USQ Rulebook Burdens Referees

By Christopher Dewing

The full casebook was released on Sept. 28, and now US-based referees, in theory, have all the materials they need to make calls and adjudicate games for the upcoming season. The delay in releasing the casebook, however, has hamstrung referees as they attempt to adapt and implement a significant overhaul of the rules. The outcry after the snoozefest that was snitch-on-pitch time in the final rounds of US Quidditch Cup 10 called for major changes, yet the inescapable feeling after reading both the new rulebook and the casebook is that subjective referee judgement will have far greater impacts next season. For the final rounds of regional championships and US Quidditch Cup this may be okay, but the added differences between regions and referees will likely enrage players who feel unable to rely on consistent refereeing standards. Attempting to mitigate this, the casebook compiled by the rules team makes significant strides toward standardizing referee judgements and detailing the nuances of certain rules. It is a worthy effort; however, that comes at the high cost of expanding the official rules material an additional 63 pages beyond the already bloated 255page rulebook and requiring even more memorization and learning from an amateur referee corps.

There is simply no way to consider the new rulebook without first mentioning the 19 words that open section 7.3.2 Stalling: “On each drive, the quaffle players on the offensive team must act with the overall primary intent to score.” While I applaud the intent of the rule, the implementation of it will be messy and frustrating. By using phrases such as “act with primary intent to score,” “referee determines that the team is beginning to stall,” and “multiple warnings…as the referee determines to be appropriate,” the new two-sentence rule will result in nothing short of historic inconsistency between referees and games. Furthermore, there is no mention of the possibility that a possession could instead focus on regaining bludger control. There are few if any true parallels to bludger control in other sports, and the stalling rule reduces the significance of this unique element of quidditch. The casebook takes long strides towards reducing the ambiguity in referee judgments, but still has a long way to go to rectify the issues the rule has caused. Perhaps the best result the community can hope for is that the rule is rarely, if ever, called, and that delay of game is ruled more effectively and consistently instead.

Lake Erie’s intent to score on Hoosier Daddies at Ball Brothers Brawl 4.0 | Photo Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography

The casebook itself is the second most interesting element to come out of this summer’s rules updates. An admirable effort to standardize referee judgements, it surely will be welcomed by teams and officials alike as a template on how to adjudicate some of the gray areas in the rulebook. It is able to highlight technical nuances, state the proper instruction flow from warnings to cards, and address confusing situations where multiple rules apply. While not without flaws, it could be a launchpoint to help standardize broader referee judgement across the country. The referees who manage to read in their entirety both documents will undoubtedly be more prepared for the season, but once again, the amount of effort to become a volunteer assistant referee has been raised. Compounding the effect of the added reading is the ridiculous delay that resulted in releasing the casebook so close to the start of the season. Expecting members of the community to be able to read, digest, memorize, and implement the explanations from the casebook with as little as 36 hours until the start of a tournament is absurd. It will likely take weeks, if not months, before players and referees will be able to consistently apply and follow the bevy of new rules and new interpretations of old rules.

The change to a onereset rule is one that has been tested throughout MLQ this year. However, in attempting to implement the change, USQ has managed to layer in so many rules and technical language so as to unnecessarily complicate it. Instead of simply saying one reset behind the midfield line, there are now two restrictor lines that can trigger a reset if the quaffle passes behind either. Circumventing non-physical pressure from a defender does not count as a reset, but shooting does. The quaffle being knocked backwards by a defender does not count as a reset, but could count if the referee deems that the quaffle was going to cross a restrictor line regardless. While each of these clauses has likely been selected with careful intent by the rules team, they once again put more subjective judgement into the hands of the referee. The casebook goes a long way towards clearing these edge cases up, but there will likely be significant variation from referee to referee throughout the season as everyone becomes accustomed to the rule and its nuances

Amongst all the mammoth changes to the rulebook are a fairly large number of major and significant changes highlighted in the changelog. Here is a brief overview of some of the more impactful changes as described and ordered in the rulebook:

Major Changes (Selected)

3.3.4.2, 3.3.5.1, and 3.3.5.3 Players who commit two separate fouls during a delayed call get both penalties regardless of intent now. All play should incur the appropriate penalty, and this is a step towards removing subjective judgement about the ambiguous idea of ‘intent.’ Even if it is incidental, two instances of committing play that is unsafe or has a major impact should be called. Better train those new players up!

6.3Added a new set of interaction restrictions for how seekers are allowed to interact with the snitch. This is a big change further limiting the contact on dives and reaching around the snitch; get ready for a lot of calledoff snitch catches! Even if these rules are only minor clarifications on the rule about not impeding the snitch, they specify many interactions that were previously dismissed as illegal now. Only being allowed to have incidental contact with the snitch runner when reaching around them is going to create a lot of additional ambiguity about catches. Again, while the intent is good and helps improve safety, this change may have a lot of adverse gameplay effects.

Snitch, Brian King, fending off a seeker at Intramurals Fall 2017 | Photo Credit: Emily Selway Photography


8.8.1 and 8.9The snitch runner is ruled down by all stoppages but now must also restart play in the vicinity of where they were at the stoppage. What a wonderful clarification. This rule really helps clear up what snitches can and cannot do during stoppages and also makes the resumption of play really simple. This can alleviate a significant number of disputed calls.

10.1.3.2Explicitly states that the three whistles end a period and also lock in the score. This definitely clarifies how referees and tournaments should handle arguments about the end of the game, but it also puts a big impetus on speaking captains to get any arguments, disputes, or clarifications in before the whistle. It is now pretty much a must for any speaking captain to quickly run towards referees upon a snitch referee’s stoppage of play if there is anything they want to address.

Significant Changes (selected)

1.1.2 Created rules for non-playing staff in the team bench area. This is a great change and a wonderful improvement. Not only does it codify a previously gray area that most referees just glanced over, but it makes it easier for teams with a bigger setup to have a more communal feel.

3.3.1Field-wide warnings and penalties for illegal movements before restarts. New procedure codified. This is a change that may cause newer players to get back-to-hoops calls, but it also helps codify how to deal with these actions in games at regional championships or US Quidditch Cup. There’s enough language flexibility to help referees who are encountering this as a constant recurring problem as well.

6.1.11 Hurdling now prohibited in most cases. Nice safety change. While these are plays with lots of oohs and aahs, they are also often dangerous.

7.7.2Clear rules about when referees should and should not retrieve out-of-bounds bludgers. These rules are somewhat cosmetic but also really help deal with the situations of bludgers going off pitches. Experienced referees will pick up on this, but they will likely need to help newer referees who may still try to retrieve bludgers

With just a few games played under Rulebook 11, the gameplay impact of the changes made in it remains mostly hypothetical, until teams and officials have each had a couple of tournaments to adapt. There is yet a chance that these changes launch quidditch forward into a new decade and provide the foundation for future growth. However, this is doubtful. Giving referees more decisions to make may work for championship finals, but it hampers grassroots growth; meanwhile, new players will have an even steeper learning curve. Calling the new rules “ambiguous” or “complicated” would be a polite understatement. The casebook has attempted to correct many such deficiencies, but as of now referees and players appear to lose out.