Have FINA Rules Hurt College Water Polo?

Richard Hunkler, Ph.D.
Slippery Rock University

I wrote this article a dozen years ago and it is still viable today. It is still the same if not worse for the women. Here is what FINA and Len really think of women's water polo, "Women's water polo players should be seen but not heard." The Men's NCAA and the Men's USWPA are so frightened of FINA they won't pass gas without asking FINA permission to do so. It is a real shame we can't find people who are more interested in helping water polo than in receiving absurd salaries. One may ask what are we getting for these elaborate salaries?

In my opinion the answer to the above question is a resounding “Yes!” Watching a World Federation wrestling match at two meters in water polo is about as exciting as watching a barber cut hair, or watching a person from the Highway Department paint lines on the highway, or watching a player take a penalty shot from mid-court . To me there are two types of water polo games. There is the in your face physical game with the domineering play at two meters – the static water polo game, and there is the fluid and constantly moving game with field players continuously driving and counter attacking – the dynamic water polo game. I contend that the second type of game, the dynamic game, is much more exciting to watch, and, more importantly, it is much , much, more exciting to play – every player gets a part of the action.

The FINA rules tend to favor the static game, and the old NCAA rules tended to favor the dynamic game. In the old NCAA rules a faster whistle at two meters and dead time encouraged teams to play the exciting dynamic game. Whereas under the FINA rules a slow whistle at two meters and no dead time, encourages teams to play a boring static game. At a hockey game ordinary spectators tolerate the amount of physical play because the amount of time players spend on physical play is less than the amount of time the players spend skating, passing, and shooting. In FINA ruled water polo the amount of time spent jockeying for position at two meters dominates the entire offense, and the amount of time driving, passing and shooting is held to a minimum. Boring! That is what water polo has become at both the International and College level, and it has to be as boring to the majority of the players on a team who are not involved directly in the two meter play as it is to most spectators.

Another aspect of the old NCAA Rules that has been over looked is the fact that the NCAA rules were used as a spring board for creating innovating rule changes not only in the College water polo arena but in the International water polo arena as well. Where do you think the seven minute quarters, timeouts, and the seven meter shot after a foul, to name just a few rule innovations, were created? They sure as the devil didn’t come from Eastern European block. They came from the NCAA Rule’s Committee. Each year this committee would solicit from coaches, referees, and administrators possible rule changes. The possible changes were then discussed by the committee members. After considerable discussion several of the rule changes were selected and sent to the member NCAA Colleges and Universities for a vote. Those changes that were elected were then implemented into the college game, and those changes that were good for the game were kept and those that were not, in time, were voted out by the membership.

This method of changing water polo rules in the USA college game, too me, is much better then allowing a block of Eastern European, old fogies to control and dictate college rule changes. Trying out new rules in a college game and seeing how the new rules effect the college game is a much better way to implement rule changes. Water polo should take a lesson from the software market. Which operating system is more prone to errors and has more bugs, Windows, which was created and is maintained by programmers at one company, Microsoft, or Linux, which is maintained and improved by a much larger and open base of programmers? If your work on the computer has ever been disrupted by irritating blue screens, you know without a doubt in your mind that Windows is! Open source programming and open source water polo rule changes are the way to go. Why then, you ask, is Windows the dominating operating system in the world? This is true not because it is necessarily the best but because it is controlled by one company which has a monopoly. Does this sound familiar to the FINA Rules Committee?

A few years back the US Water Polo decided that one of the reasons we hadn’t won an Olympic gold medal in men’s water polo was that the rules were not standardized for age group, high school, college, and international play. (It appears that they also thought that a US coach couldn’t win a gold medal either – what an undeserved slap in the face to the dedicated coaches in this country.) Consequently, a campaign of persuasion, harassment, and intimidation was run to have the rules standardized. First, saying we can’t win an Olympic gold medal without standardized rules is tantamount to saying the NBA players can’t win an Olympic gold medal without having the NBA use the Olympic basketball rules? What about the NHL players? Elite players can adjust to almost any set of rules, and they can do it in a very short period of time especially when there is only a few major differences in the rules. Second, using the same logic shouldn’t we make the age group teams use the same sized standardized ball that is used in the Olympics? Finally, less than 5% of the USA players make a National team, so why should the rules be dictated by so few to help a few elite water polo players when they could be created by many to help so many college water polo players in this country?

Email Coach Hunkler at [email protected]