CoP - The Bad

The following are the characteristics of CoP that are just plain bad.  They are problems with the system that argue against its use, but are easily correctable, were the CoP development team willing to make the simple effort needed to fix them.

Some elements do not have assigned values.

This defect is characteristic of the entire careless process used to develop CoP.  Just a few examples:

Handling of innovative and new elements.

The criteria for earning points for innovative elements is vague and poorly thought out.  The ISU has yet to specify what level of creativity and innovation is required to obtain these points.  They seems to be saying "we don't know what the definition of an innovative element is, but somehow we will recognize one when we see it."  This approach is not appropriate for a supposedly objective scoring system.  It still looks like nothing more than a 2 point fudge factor for the skater who lucks out in receiving it, and an unfair penalty for all the other skaters in an event.

A second problem is that two points are too few for any new element of reasonable difficulty.  It's fine for a new gesture or position or connecting move, but not for anything of any difficulty.  Why would anyone want to put any time or energy into developing a difficult new element if the most one can earn for it is two points?  The problem here is that a fixed menu of elements in CoP kills all motivation for serious innovation.  In its current form, CoP locks in skating as it currently exists, forever!

Taken together with the problem of omitted elements, it seems clear that separate from the technical committees, there needs to be a permanent review board set up to periodically examine the point values and add new elements to the point model.  This should include a process whereby skaters and coaches can petition the review board during a season to make timely changes and additions -- where timely means in no more than a week, or perhaps even as quickly as during the days of practice preceding an event.

Of course, this problem does not exist in the current system of judging (and in others related systems), where the judges can call upon their experience to recognize new elements and their difficulty in real time, and incorporate that into their scores.  In the current 6.0 system, the rules call upon the judges to give the skaters credit for innovation, and for performing elements of skating in new and unexpected ways.  CoP, to the detriment of skating, unnecessarily takes that away. 

Emphasis on jumps and reduction in importance of presentation.

Up until control of the direction of figure skating was appropriated by the speed skater from Milan, skating was about more than just jumps.  It was also about the control and motion of the blade on the ice, it was about fundamental skating skills, it was about spins and step sequences, it was about the ability to skate in time to music in a well choreographed program that expressed the character of the music.  Over the past ten years it has become more and more about jumps, jumps and more jumps.  Use of CoP during the Grand Prix has demonstrated that CoP is mostly about jumps.  The skater in an event that demonstrates the best skills in spins, sequences, basic skating skills and transitions, and presentation is still likely not to win if they have a deficit of just one jump element compared to the best jumper in the event (assuming the best jumper is at least tolerable in the other aspects of skating).

Up until now, presentation has formed half of the skaters' total scores.  Under CoP it becomes less than a third.  The fundamental concept of the international style of skating for more than a century, however, has been that skating consists of the demonstration of skating skills and athletic elements within the framework of a well choreographed and well presented program that expresses the character of the music.  Since the late 1800s ice skating has progressed from an activity practiced in a few countries where natural ice existed in the winter, to an activity of international popularity exactly because of this.  This is what attracts participants and spectators alike to it.  The operative principle in this area should be, if it's not broke, don't fix it!  The balance of skating skills rewarded in CoP needs to be drastically revised.

Handling of combinations and sequences.

There are three aspects to the handling of combinations and sequences that require revision.

First, the original point model did not include a point value for the half loop jump.  Now it is not uncommon to have a combination with the half loop the second of three jumps; for example, double Axel - half loop - triple Salchow.  Because the CoP point model does not include the half loop, CoP has no way to score this combination as a combination.

So how did the great minds at the ISU correct the initial error of leaving out the half loop?  Well, instead doing the obvious logical thing and add the half loop to the point model, the ISU instead now says a combination with a half loop in it is no longer a combination, even though the jumps are executed with no turns or steps between the jumps -- the definition of a combination.  These half loop combinations are instead scored as sequences, and as such the half loop gets no points, and the two other jumps take a 20% reduction in point value, even though these half loop combinations are more difficult than sequences where there are turns and steps between the jumps.

