More Exploiting the New Judging System

In a previous article it was proposed that replacing the qualifying competition structure with a seasonal score-based approach could be a potentially fairer system of selecting skaters to advance to Nationals, and in the process save U.S. Figure Skating a large amount of money annually.  But those are not the only benefits a seasonal score approach offers.

The basic idea is this, a seasonal average of the skater's scores in competition would be maintained by U.S. Figure Skating, using the six best scores during the season.  At the end of the season the skaters with the 12 best seasonal averages in each competition level and discipline go to Nationals.  For everybody else, their season is over.  This approach would save USFSA the cost of qualifying competition, avoids having to purchase the several hardware systems needed to judge the qualifying competitions, and would reduce the number of judges needed to judge qualifying competitions.  Under this kind of system, everyone nation-wide would get to compete for a place at Nationals on an even playing field regardless of where they compete, the size of competitions in their local area, or the depth of talent in the competition.  Who could ask for more!

First of all, the skaters would no longer have to worry that after a good season they might be eliminated at Regionals because they had a cold that week, or were competing in more than one event where the schedule kills them.  They don't even have to worry about having a bad competition during the season because the average would be based on their six best results.

Elimination of Regionals and Sectionals would reduce the travel expenses of the skaters, and would reduce the number of days that skaters would have to be out of school during the year.  Both of these would be blessings for skater's and their families.

The season for local competitions could be extended to mid-November.  This additional time (about 6 weeks) would allow competitions to be spread out a little better, and  reduce scheduling conflicts for clubs looking for a weekend without stepping on another club's competition; and it would make it easier on the judges who would have more time between competitions.

If Seniors and Juniors had to enter local competitions to reach Nationals (not to mention pairs and dancers), the quality of local events would increase, and thus raise public interest in local skating.  It would make local competitions relevant throughout the season.

Currently, skaters who compete internationally get a free ride to Nationals.  They are too busy to compete in the U.S., and so at the Senior level, Nationals typically consists of the 12 skaters who qualified through sectional, and about 10 byes for the skaters selected that year by the International Committee for ISU competition.  Under a score-based approach the international competitors could use the scores from their ISU competitions to determine their seasonal average.  If their seasonal average is not in the top 12 they don't qualify for Nationals.  Everyone is on an even playing field to get to Nationals.  No one gets a gift, and Senior events at Nationals can be reduced in size from the current 20-24 skaters.  Nationals benefits by being smaller, less expensive and is limited to the 12 best skaters in the U.S. in each event, which would make the Senior events more interesting to the spectators.

If the records of the skaters were posted on the USFSA website, it would increase public interest and enthusiasm during the season as the public tracks the progress of the skaters all year in qualifying for Nationals.  Basically it creates the excitement of a "playoff race" to see who will make it to Nationals.

By posting the seasonal "standings", some judges might be tempted to use that information to guide their marking of future competitions to help their club members.  On the other hand, since it is a seasonal average, the effect of a biased judge would be diluted among the six competitions.  With panels of nine judges at six competitions, qualifying for Nationals would be based on 54 opinions (though not necessarily 54 different judges) during the whole season compared to nine opinions in one competition.  Not a perfect solution to a club bias problem, but at least a start.

In principle, skaters could enter any competition during the season, but in practice some minor requirements would probably have to be placed on competitions for a skater's score to count "For the Record".  Most of these requirement are driven by the fact it is far too easy to manipulate the results under the new judging system.

Due to the mathematical characteristics of the computation method used in the new judging system, control of judge's misconduct has to be pursued through indirect means.  Hence the need for a strong accountability system with strict controls to deter personal or club bias in judging.  Such an accountability system would also be a blessing to small clubs who are occasionally victims of larger clubs poaching members with the implied promise that skaters would place better in competition if they were members of  another club.

At the local level, a For-the-Record competition would have to be judged with a minimum of seven judges, and preferably nine. It would be prudent to require that no two judge on a panel represent the same club.  Further, since the results will be used to determine who goes to Nationals, one might want some of the judges to come from a region other than the one where the competition is held.  Requiring that different panels judge the short program and free skating parts of an event would also help to mitigate the effects of errors or bias in the judging.  Whether an event meets the criteria for results to be For-the-Record could be included in the referee's report, and the results forwarded to headquarters by the accountants could be automatically tabulated.  Setting up a system to keep the records proposed is fairly trivial and straight forward. 

Seasonal score-based qualification to Nationals has many desirable characteristics.  The only fly in the ointment (other than the source of the idea) is whether it can be insured the judges will mark all competitions nation-wide according to the same standards without personal or club bias influencing their marks.  However, since this problem is intrinsic to the new system it will be present in any system of qualifying competition under the new judging system.  Thus, the benefits of eliminating regional and sectional qualifying competitions appear to overwhelm the issue of the sensitivity of the results to bias.

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Copyright 2004 by George S. Rossano