The Eighth Man

Texas Tech-nicality: In Defense of USQ

Credit: Amanda Livingston

If you are one of the lucky few who has avoided being in quidditch Facebook groups, you’ve missed two of the bigger punishments ever handed down by USQ.

Yesterday, USQ posted that Texas Tech University had failed to provide a roster before the 9 am CT deadline (24 hours before the official tournament start time, per USQ policy) and, as such, Texas Tech will not be allowed to compete at the Southwest Regional Championship. This follows on the heels of the controversial decision made last weekend to forfeit Gainesville Siege from the South Regional Championship for not providing the required referees for the first time slot of the day. As an organization, USQ has never been particularly strict on following its policies, and so this recent series of events has been a definite change from its usual stance.

For those of you who read Ethan Sturms’s article on Monday, let me warn you immediately: I’m going to mostly come to the same conclusion. That is, to say, as Sturm said, “There needs to be consistency with enforcement against these violations. When two teams break equally important policies, they need to be punished the same.” However, the paths we’re going to take to get to these conclusions will be wildly different. Sturm attempted to make a case against USQ for its inconsistent past of enforcing violations. I, on the other hand, want to do the impossible. I’m going to defend USQ and its actions over the past two weeks.

Let’s start postulating a pretty inarguable position: “For equal transgressions, the punishments should be identical.” If you see someone breaking for a goal and tackle them safely and non-dangerously from behind to stop it, you probably expect to get a yellow card. Notably, you’ve likely (subconsciously) calculated in your head that taking that card is worth the reduced chance of the opponent scoring the goal. If, instead, the referee chose to give no card because they felt like quidditch should have fewer rules, the other team would be rightfully upset. Alternately, if the referee gave you a red card for a non-dangerous illegal hit because they think quidditch should have less contact, you would be rightfully miffed. Now, imagine the rage you would feel if instead, you were banned for 20 games because of that hit. Obviously I’m expanding this situation a bit past logical plausibility, but the point remains: Generally, when someone intentionally does something they know or think has a chance to get them penalized, they are–either subconsciously or consciously–making an expected value calculation. Namely, they are weighing the odds of getting punished, what the punishment would be and what good their team is getting out of their decision. This is why having well-known punishments is important: People can be aware of the consequences of their actions before they choose to do them.

Courtesy: Jonathan Nettles

Let me be very clear: If, indeed, other teams committed the same violations as Siege and USQ chose to punish the teams differently, this would be unequivocally wrong. I’ve heard rumors of this, but oftentimes what gets repeated by the community misses really important shades of grey in the truth. To use an anonymous example from my days as part of the USQ Gameplay Department, one team once had two different transfers for nearly the same reasons. One of these transfers was approved and the other one was denied. A member of this team in a Facebook thread started complaining about how arbitrary the gameplay department decisions were, citing this as an example. Here’s the kicker: There was an important difference between the transfers. While ultimately both looked mostly illegitimate and like an attempt at poaching, one of the players had moved a non-trivial distance which automatically qualified them under the policy (this is also partly why distance minimums were added to the policy). Of course, no attempts were made with the gameplay department to clarify why one transfer request was accepted and one was denied, but the shades of grey were extremely important here. And it would have made no sense for a USQ employee to actually argue with people in the thread because all that would have done is make the organization look petty and small-minded–not to mention potentially break the implied privacy of the transfer request. Instead, we had to sit off to the side, really calm, quietly concerned that our department was being thrown under a bus. However, absent of stronger evidence, I’m going to assume that Siege made the only actual violation at this tournament. I apologize if I’m wrong and, if I am, I’ve already stated my opinion on this.

Now, why was the Siege decision controversial? Part of it was because the punishment seems harsh–I’ll talk about this and policy changes a little later–but most of it was because teams in the past haven’t been punished as harshly for this. Sturm already elaborated on several similar situations, so I’ll refrain from speaking to those, though I will add one more historical situation to the discussion.

