You’re Doing It Wrong

I haven’t looked up the final numbers yet for Louisville, but this NAC was a big one. We had 2,746 entries as of the final deadline, and while at first we thought we would have a larger-than-usual number of last-minute withdrawals because of the flu, there turned out to be only a sprinkling of those—nothing out of the ordinary at all—so we ended up with some very large days.

What we also had this weekend were a few referees more than usually disgruntled with our procedures. I’m not talking about the referees unhappy about meal options or new payment procedures or problems with the Fencing Officials Commission (though I’ll say something about all that in a future post). The specific complaint I heard more than usual was about our pod system of assigning the second round direct elimination bouts: Were we to use the FIE’s system of scheduling bouts as is done at world cups and at the Olympic Games, I was told, the referees would not have to be constantly chasing down fencers who wander off before their bouts are called, and the proceedings would finish much more quickly.

I knew they were wrong, but I’ve given up trying to explain why to the people who believe this. I used to contrast the differences in size and number of events between NACs and world cups, and suggest that the ability to run only two events in any one day perhaps made a qualitative difference in the fencing experience, but debating articles of faith isn’t productive.

Just for fun, though, I looked up the numbers from last Saturday, our biggest and longest day in Louisville, and figured out how much time each event would have taken had we used the FIE’s scheduled-bouts approach.

These are the events we held that day:

Youth 14 Women’s Sabre – 62 fencers – 100% up, DEs on 8 strips
Youth 14 Men’s Foil – 134 fencers – 100% up, DEs on 20 strips
Junior Women’s Epee – 175 fencers – 80% up, DEs on 24 strips
Cadet Men’s Sabre – 210 fencers – 80% up, DEs on 16 strips
Junior Men’s Epee – 265 fencers – 80% up, DEs on 32 strips

In international competition, DE bouts are scheduled at half-hour intervals for foil and epee, and 20-minute intervals for sabre. I assumed the final round of 8 would be the same for both methods, 90 minutes for the point weapons and 60 minutes for sabre.

So for each event, I took the number of DE bouts before the round of 8, divided that by the number of strips used for DEs, figured out how many intervals that would take, and therefore how long the DEs would have lasted with assigned times for DEs.

For the Junior Men’s Epee, there wasn’t that much difference: we would have finished at 4:30 pm instead of the actual 4:00 pm. Similarly, the Youth 14 Men’s Foil would have gone to 9:45 pm instead of 9:15 pm.

But the Junior Women’s Epee would have taken an extra hour and a half, running to midnight instead of the actual 10:30 pm. The Youth 14 Women’s Saber would have gone to 2:45 pm instead of 12:30 pm, and the Cadet Men’s Saber would have ended at a daunting 11:15 instead of 7:30.

Of course, world cups seldom use more than 16 or 24 strips, either—the idea of using 24 or 32 strips for a single event, or 60 strips for a single tournament, leaves most of the FIE officials who’ve seen our Summer Nationals awed and nonplused. (I’m still amused by the FIE observer who was so impressed he thought we should submit our poor ancient obsolete XSeed to the FIE for approval right when we were getting ready to drop it in favor of the new FencingTime.)

Scheduled DEs do usually keep tournaments from running long. But they don’t allow you to finish faster than the schedule when some bouts don’t use all their allotted time. One of the main reasons we’ve adopted the pod system we currently use for DEs is that it virtually eliminates single strips or quadrants running behind, and allows us to take advantage of small gains in time from those bouts that run quickly, to the point that we can save as much as an hour or two over our original projections. Scheduled DEs would slow us down and make our competition days even longer.

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4 comments on “You’re Doing It Wrong

  1. One benefit of the “Pod-based” DE system is that the pod captains have a much more intimate relationship with the referees working in that pod, and, when they do their job properly, ensure that developing referees are both pushed and protected. I would very much like to see a debrief by the Head Referees of the pod captains, post event, so that their observations and opinions about specific referees could be recorded.

  2. Mary,

    You might want to check the time assumptions. Based on my best recollection, world cups schedule 15 minutes in sabre and 20 in foil and epee (rather than 20 and 30). I doubt that changes the broader point, but it should help a bit.

    I think Bill’s point is a very good one.

    Brad

  3. Jon Moss gave me the 30- and 20-minute intervals, which was also how the Olympics were run.

    Another advantage to the pod system is that because more referees are assigned than available strips, they can rotate out for meals.

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