The Current Advantage Rule or Calculus Is NOT for the Masses

Richard Hunkler, PhD.
Water Polo Planet
10/15/07

If you have been reading the WPP message board of late then you will know what the title of this article means. If you have not then here is a concise summary:

A person posted a game situation on the WPP Message Board and the referees call. The person then asked if the referee made the correct call. A number of people posted on the message board that it was not the correct call and a number of others posted that it was the correct call. In this discussion the role of the "advantage rule" came up and some people said that this situation involved the advantage rule and others said it had nothing to do with the advantage rule. Then a poster wrote that he thought the current water polo rules were too complicated and was possibly one of the reasons we didn't have a large fan base. In the post the person asked if anyone thought we should do away with the advantage rule.

A couple of posters including myself said that the "advantage rule" should be replaced with a "delay rule" similar to what is used in hockey. In the ensuing battle over this suggestion it was mentioned that the advantage rule was not used properly and it wasn't used properly because it was difficult to learn and apply - similar to Calculus. I then asked Loren Bertocci, a strong advocate of the advantage rule, to write an article on the WPP web site entitled, "An Interpretation of the Advantage Rule: Calculus for the Masses" and he agreed.

Next, a "Johnny come lately" posted a message on the message board that he didn't know there were that many people not in favor of the advantage rule and besides weren't games with no advantage rule tried in a Bucknell Tournament and it didn't work? Loren, a referee at that Tournament, then told the poster that he tried to show the CWPA coaches at Bucknell what water polo would be like if there was no advantage rule and he was banned from refereeing in the CWPA for life. Loren then said, "And yes, Doc, I will write the article I promised I would write. But I will not submit it until AFTER someone on the anti-advantage rule side finds the courage to author the contra article, the one that takes the FACTS (starting with the famous game(s) I did that weekend almost 3 years ago) of what the game looks like without said rule, describing how the rules would be changed to "fix" the game, describing how even the cleverest players and coaches could not out-smart said game repairs, and how the new game would be so much more attractive to the casual sports fan".

Thus the above is the purpose of the title and the purpose of this article.

The Bucknell Fiasco or Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right

I was not at the Bucknell Tournament but a number of people tried to tell me what happened. Consequently, I will use a short analogy to tell you what I think happened. Once upon a time there were several race drivers that told several mechanics that they didn't like the engines in their cars because they thought the engines were slowing their cars down in the races. They also said they thought the slow down would cause other drivers to become angry and this anger might even cause some injuries. The mechanic argued that engines were fine the drivers were not using them properly. Neither the drivers nor the mechanics would budge from their positions.

Just before a race day one mechanic decided to give the race car drivers an object lesson, so he removed the engines from the cars in four races. Of course he didn't tell the race drivers or other mechanics what he was going to do, so after those four races all hell broke loose. I think the mechanic did this because he was frustrated and he truly believed that action was louder than words. Since the drivers would not listen he would show them. Even though this was not a league tournament I think the drivers were so upset because some of the drivers believed that the points they would or could have earned in those racers might help decide whether they were going to the championships. The mechanic tried to apologize and explain what he did to no avail. His wife also said she would pay for the four races to be run again and she was ignored.

To make a long analogy shorter than a drag race an Ethics Committee of Drivers voted to fire this mechanic not for a year or two but for life. Also to my knowledge there were no mechanics on the committee. I think the mechanic was wrong in what he did, but remember even Saddam Hussein was given a trial involving his peers. Thus, two wrongs didn't make a right!

Calculus Is Not for the Masses and Neither is the Current Advantage Rule

I too think the advantage rule engine is hurting our game of water polo and I want to throw the advantage rule engine away. But you see, I want to replace it with a better engine. That better engine is a "delay-the-call rule". This rule might be thought of as the "transparent advantage rule". Let me give you an example by using an example that I created in the article, (link to article).

When a driver wins inside water in the strike zone and the two meter player gets the ball to the driver or a player on a counter attack has inside water with the ball in the strike zone, then the referee should hold up a clenched fist which lets the players, coaches, and spectators know that a penalty shot could be awarded. If the player shoots and makes a score the play is over; however, if the referee thinks that player could not get the shot off because of the “on ball” violation of WP 21.7 a penalty shot is awarded. If the penalty shot is not awarded, the referee would hold up an open hand, palm up to the deck signifying no penalty shot because in his judgment the player was holding the ball. (Since the referee is already holding up a fist, all the referee has to do is open his or her fist to indicate no penalty shot.) A few animated hand signals from the referees would not only liven up the game but it would also help explain the referee’s calls not only to spectators but also to coaches and players.

The above rule changes would help take away some of the nano-second decisions referees have to make. Having the referee make decisions such as is there a foul or not, and if there is a foul, should he or she call an exclusion or a penalty shot in a split second, is cruel and unusual punishment. This has to make some referees feel very stressed out and others feel very, very powerful, and too much of either one of these emotions is not good for either the referee or the sport. The rules need to be changed so they allow the referees more objectivity and less subjectivity in their enforcement of the rules. Rules that allow the referee unlicensed subjectivity is the true enemy of our sport.

Thus the "transparent advantage rule" or "delay-the-call rule" would add more objectivity to our game and, just as importantly, it would give transparent examples of what the referee thought were or were not major fouls. I believe that the "delayed-call rule" and "hand signals" could go a long way in explaining to players, coaches, referees, and fans what constitutes a major foul in our sport and as an added bonus it would be teaching everyone what the advantage rule is all about.

Email Coach Hunkler at rhunkler@waterpoloplanet.com