Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Scoring for the USDAA Regionals

SUMMARY: USDAA's documentation for rules is typically unhelpful.

All of the agility organizations have the same problems with their rulebooks: They're miserably unclear and incomplete--and sometimes just so dense with meaningless verbiage that one can't find any real info anyway--in so many areas. They all need to stop having attorneys, athletes, and executives writing the rules and hire a good technical writer, preferably one who has experience with agility rules and/or scoring as well.

So I'm singling out USDAA today only because it's fresh in my mind from this weekend.

When proofing the premium before it went out, my heart sank at all the thick and useless verbiage that USDAA required us to put into our premium. Back when I was doing the premiums, I tried very hard to rewrite text to be clear and concise and provide only what competitors were most likely to need to know. One of the frustrations with doing premiums was that most of the orgs complained if they noticed that we changed the wording.

However, I thought, at least--hidden in all that garbage that no one cares about except the USDAA's legal team--at least, surely, there are the rules for the tournament events. And that's what I continued thinking until I had to score the Grand Prix Round 2 on Sunday. I knew that some percentage of the dogs, based on some criteria, earned byes into the semifinals at Scottsdale. But what percentage? What criteria?

The premium verbiage is: "Competitors that earn five (5) or fewer faults in the final round may earn "byes" into the semifinals or finals of the World Championships based upon their placement in the final round. See the complete rules and regulations for Regional and World Championships, which are hereby incorporated by reference."

As an editor, I object to "competitors that" versus "competitors who"; the "five (5)" is insane legalese; the "which are hereby incorporated..." phrase which is more legalize that provides absolutely no (0) info to anyone that the first (1st) part of the sentence doesn't already convey. Gah!

But now I'm the head score-table person and I need to figure out what to do. Here's what I did over the next 45 (forty-five) minutes or so, striding briskly around the trial site while trying to keep tabs on the work going on at the score table and two (2) walkthroughs and a (1) run for my own dogs.

Talked to: Karey Krauter, Jim Basic, Tom Kula, Stacy Peardot-Goudy, Dave Grubel, Erika Maurer, Kate Moureaux, Candy Gaiser, Leslie Bickel, Nancy Gyes, Scott Chamberlain, Mark Wirant, and a variety of other people whom I thought might have definitive knowledge of the rules. This list includes assorted judges, USDAA board members, score table wizards, rules gurus, and the trial secretary and chair for completeness, most of whom I was directed to by other people. After some early uncertainty from a couple of people on whether it was 50% (fifty percent) of the dogs who had qualifying scores (five (5) or fewer faults) or fifty percent (50%) of the dogs running, it was quickly established that it was the latter, and that only those with five (5) or fewer faults among that 50% earned byes.

My question that sent me around the hinterlands, however, was this: If there are an odd number of dogs running, do you round up or round down from the 50%?

As I asked the question, I got answers like "I'm pretty sure they round down," "I'm pretty sure they round up," "I'd guess that they round down," "I'd guess that they'd round up," "I'm 99% sure that they round down," "They round up"--"are you sure?"--"Yes."--"are you sure enough that if I give a bye to the odd person that USDAA won't take it away from them and they'll be disappointed?"--"You'd better check with ---x----." And so on. At the end of my long list of people who PROBABLY knew or were PRETTY SURE, I had fifty percent (50%) of opinions in both directions.

A couple of people suggested calling Ken Tatsch, but either no one had his number or he was a trial (or maybe both--that wasn't clear).

I found three (3) people who had printed what they thought were the complete rules and regulations, and the phrasing was exactly the same as in the premium (and you'll note that those words do not say anything about 50% of anything--this is all word of mouth so far). Scott, who was judging, had additional material from USDAA out in his car that he kindly went and got during a walkthrough. The additional material included the same text that everyone else had, but there was also a lovely flowchart with decision boxes that says that dogs (I believe the phrase was) "within 50% of the first-place dog" earn byes. So, in the GP, what does that mean? It can't be within 50% (more) time, because there are also faults. It can't be within 50% (more) faults, because 50% of zero (0) is still zero (0). And it still doesn't say anything about rounding up or rounding down. One could read it literally as "well, rounding up would make it 50.01% and that's out of range." However, at a convocation around the score table in Scott's ring with several of the relevant parties, we decided that, since DAM Team rounds up at 50%, and Snooker Super-Qs round up at 15%, it would be completely consistent to round up here, too. And if they're inconsistent about rounding up or rounding down, the rules are stupid. (There, I've said it publicly.)

I think (I hope) that we told all of the people on the cusp about the issue and agreed to let USDAA be the bad guys if they wanted to be, since they're the ones who don't appear to have published comprehensible rules, or certainly not where anyone knowledgeable could find them.

This morning, after our show secretary emailed USDAA about it, we got this response:

"everyone has been rounding up. Next year that won't be the case......it will be stated specifically."

In other words, it sounds like their rule is going to be stupid.

The other thing that's relevant here was noting the opinions about USDAA expressed by people as I asked them the question. Those who prefaced their responses with "USDAA is always generous to competitors and makes decisions in their favor" were pretty sure that we should round up. Those who prefaced their responses with "USDAA is pretty stingy about stuff like that" and/or "USDAA is so inconsistent with their rules and I wish they wouldn't be" were pretty sure that we should round down.

So there are some image problems that USDAA could work on, too. If anyone's listening.

(Final caveat: I didn't list specific people's names to disparage their knowledge; au contraire, I listed them because many are acknowledged to be among the most knowledgeable people in the country about USDAA rules, even among their peers, and if they don't know and can't find the specific rules, it's a communication failure from the organization.)


  1. I will declare up front that I am a USDAA apologist. But I think that the fact that the rule book has not been republished in 3 years (2004 was the last revised publication) it is asking alot for trial secretaries and the scoretable and even judges, to keep up with what amounts to scraps of paper with the rules scribbled on them. Perhaps we will see a wiki rule book published soon.


  2. May I please commend you on your dogged pursuit of the facts! The pure tenacity that you displayed just trying to do the "right" thing is more than admirable. They should hire you, TODAY to clean up all the crap and make it the business it pretends to be.

    (and yes, speaking as a journalist, you are correct that competitors are "who" not "that." If they were referring to dogs ONLY the use of "that" would be correct. But the competitors are teams of dogs/humans and should be addressed as "who."

    Loved this post. Thanks!

    RRR Agility (LJ).