a 3, 4, 5 combination (12 points).

After the race, the jury (the two umpires from the race, plus a third umpire) held a hearing under the black flag to determine (1) did C's team gain an advantage as a result of her breach of rule 18.2(b), and (2) if she did, whether to add points to C's team's score.

The first question was easier. It was clear to us that C's team had gained an advantage: rather than round as a 1,2,5 with the opponent's 3rd place boat right behind their 2nd place boat, A, B, C instead rounded in a 1, 2, 3 combination. This was a direct result of the foul. We could have given as many penalties at the tim to C as we wanted, but it wouldn't change anything; C's presence put X farther behind B.

The second question was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make as an umpire. On one hand, C's team had has a 1-2 combination all the way from the start to the finish. If we decided to add points so as to reverse the outcome of the race, this would give the win to X, Y, Z and mean the race was, in effect, over at the leeward mark. On the other hand, it was clear to us that C's team did gain an advantage and there was no penalty other than adding points that would be relevant.

We were eager to look for a middle option. In my opinion, the rule should allow the jury to order a re-sail of the race. But it does not. Likewise, were the umpires allowed to, we would have awarded a single penalty turn to B (who did not break a rule) to eradicate the advantage gained through C's foul against X. Here, again, the rules did allow this option.

Reluctantly, we added 3 points to C's team's score. The teams were now tied, and per rule D3.1(d) ("If the totals are equal, the team that did not have the first-place boat wins"), X, Y, Z won the race. 

Naturally, A, B, and C were very upset -- justifiably so. The jury was left with two bad options: reverse the result of the race, or allow C's foul to go effectively unpunished (since there was no other option that would be an effective penalty).

Lessons from this:
  • C was unwise to shut X out; if C thought that X did not have room, she should have nevertheless allowed X in and then protested her. This way there was no chance of a black-flag situation.
  • If, after the black flag were displayed, A or B had done a one-turn voluntary penalty, the jury would not have acted as it did. Doing this would take a huge amount of foresight, but believe it or not, I've seen it done before, and it is an excellent way of averting a black flag situation for a team that knows the rules well and is aware of its surroundings.
  • The rules need to be modified. The jury should be allowed to order a resail. The umpires should be entitled to penalize other boats to negate the advantage gained by their teammates' fouls, when necessary.

17 comments:

  1. Jeff Knowles: …the black flag seems to put the umpires in complete control of the race and there are umpires that will understand that and not be able to judge the intricacies of a professional foul
    Jeff Knowles: and i think one of the biggest problems with umpiring is an attitude of interventionism
    Jeff Knowles: what happens in the following situation: due to a wild disturbance of wind, water or reflex, a sailor looses control of his boat and - while successfully avoiding collision - performs a professional foul that drastically alters the outcome of the race
    Matthew Knowles: well it depends whether that foul can be corrected on the water by extra turns
    Jeff Knowles: under the rules, if just making the boat spin cant equalize the P foul then the judge would be decided in the judge's brain
    Jeff Knowles: the race would be decided in the judge's brain
    Matthew Knowles: sort of
    Matthew Knowles: yea
    Matthew Knowles: but whats the alternative
    Jeff Knowles: resail or spins for the other boats
    Matthew Knowles: suppose team has 1,2,6 and the 5 skips a mark and takes out the 1 and 2, his team ends up 1,2
    Matthew Knowles: resail there too?
    Jeff Knowles: that would be decided under rule 69
    Matthew Knowles: no it wouldn’t
    Matthew Knowles: that’s not bad enough for 69
    Jeff Knowles: adjust the rules to make it
    Jeff Knowles: a special exception for team racing under umpire
    Matthew Knowles: but either way its still a question of degree
    Knowles: and that question gets settled in the umpires' brain
    Jeff Knowles: yea but it would be done so under the very well supervised procedure already in place for rule 69 violations

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  2. Umpire interventionism: an attitude among umpires at a fleet or team racing event that they should somehow be involved in the race even if rules situations can be resolved without their entering the fray.

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  3. Matt -

    both of the rules you cite include the operative verb "may," (not "shall) a reasonable interpretation of which indicates umpires get to use their discretion on how to penalize boat C.

    So, A:, you had the discretion for whether to fly the black flag, and you exercised it in an outlier manner. I've never heard of a black flag being flown in that situation absent a damage hearing. B:, once the black flag was up, you had discretion as to what penalty to give. You chose to give three points to the winning team, changing the outcome of the race.

