Relay Touchpads Stirring Up Controversy

By Jason Marsteller

PHOENIX, Arizona, April 11. AT least a handful of times a year, relay touchpad judging equipment is at the center of controversy. It usually winds up costing a team a spot or two in team standings, or the chance to have a time recorded in the books. This year, however, there is a claim that Humble Kingwood's girls 5A state championship title in Texas could be called into question.

Humble Kingwood edged Southlake Carroll by just a point when Carroll drew a disqualification in the 400-yard freestyle relay, costing the team at worst 22 points.

You can judge for yourself whether a disqualification for an illegal relay exchange occurred with this video of the race courtesy of Rod Hogan. Southlake Carroll is in lane 6 in the video.

The controversy surrounding the disqualification, and nearly all other touchpad disqualifications, stems from the steadfast implementation of the -0.09 to -0.01 rule that supersedes any judgment call from a human being.

Under the National Federation of State High School Associations Suggested Protocols for Automatic Relay Judging Equipment, which the University Interscholastic League (UIL) follows for its state championships in Texas, "if the electronic relay takeoff equipment detects an exchange differential (takeoff pad time minus finish pad time) of -0.09 through +0.09 second inclusive, from the manufacturers stating point, the decision(s) of the relay takeoff judge(s) shall not be considered. The determination of the electronic relay takeoff equipment shall be official, with exchange differential of -0.09 through -0.01 seconds from the manufacturers starting point indicating a rules violation and values of 0.00 through +0.09 seconds indicating a legitimate relay exchange."

In the aforementioned Carroll swim, third-leg Jillian Roberts is registered at a -0.09 takeoff, while a frame-by-frame look at the take-off in question would suggest that a +0.27 takeoff occurred.

Meanwhile, a disqualification of Highland Park in the Texas 4A 200 medley relay held at the same time as the 5A meet, caused by a relay touchpad. The touchpad registered a -0.05 takeoff for Emma Gruber, which has been questioned with a photo (seen to the right) demonstrating Gruber's feet still in contact with the pad, while Meredith Kelly has her hand on the wall.

The initial discussion back in 2008 within the Texas high school coaching ranks regarding the implementation of relay touchpad had planned on tweaking the NFHS suggestions so that touchpads would only be used to help a swimmer. For example, if a swimmer was disqualified by dual confirmation by the judges, but the equipment said different, then the swim would stand. In 2009, however, relay disqualifications began being implemented solely based on the equipment.

The UIL also strictly prohibits video to be used in any officiating matter, unlike the NCAA, which allows for a facility to install a video-backup system to protect the athletes in cases such as this after a controversial disqualification of Stanford occurred in 2008.

UIL Video Rule
Filmers or videotapers will be permitted in the spectator area. Videotape or film will not be used in judging any swimming/diving event. (See All American Diving exception.) Please use extreme wings of spectator area for filming. Please be sensitive to other spectators.

On top of all the commotion occurring at the Texas high school meets, the NCAA Division III Championships also endured controversy due to relay touchpad times. The relay touchpads were not used on the first day of DIIIs dude to lane 8 consistently producing strange readings.

The following day, when coaches were informed that relay touchpads would be back in play, there was a rash of disqualifications in the 400 medley relay with five teams being disqualified in heat three of the women's 400 medley relay. This situation led to the NCAA committee deciding to overturn the relay touchpad disqualifications because the committee had lost confidence in the equipment. All coaches who were impacted were contacted by the NCAA explaining this decision.

An appeal by teams that were not disqualified was rejected. These teams appealed the overturning of the relay disqualifications based on a few principles that included that there was no evidence that the touchpads were malfunctioning. Additionally, the appeal stated that there was no pattern to the disqualifications and that overturning the disqualifications was against the NCAA rules which stated that the relay touchpads were the sole apparatus for determining disqualification so as to eliminate human error from the process.

Regardless of which side of the rulings one is on, relay touchpads definitely have been the center of continued controversy within the sport. Swimming World does believe that a review of the rule calling for automatic disqualifications based solely on relay touchpad equipment should be reviewed.

One suggestion made so far is to require double confirmation of any disqualification, whereas two out of three (touchpad, two referees) would have to confirm a disqualification.

Regardless, a review of the rule should be done to help eliminate the ongoing controversy regarding how relay touchpads are used in swim meets.