Lose Track of the Score at your Wrestler's Peril: A Harsh Lesson for Kent State and Ian Miller

[originally published in March 2015; revived in light of upcoming NWCA Convention Jul 31 - Aug 2.  This situation deserves some attention from that group.] In the quarter final round of the NCAA Division I Championships in March 2015, Ian Miller (Kent State) lost to Brian Realbuto (Cornell) 11-9 in sudden victory. But, that sudden victory round shouldn't have been wrestled because Ian Miller beat Brian Realbuto 10-9 in regulation. How'd that happen?

Background

With 24 seconds remaining in the 3rd period of bout #360,  Miller led 8-5 and the wrestlers were in neutral.  Realbuto scored a takedown making the score 8-7, Miller still leading. Four seconds later at 0:20 on the clock, Miller escaped, the score was then 9-7 still in Miller's favor.  Realbuto followed with another takedown, tying the score at 9-9.   The 3rd period ended with no further scoring. Miller, however, accumulated a riding time advantage in excess of one minute and was awarded the customary riding time point.  Miller won 10-9.  That's what happened.  But, that's not how it was scored.

For whatever reason, Miller's escape at 0:20 was missed by the official scorer.  The scoreboard showed Realbuto ahead 9-8 when the clock expired and with Miller's riding time advantage added, the score was tied 9-9. From the moment the whistle blew ending the third period until the whistle blew starting sudden victory, 25 seconds elapsed.  Miller's head coach, Jim Andrassy, said that he approached the scoring table at third period's conclusion to question the score, but was rebuffed by the officials.  Realbuto scored a takedown in sudden victory to win 11-9.  Subsequently, Kent State approached the tournament committee and asked for a review.  The tournament committee reviewed the situation in accordance with NCAA Rule 3.11.2 and decided not to overturn the match outcome. Realbuto moved on to the semi-final round and placed 2nd and Miller dropped into the consolations and placed 5th, both All-Americans and excellent wrestlers.

Kent State Reaction

Kent State's head coach, Jim Andrassy, approached the scoring table and officials at the end of regulation to contest the score.  Andrassy, in a video interview after the match, said:

I knew the score was wrong, I went up to the head table, the referee said it was right and ... two officials sat me down and started overtime.

There's been no word from the NCAA or the officials on what transpired between the officials and Andrassy at this point in the match.

Referee's Role

Whatever was communicated between the mat officials and Andrassy at the end of regulation, the NCAA Rules (p. WR-27) are clear:

3.12 Questioning the Referee

3.12.1 Coach. A coach shall be permitted, without penalty, to approach the scorer’s table with the intent of correcting or asking for an interpretation of the score or time...The referee and coach shall discuss the situation in a rational manner directly in front of the scorer’s table.

In the 25 seconds from the end-of-regulation whistle to the start-of-sudden victory whistle, the official took 18 seconds to walk to the scoring table and walk out to center mat to start sudden victory leaving about seven seconds for discussing the situation in a "rational manner" with the contesting coach, Andrassy.  Perhaps the official heard the coach's protest as he was walking toward the table, so it is possible the official was considering the issue for a longer period.  Best case would be, say, 20 seconds of deliberation if he was still pondering the protest as he jogged out to start sudden victory.  Still, in a critical match with lots of scoring in the period's final 32 seconds (2 takedowns, 2 escapes, 6 points), the rush to start sudden victory and not give more consideration to the issue seems ill-advised if not in opposition to the NCAA Rules.

NCAA Role

At a sanctioned tournament, the NCAA's Rule Book mandates a three person tournament committee to arbitrate all disputes (3.16.2) .   Further details appear in 3.11.2:

Error by Timekeeper and/or Scorers. If there is an error on the part of the timekeeper and/or scorers, the error shall be corrected and the referee will inform the wrestlers, coaches and announcer of the correction...For a tournament, the correction shall be made by the referee and shall take place before the contestants leave the mat area or the bout sheet leaves the scorer’s table. Any error not resolved by the referee shall be arbitrated by the tournament committee.

In this instance, the tournament committee did not overturn the match result.  However, in a video interview, the Chair of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee offered a mind-numbing explanation of why the tournament committee didn't overturn the match outcome, saying:

I think it's key to understand that there was never an official challenge made at the match...the protocol that's in place is to go over, grab that flag and say 'no, that's wrong' and that never occurred.

The Chair is referring to NCAA Rule 3.21, Mat-Side Video Review which was established to challenge judgement calls by the referee, not clerical scoring errors.  Moreover, the protocol for questioning the score is in rule 3.12 cited above.  There is no requirement in the NCAA Rules to use a formal challenge, ala 3.21 Mat-Side Video Review, to question the official score accuracy.  The NCAA Chair's statement reveals an ignorance of the rules that's distressing.   Some suggest that the statement is a red herring, that the real reason the NCAA declined lies elsewhere. I'm not on the committee so I take the Chair's statement at face value.

Where's the escape?

Why wasn't Miller's escape, the one with 20 seconds remaining, accounted for in the official score?  Maybe the referee gave a poor signal or none at all, this isn't clear from available match video. We know for certain that the scoring table missed the escape.  Much has been made of this missed escape, but the reality is referees often give poor signals and scoring tables miss scores.  It happens and, here's the point: missing the escape isn't the critical error in this situation.  It's what happened next that is important to understand and internalize.

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 been posted 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.

All Coaches Pay Attention

In his post-match interview, Kent State's head coach Jim Andrassy also offered the following:

To be honest with you, I thought [the score] was wrong, but I wasn't 100% sure.  It didn't seem right.

From this statement, it's fair to assume that Coach Andrassy didn't confidently approach the officials with a specific description of why the score was in error.  To be sure, the referee and scorer bear most of the responsibility.  But, a coach without his own detailed, independently generated recording of the scoring sequence is risking an unjust outcome for the wrestler.  When that happens in the quarter finals of the NCAA Div I Championship, it's a big deal.

So, coaches, when the outcome matters, use something -- a paper scorebook or, better, an electronic scoring system normally operated -- to correctly and independently record the match scoring activity.  Mat officials and table scorers commit errors and it is your responsibility to confidently step in and make it right for your wrestler.  They deserve nothing less.

 

 



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