    Very aggressive decision making.

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  4. How did you land on three points? Is that a standard penalty or is it up to the umpires' discretion? Obviously you knew the tie-breaking procedures and were aware that the penalty would overturn the outcome of the race.

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  5. 3 points was the smallest amount that would reverse the outcome. This actually turned out to be important, as the team in question ended up in a points-tiebreaker later on, which they won, but would not have if they'd had more points in this race

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  6. To clarify I do not think that the decision discussed in this post was an example of Umpire Interventionism.

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  7. i like the idea of the person who didn't foul but may have gained an advantage through his teammate's foul dropping himself back behind the fouled boat. that way a black flag isn't a "if you win, you lose" guarantee. I don't think anyone would have a problem with having an umpire asses a penalty to a boat that gained an advantage from a teammates foul because it would really be the only way to win. we just got to have that be an option under the rules. it could easily be changed as everyone likes races decided on the water, not on land. However, if I dropped myself back after a black flag where my teammate fouled and I gained an advantage, and the jury disregarded still gave us the boot, I would be quite upset.
    One thing I will mention is that sometimes a fouled boat should have been able to come out of a mark with a 1-2 or 1-3 combo, but instead is fouled back and his team rounds with a 2-3-4 or 2-3-5 combo. In normal race conditions the 2-3-4 is great, but in a shifty conditions like the charles or tufts, this combo can be far more unstable than a 1-2 and hard to balance, with an unbalanced pair shooting forward in a puff or shift for an easy 1-3 passback. I really don't like the use of the black flag, but it seems like it might be necessary here, even though the fouled team is still in a winning combo, but a worse one (of course the easy solution is to charge the 1st place boat a penalty as mentioned above, but thats not an option right now). Ending with a question. How much does it matter to a judge whether a boat intentionally fouled (giving his team an advantage) vs unintentionally fouling (giving his team an advantage)? part of me thinks that intentionally fouling to get out of a hard spot or push a race along should be penalized extra, but not sure how

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  8. Terrible decision. Judges that intervene and arbitrarily add points to a teams score have no place in college sailing. A 1,2,5 is the same as a 1,2,3. One team is winning all three pairs. If you truly believe that x had room and that c knew that but still didn't give room then black flag C. In this case a red flag was appropriate. This isn't the first time that Matt has altered a result after a race had ended. At 2010 team race nationals he convinced the PRO to resail a race that had been decided on the water because he didn't like a call that was made. It's just not right to do that. Basically in Matts mind the moment that C fouled X there was nothing the team in the 1,2,3 could do to win that race. Matt had made his mind up. It would have been nice to tell that to the team in the 1,2,3 so they wouldn't have to bother sailing the last beat. Totally outrageous. But I do give Matt a ton of credit for owning upmto his decisions and defending them. That takes guts. He's wrong but at least he doesn't hide his reasons.

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  9. I had the pleasure to attend the Marchiando for a few hours as a spectator and had a great time watching the action right off the docks. From my perspective, it was the perfect sailing regatta - skilled athletes competing in close competition set up in a viewer-friendly manner. Hats off to all those involved with running the event - from the MIT staff to all the volunteers - as well as the college sailors!

    For better or worse, I did not see the situation that you have described. I try to avoid criticizing umpires because I know their job is incredibly difficult (and there pay is low!), but I believe this blog post is intended to be an open invitation to provide constructive dialogue.

    Based on your description of the events, the umpires' decision to reverse the on-the-water outcome of the race appears to be a startling error in judgment. By your logic, any foul ever committed by a winning team that prevents the losing team from catching up would be grounds for a reversal in outcome, even if the fouling boat ends up in sixth following the penalty. The team that is doing a better job and winning the race has a "death" penalty floating above their head throughout the race course.

    Your decision assumes that team ABC was not penalized for the foul; however, Team ABC was penalized. Boat C committed a foul and slowed the competitor down by about a boat length and was forced to spin a 720 because of its actions. Team ABC went from what would have been a 1,2,5 to a 1,2,6. The red flag penalty provided Team XYZ with the opportunity to unbalance the 1,2 and attempt a play 2, which team ABC was now more vulnerable to because boat C was in last.

