Today I take my YMCA Swim Official Level 2 certification class. After today, and after I take the test associated with the course, I will be eligible to perform a variety of duties at swim meets as an official, at least at meets with YMCA designation (USA swimming, the governing body that organizes swim meets otherwise, has its own certifications, of which I am a “Stroke and Turn” judge.)
the glamorous world of meet/match judging. At left, a Magic judge, at right, a swim judge.
I had a long chat with a friend of mine about the ins and outs of refereeing. My experience was as a swim judge, his was as a judge for Magic: The Gathering tournaments. Both systems were built around making sure all the competitors were following the rules, and both involved making finicky calls about rules in unusual circumstances. A couple differences we uncovered in the ruling philosophies:
Swimming’s cardinal rule is “benefit of the doubt goes to the swimmer,” with a close second being “if you see it, call it.” In other words, we look keenly and call infractions as we see them, but if we don’t see them, we can’t call them. If we aren’t sure of what we’re calling, we oughn’t call it. By contrast, my friend tells me the measure for making a call in Magic is 51% confidence. The key factor is to maintain the integrity of the tournament.
Regardless of this seeming-gap in the rule-calling, our experiences of doing this work seemed remarkably similar. We often have to call infractions on people for mistakes, rather than cheats. You can get a game loss in Magic if you are missing a card from your deck, even if it’s missing because you dropped it on the floor by the last table. You can get a DQ in swimming if you touch with your hands non-simultaneously on some strokes — if it’s supposed to be a two-hand touch and one hand touches before the other, that’s a one hand touch and you’re DQ’d.
One place we found a clear distinction was in our use of terms. The standard penalty for an infraction in swimming is the “DQ,” which means that a single race is invalidated for the swimmer. In Magic, it’s a ‘game loss.’ Since matches are played to best 2 of 3, this isn’t always a match-loss, though it often would be (5 of the 7 match states would make the game loss a match loss). In swimming, extreme misconduct can involve being ejected from the meet, but this is rare. Here’s where the confusion came in, at least for a few minutes of our conversation. In Magic, a DQ is an ejection from the event, along with a six-month ban from other events.
One place we found real similarity is in the nit-picky nature of the job. Of course easy rules are easy to judge — does the person have enough cards in his deck, is the swimmer on her back for the backstroke? But the calls are made about tiny details. Did the swimmer initiate a turn immediately, or did he coast a moment first? Does this card get played before that one, or immediately after? But where Magic judges can examine the state of the game for a bit before making their call, swim judges have only the moment the infraction occurs. We can withdraw a call afterward — upon consideration, perhaps, we can decide a stroke was ‘ugly but legal’ (not a technical phrase), but we can never return to look at the infraction again. We can only go by what we saw when we saw it. Hence, the benefit of the doubt goes to the swimmer.
Readers, are you officials in some capacity? How does your experience line up with this one?