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Feature by Jeff Commings
AUSTIN, Texas, March 28. THIRTEEN relay takeoff disqualifications on the first day of the NCAA Men’s Division I Swimming and Diving Championships had many wondering if something was afoot on deck. But this year’s meet has a more thorough system of checks and balances than has ever been used at the collegiate championship.
A new rule getting more verifications on early takeoffs might cause several lulls in the action, but it’s allowing every angle to be explored and checked before the referee makes the disqualification official, or overrules it. The platforms on the starting blocks are the first judges of a disqualification, with the electronic judging making the final ruling for takeoffs in the range of +.09 (the foot leaving the starting block nine hundredths of a second after the hand in the water touches the wall) to -.09 (the foot leaving the starting block nine hundredths of a second too early). When it’s outside of that range – particularly when it is -.10 or more – the human judges weigh in.
Two judges on the side of the pool each watch takeoffs on two lanes, and a takeoff judge on the bulkhead watches just one lane. If the electronic judging calls a DQ outside of -.09, both humans must also agree that an early takeoff took place for an automatic DQ. If the machine and only one human call a DQ (or both humans say the takeoff was safe), then the officials go to a video review.
Using two cameras, one on each side of the pool focused on four lanes each, officials watch the takeoffs in slow motion. The video serves to verify the DQ and override the one human who disagreed.
Perhaps it’s not as good as the system used at the USA Swimming nationals, world championships or Olympics, but Brian Gordon, the NCAA swimming rules secretary-editor, said the costs associated with mounting cameras above the blocks (as used internationally) could keep the NCAA from taking relay takeoff judging to the next level. He told Swimming World today that it’s about as perfect as it can get at the NCAA level.
“The review process was originally done because nobody trusted the RJP (relay judging platform),” Gordon said. “Things are much better now.”
Stepping up the system of verifying relay takeoff violations is helping catch the early jumpers, but that doesn’t necessarily explain why so many teams are doing it.
Gordon, a former coach at Bowling Green and Alabama, speculated that too many team are taking bigger risks at the championship meet, or not focusing on relay takeoffs as much as other schools.
“When you tell your guys that .03 to .10 is OK, you’re flirting with danger,” he said. “If you’re jumping (early) all year, you’re going to jump here.”