    Many would argue 1,2,6, in which the 1,2 have an additional boat length lead, is worse than a 1,2,5 (thereby suggesting ABC was penalized by C spinning). I suppose some would disagree. Perhaps one's opinion would be based on other factors, the position on the race course, the conditions, etc. The point is that this is a huge, subjective, judgment call and in my opinion not grounds for umpire intervention.
    I am absolutely sure that all the umpires involved had the best intentions and wanted the correct team to win. Perhaps the foul in this description was more egregious than what I am imagining. However, I am worried that this decision indicates a willingness of umpires to be over-involved with the outcome of races. I feel bad for the student-athletes of ABC who sailed better than their competitors and had their win taken from them. I politely suggest, "let the kids play the game."

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  10. Quit it with the whining. Doesn't anyone blame boat C for being a moron to close the door and prevent the boat from rounding? If they(C) doesn't believe X has an overlap, protest but certainly don't do anything that will give your team an advantage. Race was totally in the 1,2,x's hands and they blew it.

    Rule limits umps, all it says is that the team "gains an advantage" which it clearly did by eliminating the close chasing boat. If you believe that the precedent from this race is to allow the 3rd place boat in a 1,2 to foul and prevent the chase, why wouldn't this be adopted by any team's x boat? In fact, MOST teams adopt the OPPOSITE tactic, telling the X boat to NOT FOUL and spin if it is close.

    Pretty basic stuff and I don't know why anyone is giving Matt a hard time for the ABC team screwing up simple team racing assignments. Nothing was taken that they couldn't have secured themselves on the water through smarter sailing.

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  11. I just recently participated in the RYA National TR Ump Seminar in West Kirby. Passing the exam, as the first Norwegian ever(?), I feel that I may contribute some to this discussion. At least, it makes me figure think through the rules and figure out what to do in similar situations ;-)

    Whether red or red+black flag was correct had to be evaluated by the umpires there and then. Based on the description above, red+black is correct. Given both flags, ABC should then understand that there is more to this than C to spin as in a red-flag-only situation. They quickly have to figure out what to do next, or indeed what A and/or B must do next. As this is not straight forward, I would allow them to strech the word "promptly" . A somewhat delayed spin from B (or A), which in this tight situation would at least let one member of the other team pass, would in my eyes have been sufficient, and would have made the jury work quite easy.

    I agree with Anonymous that black flag has to be shown, else C may actively break rules to destroy for the other team. I therefore think that the rules are quite OK, no need for rules changes. The black flag in principle involves the whole team in figuring out what to do to compensate for C's non rule compliance.

    Thanks to Matt for a nice case, which I spotted on Sailgroove.org

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  12. everyone bitches about umpire intervention until they are the one asking the umps to intervene

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  13. I believe there is a even more dangerous precedent being formed by this call then the ones stated above. That is, according to this call, anytime a boat shuts the door on someone at the leward mark - even if they honestly thought the other boat did not have room - commits a game-ending penalty if they are red-flagged. Not being there, but knowing the sailors at this level, boat C would not have shut the door if they honestly believed they owed mark-room. According to this call, a boat should always allow the other boat mark-room - even if there is this the smallest bit of doubt they are wrong - because the consequences are an immediate loss. I am not saying boats should start shutting others out, however, anytime a boat shuts another out when they owed mark-room (no matter the combination) just lost the race. This 123 example is about as extreme as case as it would happen, and if they gained an advantage (even though they had out-sailed the other team up until that point), than it can be argued that every other combination gains an advantage as well.

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  14. "I believe there is a even more dangerous precedent being formed by this call then the ones stated above. That is, according to this call, anytime a boat shuts the door on someone at the leward mark - even if they honestly thought the other boat did not have room - commits a game-ending penalty if they are red-flagged. ... According to this call, a boat should always allow the other boat mark-room - even if there is this the smallest bit of doubt they are wrong - because the consequences are an immediate loss."

    Respectfully, that is absolutely not the case. In almost all situations, where one boat wrongfully denies another mark-room by "shutting the door", that boat can be penalized (or take a voluntary circle, negating any advantage gained. In the scenario described in my post, if it had been the 1 or the 2 shutting the door, there would be no advantage gained problem, since those boats could have spun (or been given a turns penalty) and no advantage would have been gained.

