TOC Changes Rule on First-Year-Out Judges

The TOC abruptly changed the rules regarding first-year-out judges in its invitation on Friday several weeks after it had originally released the invitation. The tournament released its first 2015 invitation, entitled “TOC Invitation Final_0,” in mid-February. On Friday, March 6 a new invitation called “TOC Invitational Final_1 (4)” quietly appeared on the TOC’s website. The invitation on Tabroom, meanwhile, is called “TOCInvitation2015Final” and is consistent with the original 2015 invitation.

The change in title may be subtle, but the new invitation contains a substantial change in rules. The original invitation and the invitation on Tabroom imply that first-year-out judges may fulfill judge obligations up to seven rounds. According to the new invitation, they may count towards obligations only up to two rounds. The new invitation states:

“In Lincoln Douglas. First year out judges will constitute “free strikes”. First year judges may count for up to two rounds of judging for their school. A school may have no more than one first year out judge covering their obligation. A first year out may not cover rounds for multiple schools.”

This rule change appeared without any public announcement.  The first-year-out issue had been discussed at a meeting of the LD Advisory Committee in April 2014. The initial version of the invitation reflected an apparent decision to treat first-year-outs like other judges at future TOCs.  In fact, this is the rule still reflected in the version of the invitation on Tabroom.

Previously, the TOC has stood alone on the national circuit in barring first-year-outs from fulfilling judging obligations and in treating first-year-outs as free strikes. This policy ensured that few first-year-outs came to the tournament, except for a few brought by teams that could afford to bring coaches who would not contribute to judging obligations.

But the data (which were presented to the Advisory Committee in April 2014) show that the community at large prefers first-year-outs to other judges:

Number Judging Doubles* as Percentage of Total Entered in Pool (2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons)
Greenhill Valley Bronx St. Mark’s Apple Valley Glenbrooks VBT Harvard
FYOs 2012-13 100% 67% 69% n/a 91% 58% 86% 50%
Non-FYOs 2012-13 47% 44% 28% n/a 51% 31% 39% 10%
FYOs 2013-14 n/a 86% n/a 88% 91% 100% 92% 62%
Non-FYOs 2013-14 n/a 65% n/a 49% 64% 43% 44% 10%
*All judges are obligated for doubles, so it’s the best measure of how highly judges are preferred.

fyo chart

At every tournament surveyed, more first-year-outs judged double-octafinals as a percentage of first-year-outs in the pool than did non-first-year-outs as a percentage of non-first-year-outs in the pool. This suggests that the community as a whole ranked first-year-outs more highly than it ranked non-first-year-outs. While some may believe that first-year-outs are bad judges, any policy that limits the obligations first-year-outs may fulfill or makes them free strikes is clearly inconsistent with what the broader community wants.

The March 6 change effectively takes the TOC back to the old state of affairs with regard to first-year-outs. A two-round contribution towards a judging obligation will hardly be enough to justify plane tickets for teams that weren’t going to bring their first-year-out coaches under the old system. However, there is one change: now, those teams that can afford to bring their first-year-out coaches will gain a two-round credit towards their judging obligations (their first-year-out coaches have to judge two rounds anyway under the Entourage Rule). This will reduce the judging obligations of older coaches on those teams, freeing them up for more scouting and coaching.

The TOC appears indifferent to the consequences its first-year-out policies have for attendees. According to Ben Koh, who coached Nathan Cha as a first-year-out last year, “the rule that FYOs couldn’t cover obligations put us in a really bad spot; the choice seemed to be between [Nathan’s] having a coach there versus being able to cover the judging obligation.” Though Ben “emailed the TOC listing the number of tournaments I had judged at, how highly I was preffed, and the situation we were in,” the tournament refused to allow him to cover Nathan’s obligation. Ben had judged over 150 rounds at TOC qualifiers and round robins that year and had been the most highly preferred of the 205 judges at Harvard.

This year, the TOC’s late change in rules has caused attendees to incur unnecessary costs simply by following the rules posted by the tournament. The tournament is unsympathetic. Before the tournament posted its modified invitation, at least one team, Hunter College, had already booked nonrefundable plane tickets for Danny Li, a first-year-out. On Friday, Danny requested permission from the tournament to cover a full obligation since Hunter had booked his tickets based on the original invitation; the team would not have booked them had they known of the new rule. The tournament refused to make an exception. Instead, Danny was told that Hunter could spend more money to hire additional rounds through the tournament.

Other schools could easily have ended up in the same predicament. Mission San Jose had requested tickets for its first-year-out coach from its administration, which was going to book the tickets Friday. Others, such as Byram Hills, were planning shortly to book tickets for first-year-out judges. When would the tournament have alerted these teams to the rule change? Was it expecting them to notice that a new invitation had been posted on the TOC’s website under a slightly different name even though the invitation on Tabroom remained the same?

The TOC’s bizarre late change in rules, its failure to announce this change to the public, and the apparent contradiction between the tournament’s rule and community norms and preferences, may remind many of the procedural debacle at the 2014 TOC: http://nsdupdate.com/2014/04/26/nsd-update-coverage-toc-2014/

See also: http://nsdupdate.com/2014/04/29/debates-national-championships-where-do-we-go-from-here/