The second foolishness is the assigning a base value equal to the sum of the base values for the jumps in a combination, and 80% of the base value for the two most difficult jumps in a sequence.  A sequence is modestly more difficult than executing two individual jumps, and a combination is significantly more difficult that executing the jumps individually.  Further, CoP makes no distinction between executing a double after a triple vs. a triple after a double, and does not take into account the difference in difficulty of executing a double loop instead of a double toe loop as the second jump, no less the triple Salchow in the half loop combination mentioned above.

Finally, CoP assigns the quality points based on the quality of the most difficult jump in the combination or sequence, not on the quality of the two jumps, or the quality of the combination/sequence as a whole.  It is ridiculous that two skaters receive the same points if they both attempt a triple Axel - triple toe loop combination, for example, and both skaters do the triple Axel equally well but one does a perfect triple toe loop and the other wrecks it completely.

The half loop jump needs to be added to the point model, and half loop combinations need to be scored as what they are -- combinations.  The reward for executing a combination/sequence needs to be greater than for executing several solo jumps, and the base value for the combination/sequence needs to accurately reflect the true difficulty of what is executed, and not some vague approximation chosen for the convenience of the programmers.  The quality points also need to accurately reflect the true quality of the entire combination/sequence, and not some vague approximation that has been chosen for the convenience of the programmers.

It's called software for a reason.  Because its easy to change.  So change it.  The idea the sport must change or be incorrectly evaluated because the programmers have yet to figure out how to score the complexity of combinations/sequences correctly is absurd.

Handling of spin combinations.

Given that the developers of CoP could not figure out how to correctly handle the limited variety in jump combinations/sequences, it is no surprise they gave up completely on trying to score the full complexity of spin combinations.  In jump combinations/sequences there are only hundreds of possibilities that have to be handled.  For spin combinations there are tens of thousands of possibilities at a minimum --  and many times that, depending on how much detail you want to consider in spin positions.

The CoP solutions is to take all possible variety in spin combinations and reduce it down to three levels of difficulty.  CoP assumes the judges are too stupid to decide for themselves what level of difficulty a spin is and has someone else do it for them -- sometime as a pow-wow involving two or three new officials who will decide the fate of the skater in secret and without accountability.  

As a final insult, no matter how complex a spin combination is; no matter how much strength and speed is demonstrated; no matter how well it is executed; a spin cannot earn more than a base value of 3.4, which is next to nothing compared to the jumps, with all four spins together making up a negligible fraction of a skater's point total.

In order to accurately evaluate spins, the point model must take into account the true complexity and variety of the spin elements.  This means taking into account all the positions executed, the actual difficulty and number of changes of position, the difficulty and number of changes of foot, and the difficulty of the entry and exit, as well as the number of revolutions in the spin positions and speed of rotation.

It appears that the handling of spin elements is primarily chosen for the convenience of the developers of CoP who have yet to figure out how to handle the full complexity of spins in a practical way, and again have decided to change the sport for the convenience of the programmers.

CoP needs to be completely reworked to capture the full complexity of spin combinations.  In addition, the point values for spins needs to be increased for the most difficult examples of spins to accurately reflect the true value of these elements, and to increase the contribution of spin elements to the point totals.

(One should note that the CAJ software available on this site uses algorithms for jump combinations/sequences and spin combinations that include all the complexity discussed here. So this is an achievable goal.)

Handling of failed elements.

The problem with the handling of failed elements is that under CoP there is no such thing as a failed element.  Fall on a jump or fall out of a spin, and you get points.  Take off or land squarely on two feet, you get points.  Sit down on a landing or put two hands down to keep from fall on your face/butt/other, you get points.  Cheat a jump by a half turn and get credit for a jump of one less rotation -- in CoP close enough is good enough!  No other sport rewards failure.  Up until CoP figure skating did not reward failure.  This is no time to start.

A failed designation must be added to the quality ratings, to specify that a failed element gets no points.