    Nor is it even the case that any time an X in a 1,2,X "shuts the door" improperly that they would suffer "an immediate loss." While I was just one member of a three-person jury, and I don't want to speak for anyone but myself, I strongly suspect the outcome would have been different had there been any appreciable gap between the 2 and the boats behind her; in that case, any advantage gained despite the penalty would have been much smaller, and would be unlikely to justify adding points.

    This case was a rare one where 1) the fouling boat gained an advantage despite a turns penalty, and 2) that advantage, in the eyes of the jury, was significant enough that it needed to be penalized, and 3) that the only appropriate penalty available was to add points so as reverse the outcome.

    Furthermore, my post explains a way that the fouling team could prevent the addition of points even after the incident happened and a black flag was flown: by the 1 or the 2 taking a voluntary penalty.

    Thanks everyone for the great comments, both pro and con. The only point I'd make strongly is that this is not a slam dunk decision, in either direction, but rather a hard one where the jury had to choose between two undesirable options.

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  15. This is a terrible scenario of an interpretation gone wrong.

    Your thought process on how this should be applied is off base. You are now telling us and unfortunately a team that got the worst possible end of it, that in a 1-2-3 that the 3 should essentially avoid all other boats and finish in last as doing any type of basic bump or hinderance to the 4-5-6 could cost his team the race.

    For instance: I'm in the 3...I put in a bump at mark 2 and successfully slow the 4 but due to my poor boathandling I hit mark 2 somehow and the umpires saw but I hadn't noticed. The umpires flag me and I acknowledge and due my turns and am now somewhere between the 4-5-6 position. My bump was enough to extend my teammates' lead and effectively prevented the other team from being able to catch up.

    According to you I have gained too much of an advantage for my team. This is wrong. The advantage gained was from successfully slowing the back of the race down for my teammates. My penalty was for hitting a mark for which I took the correct action by doing my turns. Now here comes Matt with the black flag.

    Thanks a lot.

    Even in your scenario from the F/M the advantage to the 1-2 was the race behind them being slowed down. Seems to me the 3 was playing the "last point of certainty game" and lost. Penalty-red flag. But wait: over-zealous umpire: black flag. You have now started your own precedence that any foul committed can be black flagged because it slowed down the other team. News flash: THE VAST MAJORITY OF PENALTIES SLOWS DOWN BOTH PARTIES INVOLVED!!! I guess you'll be doing this to all of your matches now?

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  16. Yikes -- that's a lot of yelling from a "Quiet Thinker."

    At the risk of being redundant, I want to make clear that a number of the assertions made in your reply are absolutely not the case under the rules as I see them.

    "For instance: I'm in the 3...I put in a bump at mark 2 and successfully slow the 4 but due to my poor boathandling I hit mark 2 somehow and the umpires saw but I hadn't noticed. The umpires flag me and I acknowledge and due my turns and am now somewhere between the 4-5-6 position. My bump was enough to extend my teammates' lead and effectively prevented the other team from being able to catch up.According to you I have gained too much of an advantage for my team"

    No. Absolutely not. In your scenario I don't think that you gained any advantage from hitting the mark, and certainly no where near enough to even consider adding points...

    "Even in your scenario from the F/M the advantage to the 1-2 was the race behind them being slowed down."

    No. The advantage gained was that the penalized team rounded the mark in a 1-2-3 instead of a 1-2 with a very close 3 on a gnarly race course where 1-2s had been falling apart all day. Even after spinning, the 3 (now the 6) had done her damage: the first opponent was now considerably farther behind the 1-2 than she would have been absent the foul.

    "You have now started your own precedence that any foul committed can be black flagged because it slowed down the other team."

    No. Again, absolutely not. As you said, nearly all fouls slow down the boat that gets fouled. But that's not the point; in nearly all cases, there is no advantage gained once the fouling boat takes her turns penalty.

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  17. After re-reading my comment I agree that it was not as...quiet as I usually would like to keep it. Perhaps a different example could have been used as well. I still stand by my point that this seems to open up a door for umpires to become more involved than what the rules intend. At what point does the decision to use a blag flag hearing go from a subjective to objective one and by what standard would the umpires use?

    I would certainly agree that no two scenarios are the same and therefore makes it difficult to determine one way or the other for situations in the grey.

    I will certainly say that I am not a fan of this type of umpiring but I do appreciate you putting this out there for discussion. It is certainly something to keep in mind and is a good lesson to be learned.

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