In the run up to World Cup VII, a player had bragged near their regional coordinator that they had gotten around having to pay for new members by changing the names of people who were no longer playing in the registry. That function, which initially existed in case someone legally changed their name, led to the team playing with players who had not paid registration fees, which would constitute an illegal roster. Since the team in question qualified for World Cup with an illegal roster, gameplay unanimously ruled that their bid needed to be stripped and handed down to the next eligible team. The reason you don’t remember this policy being enforced is because it wasn’t.

Ultimately, upper management–most of whom had no gameplay experience and included the regional coordinator who changed their story after finding out the team might get in trouble–decided that it was too harsh and instead handed out what was still the harshest penalty the IQA had ever given out: The captain of the team and the players who were illegally registered were suspended for the rest of the season, and the team was “fined” the amount that would make registrations square. Still, this ended up a weird mix of too little punishment–because fielding an illegal roster basically invalidates anything you can say about the team–and too much–because the IQA had never been this harsh before.

Now we see the same problem with Siege and Texas Tech: When you’ve never been strictly enforcing policies and you want to, what is the fairest way to actually start enforcing your policies? Maybe the league could make some announcement saying, “Hey, we’re going to start enforcing our policies, and we mean it!” especially between seasons, but I personally find it hard to believe that anyone would believe that USQ finally has teeth until it starts using them. Maybe the league should do it between seasons–but we can’t know if USQ actually means it until after a violation– and this is the first violation I’m aware of like this during the season (the BosNYan Bearsharks situation that Sturm referenced fails this comparison because they were already out of the tournament). Texas Tech’s violation is the second one, and it was enforced with a similar level of zeal. This isn’t just about USQ trying to flex its muscles: It’s about trying to make sure its policies as posted with punishments are followed accordingly, so that all teams know what to expect. I know enough of USQ upper management and employees to know that not a single person took joy in doing this. Not one person is working for USQ because they enjoy stopping people from playing quidditch. However, sometimes there is a delicate balance. The precedents that USQ sets are important, as changing them gets people heavily up in arms. Sometimes issues which look simple can be very thorny, and sometimes the picture that gets painted by afflicted team members on Facebook isn’t always the events as they exactly happened. These details may be small, but they matter. As long as USQ is consistent with what it does, we are well within our rights to critique individual policies and what punishments exist for breaking them. However, it’s very difficult to criticize an organization for following the policies it has set out consistently.

If you already think I’ve droned on for a while, this is a good point to check out. I’m going to take the rest of this article to be a bit less coherent and discuss the policies in question and why I think they’re important. Additionally, I’d like to look at appropriate timing of policy making and revision. Finally, I’d like to talk about punishment options–or specifically, lack thereof–available to USQ.

Let’s start by talking about why forcing teams to provide referees is important. I don’t think this one is particularly controversial, but even so, I’d like you to picture in your head what nationals has been like for you. If you’re a referee, particularly one of the more core referees in your region, I’m going to guess it goes like this: Every time you aren’t playing, you’re assigned to referee. Maybe you’re lucky and you don’t have to referee the game slot before you play. Maybe you’ve been really blessed in your life, and you even got the slot after your game’s off. Either way, you’re likely refereeing in at least 75-80 percent of your game-off time slots, particularly before the bracket narrows. If you haven’t reffed at a tournament with such high refereeing needs before, let me just tell you: It’s exhausting. I’ve had years where I was a major player for my team, my team’s captain and a referee all at the same time, and the only thing I really remember after each World Cup was wanting to sleep for the following five days. It totally affected my play, and it definitely affected my team. It was my own choice, but it also meant that my team suffered competitively because I was trying to ensure that each game could actually happen. Yet, without people like these referees, nationals literally could not happen, and this isn’t a thing that will change until the cash flow into quidditch expands greatly and there are more paid non-playing referees. Until then, this policy exists because it’s trying to even the weight out so that the teams that are willing to volunteer are less negatively affected because of their willingness to referee.

