March 15, 2017

USATT Teleconference, New Coaching Chair, and the Service Judges Proposal
The USATT Board had a teleconference on Monday night, starting 7PM. (I blogged about the agenda on Monday.) Among other things, we appointed a number of USATT committee chairs and members. At exactly 8:36PM on Monday night I was appointed to my second tenure as chair of the USATT Coaching Committee. (USATT will publish online the full listings of soon of the various committee chairs and members we just appointed.) I’ll blog later about my plans for the coaching committee. My previous tenure was 1991-1995; I was also on the coaching committee 2010-2013.

The meeting was scheduled to last only 70 minutes, but took about two hours. This was mostly because the seven minutes allocated to the Rules Committee Proposal for Service Judges ended up taking something like 40 minutes of debate. The proposal was to give referees the option of appointing service judges on each end of the court at the upcoming USA Nationals, where they can better see the legality of a serve, in particular whether the serve was hidden. It would essentially be a test, and if it works, it would then be presented to the ITTF. The key thing here is that the referee would have complete discretion over whether to call for this, and would not, for example, call for it if there’s no room for the service judges (i.e. the back of the court is a wall) or if there aren’t enough umpires. They would also not use it in “big” matches at this time, with events such as Under 2400 mentioned as events where it could be tested. The proposal will also be tested at the upcoming College Nationals.

There were some objections to this proposal. The main ones were:

  1. It would disrupt big matches, where the players aren’t used to having the service rule enforced.
    (I asked what the players’ arguments would be, “I object to the service judge correctly faulting my illegal serve”?
  2. We didn’t get feedback on this from the Tournament Committee.
    (I didn’t see why this was needed – it’s a matter for umpires and referees, not tournament directors.)
  3. It will make players nervous – “Players would wonder why is this umpire watching my serve?”
    (I pointed out they already have up to two umpires watching, with the main difference now being they couldn’t hide their serve from the umpires.)
  4. It would force U.S. players to play under two sets of rules and conditions, putting them at a disadvantage overseas.
    (Top players who hide their serve – either sometimes or all the time – already have to do this, as they have to be ready for the occasional umpire who does enforce the rules. But the plan is to only try out the proposal, and then submit to the ITTF with the idea that it would become more widespread. If ITTF does not adopt it, we would likely drop the idea as well.)   

I made the motion to adopt the proposal, and gave an impassioned argument that we need to stop looking the other way at all the cheating that takes place in our sport at the higher levels, where illegally hiding the serve is the norm, and so to compete on an equal basis, nearly all top players have to learn and use these serves. I thought it was going to be a close vote, but lo and behold, it passed, 6-1-1 (one abstention).

Other issues: welcome and introduction of new board member Gary Schlager; CEO Report (National Team Trials, USA Nationals, Membership, Sponsorship and Fundraising, Clubs Update, Tournaments, High Performance/USOC, Junior National Team Trials, and Seamaster & Newco.); a closed session for a legal update (has Trump been tapping our phones to learn our coaching secrets?); and a discussion of our upcoming board meeting schedule. (We’ll be meeting near the ICC club in California April 22-23. Taking the weekend off will cost me over $500, but that’s comes with being on the Board.)

[Begin Rant]
One part about the Rules Committee Proposal for Service Judges I didn’t like was the rationalizing for it. It argues, with pictures included, that “the umpires are in poor position to judge whether the ball is hidden.” While this is correct, it misses what I consider the key problem in our enforcement of the service rule. As I’ve pointed out many times in this blog and in arguments with umpires and referees, the key question is not whether the serve was hidden, but whether the umpire was “sure about the legality of the serve,” with the rules also stating that “It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or assistant umpire can be satisfied that s/he complies with the requirements of the law.” When players serve so the umpire cannot be “sure” and “satisfied” about the legality of the serve, then the serve is a fault (with an optional warning first).

So while some argue that umpires can’t tell if the serve is hidden or not from their viewpoint, they don’t seem to realize that they have just stated that the serve is illegal. If they are not “sure” and “satisfied,” there is no longer any gray area – the serve is illegal, and if they don’t call it, they are allowing a player to cheat. Alas, umpires and referees don’t want to be singled out as the only one enforcing the rules, so we’ll continue to have illegal serving – yes, cheating – until the people in charge – Rules Committee, Umpires and Referees Committee, USATT Board, ITTF – make it a priority to enforce the service rule as it is written and stop the rampant cheating in our sport. (I tried, at the December, 2015 Board meeting – see Motion 6 – and may bring this up again sometime. I also have my Net Visibility Rule proposal to solve the problem.) We’re still in the “denial” stage, like baseball in the steroids era, where most knew what was going on but mostly looked the other way. But the Service Judges Proposal is a step in the right direction.
[/End Rant]

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