A Letter to the NCAA Rules Committee re: Miller v. Realbuto Controversy

[This is an email sent on March 28th to Ron Beaschler (r-beaschler@onu.edu) NCAA Wrestling Secretary-Rules Editor, republished in light of the upcoming NWCA Convention, Jul 31 - Aug 2 2015.  This issue deserves attention.]

Hi Ron--

We've been in contact previously about some finer points in the NCAA rule book.  I thought you might be interested in our perspective about a specific area of the rule book that needs some attention in light of the Miller v. Realbuto controversy at the NCAAs.  This is a very bland, technical recommendation, but I believe it addresses the root cause of the scoring error (no NCAA bashing here -- it's a great and popular sport especially in the wake of this controversy, but not my concern) in this match and, prospectively, others.

Here's the issue, articulated in the context of the Miller v. Realbuto match and excerpted from a broader blog post:

The 2nd Takedown Mystery

With a continuously running clock, by rule it is not possible for a wrestler to score two consecutive takedowns without the opposing wrestler scoring an escape in-between those two takedowns. Yet, that is precisely what happened in this match.  At this tournament, scoring was done with an electronic scoring system that, in normal operation, prevents the operator from scoring two consecutive take downs for a wrestler without an interleaved escape by the opponent.  That’s the rule and it is incorporated into the electronic scoring system’s logic.

Realbuto’s first takedown (at 0:24) was scored properly.  The scoring system, rightly so, would have then disabled Realbuto’s takedown button until an escape for Miller was scored.  But, the escape for Miller was never scored and when Realbuto executed his second takedown (at 0:10), the scorer had a serious problem: Realbuto’s takedown button was disabled.  But, we know from looking at the scoreboard that Realbuto’s score increased by 2 match points at this point.  How did that happen?

It’s been reported that the 2nd takedown was scored using a feature of scoring system that allows adding generic points to a wrestler’s score.  These points don’t carry the standard scoring notation — T2 in this instance — but instead are simply recorded as “+1″ or “+2″ depending on the system used.  These so-called generic points can be added to the wrestler’s tally at any time, regardless of match context or wrestler position.   Some operators of electronic scoring systems use generic scoring when the button they want to tap — in this case, takedown — is disabled.  It’s a way to circumvent the scoring system’s logic.  And, it’s a bad idea that can lead to bad outcomes.

Generic Electronic Scoring Should Be Banned

Well, that’s a little extreme.  But, consider carefully the case of Ian Miller.  Had generic scoring been disabled in the NCAA’s scoring system, Realbuto’s final takedown wouldn’t have made it to the scoreboard and the natural wrestling process of everyone screaming bloody murder would have forced the official to give thoughtful deliberation to the scorebook.  Instead, the scorer overrode the system’s logic and this action cascaded into a series of unfortunate events that unfairly sent Miller to the consies and Realbuto to the semis, and put an NCAA official in an embarrassing situation. Not good for Miller, Kent State or the NCAA.

s you know, the rule book has a table of scoring notations in 4.6 Scoring Abbreviations (WR-51).  This table has a footnote that says "the abbreviations above are the only official terms for recording a result." As a practical matter, the "official" nature of these abbreviations has not been historically enforced. I'm guessing that the referees don't know all the abbreviations, nor do the scorers.  And, in the case of manually scoring a bout, it is very difficult to enforce using these abbreviations in any case.

However, with the advent of electronic scoring systems, there is no reason, technical or otherwise, to use anything other than the "official" notations.  Had this happened at the NCAAs, Miller would have been declared the winner, controversy avoided. Indeed, I suspect that Miller v. Realbuto's bout has accounted for in a manner in opposition to the NCAA rules in so much as the "official" scoring abbreviations were not used to record Realbuto's final take down.

y recommendation is that the rule book is revised to make clearer the role of the Scoring Abbreviations in official scoring and also articulate just what is meant by "official" in this context. For example, can an NCAA match have a declared winner if the scoring isn't "official"?  The way the rules are currently written, that seems a reasonable question.

Further, and this is more specific, I'd suggest that any NCAA sanctioned event using electronic scoring use only the scoring notation in 4.6.  This would have the benefits of (1) improving scoring accuracy and (2)standardizing scoring presentation.  In turn, this change would reduce coach<->official interaction which often interrupts match flow (though, admittedly, highly entertaining depending on the coach!).  For an electronic scoring system vendor like us, using the NCAA abbreviations is easy to implement and, in fact, we comply with most of 4.6 already.  I'm sure other vendors would indicate likewise.

Thanks for reading this and I look forward to your response.  Also, if you have any questions, please let me know. Our application has been used to score about 60,000 high school and college matches in two seasons, so we have deep user and technical expertise in this area.

J. Moses


Takedown Scoring and Stats is a single-team focused, mobile app for scoring wrestling matches, recording video, creating stats, managing teams and rosters, and engaging fans via social media. Download from the App Store.

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