Credit: Sana Sadiq

Today’s roster submission rules are actually the lightest they have ever been. Historically, you had to first submit a roster a week in advance and then were able to modify the roster until midnight the day before the tournament. Your team was disqualified for a tournament if you didn’t submit any roster that first week in advance, even though it was functionally meaningless. In order to lighten what felt like arbitrary restrictions, the policy changed so you only need to have your final roster submitted 24 hours before the start of the tournament. There has to be a deadline because tournament organizers need to have some notice of what teams are coming. In response to Texas Tech being disqualified, the pools were shuffled to be even in terms of team numbers again and the schedule was redone. These are decisions that take a while to deliberate, and redoing scheduling–particularly referee scheduling–can be a really nasty, time-consuming thing to do at tournaments the size of regionals. Particularly because mostly volunteers runthese events, we can’t simply assume they’re on call the entire time. Plus, it’s important for teams to know who they’re playing: Many elite teams do some degree of scouting and game planning and taking this away from them does confer a competitive disadvantage on some teams.

As far as I’m concerned–absent some major policy flaw– there is one and only one time where policy can be revised: In the summer between seasons. It is absolutely impossible to make arguments and change the policy as a response to a policy being enforced: This makes it impossible for USQ to be fair to all of its parties. If you have a problem with a policy, the correct time to propose a change is one that will go into effect next season, but these tend to be discussed most seriously between nationals and the beginning of the next season. I will never claim that the policies as they are now are absolutely perfect: Honestly, I’ve seen some very reasonable suggestions such as having a default roster if one isn’t submitted, but these revisions can’t be implemented mid-season. I guarantee you that some members of the USQ Gameplay Department have already made a note of revisiting this policy in the off-season. But, if this is an issue that you feel passionately about it, you shouldn’t be waiting until it is applied. By that point, it’s too late to make any arguments, and the policies as stated will be followed.

Some of the punishments or solutions suggested in response to the standing referee and roster submission requirements seem very reasonable but are difficult to implement. For instance, I have seen several people suggest fining teams that do not provide rosters. However, it’s not clear if USQ can actually fine people and, even if they do, this ends up disproportionately affecting certain teams. If a community team with many people who are drawing adult-level salaries are fined $500–a number I picked because I assume it would be considered a ludicrously large fine–for not submitting their roster, I doubt it would affect them all that much and they could easily pay it–even if they happened to be unhappy with it. If, however, the community team has adults who are all living paycheck to paycheck, suddenly this becomes a back-breaking fine and might as well count as disqualifying the team from a tournament. This probably also becomes quite classist in how it could attack college students. For students who are mostly supported by rich parents, fines can be shrugged off. For players who can barely afford to go to college and whose college support is limited–or more likely a club who wouldn’t be willing to pay a fine–this once again becomes a forfeit.

Player suspension is another punishment proposed to enforce gameplay policies, but this would be a flawed system as well. The logical choice would be for USQ to suspend the captain but since a team can alter its captain when submitting a roster, the team would ultimately be able to choose who USQ suspends when they name their captain. Additionally, suspensions for a game can mirror the problems of forfeiting individual games. For instance, if you’re about to play a team that you have no chance of winning against, withholding referees in order to give your players more rest suddenly becomes a strategy that gives your team a competitive advantage. This is why the rule that forfeiting a game in a major tournament forfeits you out of the tournament exists: teams in the past have literally taken strategic forfeits to save their energy and it has imbalanced tournaments in the past.This, historically, is known as the “Fleming Rule” because of Fleming College’s infamous forfeit to Texas A&M University at World Cup VI that helped unbalance the bracket. You could do similar things with suspending individual players for small numbers of games.

That’s not to say alternative punishments aren’t possible, but, again, these are things that cannot be changed mid-tournament or mid-season. If these are things you are passionate about, make your case in the off-season. The volunteers and employees at USQ are not doing things because they are capricious or they simply like flexing their muscles There are reasons behind almost everything they do, even if it may not always be the best thing. Treating them as such is insulting, and all it tends to do is turn them off from a community they’re already disinclined to listen to.

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