Double penalties for cheated quads.

The nonsense of scoring a cheated quad as a triple creates a further problem in the counting of repeated jumps.  The first error in CoP is to score a cheated quad toe loop, for example, as a triple toe loop.  The second error is to include the cheated quad in the count of repeated triple toe loops.  There have been several cases this season where a skater has been severely doubly penalized by this bit of foolishness.  This aspect of CoP is completely illogical and totally unfair to the skaters

Jumps cheated by more than 1/4 turn should be scored as what they are, failed attempts at the intended jumps.  They should not be included in counting repeated jumps of one less rotation.  For example, a cheated quad toe loop should be designated just that, and receive no points.  The attempt should be counted towards the repetition of quad toe loops, not triple toe loops.  Even if one accepted the foolishness that the cheated quad deserved some points based on the point value for a triple, the cheated quad should still be counted towards repetitions of the quad, not repetitions of a triple.

Relationship between quality and difficulty.

CoP tries to separate quality from difficulty, but doesn't fully succeed.  With jumps, for example, the base value for a given jump is the same regardless of the difficulty of the entry or any added difficulty in the air position.  Judges could account for this by increasing the quality of execution points, but this does not correctly score the element.  A skater can attempt a difficult entry to a jump or air position, but do it poorly.  In CoP, the base mark is supposed to capture the intrinsic difficulty of all aspects of what was attempted and the quality is supposed to be limited to how well it was done, but it doesn't always work out that way.  Consequently, some elements with difficult variations, are incorrectly scored.

All CDs have same base value.

Each compulsory dance has been divided up into six to eight segments with a base point value assigned to each segment.  The point values have been set to add up to 10 points for all the segments.  Each couple receives the same base point values, since each couple skates the same dance.  Consequently there is no real objectivity in the compulsory dances.  All compulsory dances regardless of difficulty have the same total base value of 10 for all the segments.  Were CoP the absolute scoring system it was intended to be, the point values in each dance would be different for each dance based on difficulty of the individual dances.

Because the point values are the same for all the dances, using CoP in a competition with multiple compulsory dances becomes nearly meaningless.  In a standard dance event with a compulsory dance, original dance and free dance, the value of the CD relative to the other dances is arbitrary and meaningless.  Objectivity in the CDs and the point values of the CDs are areas that need major revision in CoP.

The point values need to be reworked for the CDs, to be truly reflective of the difficulty of each individual dance.

Double trimmed mean.

The double trimmed mean is a lazy way of trying to filter bias and errors from a group of marks.  It's main benefit is that it is easy for the non-mathematically oriented to understand.  Unfortunately, it just doesn't work as well as other approaches.  The question here is, does one want a scoring system that actually works well, or only appears to work?  In this, as is so often the cases, the answer from the CoP development team is the latter.

Caller independence and accountability.

Instead of having to worry about things like misconduct, error, bias and accountability in one set of officials (the judges), now we have to worry about two (callers and judges).  There is no accountability standard for the callers.  There are no standards of accuracy they must meet, and no review of their performance to verify that they meet the non-existent standards.  The caller controls enough points to take an event away from judges and determine the winner, but their activities are nearly completely unregulated.

Unlike the judges who must make their decisions individually based on the actual performances in competition, the caller (who gets to pre-judge the event by observing the practices), assistant and supervisor get to decide the skaters' fates in private pow-wows where there are no records kept and no accountability.  There are no restrictions on the nationality of these three officials.  In several cases this season two of the three came from the same country. The risk of misconduct and national bias in now as great or greater for these officials than it is for the judges.

It is not clear why the caller is needed at all.  There is no reason why the judges cannot identify the elements themselves, but even if one believes a caller is necessary, the current situation is intolerable.  The caller, assistant and their supervisor should all come from different countries at a minimum, and preferably from different geographic regions.  A process of accountability with clear standards of accuracy needs to be established and documented.  Without these steps the callers are just three more officials the public can't trust.

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Copyright 2004 by George S. Rossano