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Discussion: Why no open category at Relay Champs?

in: LAOC Camp Scherman National Meet (Mar 18–19, 2017 - Mountain Center, CA, US)

Feb 7, 2017 2:58 AM # 
Happy to see that we'll have relay champs again, but I can't understand why there is no "Open" relay category without age or gender restrictions at the U.S. relay champs? The absence of such a category makes no sense to me. Why not let each club field their best possible teams? And why have restrictions that might entirely prevent small clubs (or clubs that have to travel far - which I'm sure is the case for many this time) from participating? If we at CAOC, for example, only will be able to pull together a team worth 2 points from people ready to travel to LA, we won't be able to participate at all.
Feb 7, 2017 4:51 AM # 
Every time there's a relay champs, it seems this topic comes up.

There's nothing stopping you from running in the relay, just from winning a championship medal under current rules if your team wouldn't fit the rules (I've seen unofficial relay teams with a member running more than one leg of the race). Rules have adapted over the years (I'm sure the first USOF relay teams were Open as most members at the time were much younger). Some smaller clubs have weak fields (with most traveling members over age 55, say); current methods of handicapping the teams make things more balanced.

If you don't like how the rules are currently written, submit a proposal to have them changed for future events. Clare Durand is the Rules Committee chair and the likely recipient for such a proposal (or the one to ask to whom to submit it).

Edited to add:
2006 discussion
2008 discussion
Feb 7, 2017 5:53 AM # 
Since neither of those threads seems to cover it, the history is:

Up until 1990 the Relay Champs had an M21 category, and F21 category, and also maybe something like M35, F35, M50, F50, some junior categories, etc. And it was a lame, underattended event. In 1991 DVOA proposed a single-category relay, with some criteria for team composition that I won't go into here. It was great. The following year had a similar event in Massachusetts, with the introduction of a point system, still one category (4 points), still great. In 1996, an 8-point category was added, initially on the same courses as the 4-point, but soon afterwards the distances were shortened for the 8-pointers. And in 2004, I think, the 12-point category was also added.

Why no 0-point category? Well, when there was only one category, it was obvious: if the only category is 0 points, then points are meaningless. It was intended to allow multiple clubs to have a chance to field competitive teams, and there weren't any* clubs that couldn't get a 4-point team together. Then the demand for categories was coming from the other direction, from clubs that had plenty of points from runners who didn't want to run quite so far. There was only ever a little demand from clubs that wanted to field teams with fewer points.

The notion of having a 0-point category, which would on the surface seem to be the top bracket, with only a few teams fielded, is less interesting than having a broader field. So we've stuck with a minimum of 4 points. It's really not that hard to put together a 4-point team, at least in this country. Your particular club can't get together 4 points, and therefore can't participate? At some level, the answer is, well, too bad. Some other club can only get three people to show up, and what's the answer to them?

Also, if you've got a 0-point team, then you really have to have a women's relay as well, or you're basically shutting women out. And a women's club relay, in this country, is unfortunately going to be really lame. Back in the day, in fact, it was won every year by NEOC, the only club that could get three decently competitive women together on a consistent basis. You'd probably see something similar today.

*OK, so there was one club that didn't have hardly any points back then: BSK. BSK was a non-geographically based club that basically existed for the primary purpose of winning the relay champs every year, which they kind of did. The new format shut them out and kind of killed the club, although it bounced back a few years later with an entirely new purpose, and a remnant of it still exists to this day. I'm one of the vestigial shards of that remnant, now known as LROC.
Feb 7, 2017 3:23 PM # 
(1) We've already received a rules waiver for a 3-person race as opposed to 4, which should make it a little bit easier to field teams.

(2) LAOC isn't exactly in the middle of the largest orienteering populations. We have a history of attracting only about 100 people to any given A-meet. Splitting such a small field too much doesn't seem reasonable.

(3) As Janet mentioned, the rules committee would be happy to discuss potential relay rule changes. In fact, for a number of years I have had this on my list of things that people commonly say they want to look at. But whenever I've tried to get a sub-group together to really work on it or ask for comments on how it might actually be changed, I get crickets.

(4) An alternative system was discussed during the sanctioning of this event which would go back to a single category, using the point system, but handicapping teams by their points instead of categorizing them. Apparently this has been done at a non-championship event. The event had a chasing start with start times decided by team point totals. This concept holds some promise for a future relay rules change, but it was deemed that there was not enough lead time to fully implement the idea for this year's champs.
Feb 7, 2017 6:07 PM # 
If there was a way to handicap runners based on age/sex, would it be possible to have teams of completely random composition?
Feb 7, 2017 6:17 PM # 
smittyo's (4) sounds like a reference to the format we've used for relay at a couple of Mid-Atlantic Championships. It's pretty great fun for the speedy trying to chase down the high handicap teams, who are definitely in with a good chance of overall victory, although adopting the format at the championship level would be putting a lot of faith in the fairness of the current points system (or some modification thereunto) and the ability of the course designer to make only a few courses that will appropriately challenge all participants. Not that the current points/rules are sacrosanct or the job of setting a relay champs easy as things stand.
Feb 7, 2017 10:33 PM # 
For a variety of reasons, I think it would be a good thing to have 3-person teams as the rule, rather than the exception -- regardless of composition or categories.
Feb 7, 2017 10:54 PM # 
Pink Socks:
Does anyone know what they do at other national championships where clubs (with members of varying ages) compete? Rowing, cross-country, track relays, swimming relays, etc.
Feb 9, 2017 10:01 PM # 
J-J, I'm all for various "categories" to serve our older/younger/female orienteers - and I think the current point system is fairly good. I've never suggested only having one category or going back to M21, M35 etc. What I'm against is the current discrimination against M21 runners that significantly reduces the prestige of winning a medal in the top relay category. Since the "average" runner in a team in the "elite" 4-point (or 3-point) category today has to be non-M21, any M21 runner on a team needs to be compensated for by having someone on the team that is 50 or older (if we simplify things by looking at adult men only). It's also ridiculous that national team runners like Eric Bone will give his team a handicap advantage in the "elite" category.

The argument that a 0-point (or Open) category would attract too few teams, is easily addressable by expanding the range between the categories. Instead of 4, 8 and 12, one could have 0, 6 and 12 (or, for example, 0, 5 and 10 if we have a 3-person relay, which I prefer).

Given the often great travel distances and the fairly low number of teams participating in these events, I think it should be a grave concern (and not just a "well too bad" situation) if we have unnecessary barriers potentially keeping medal contenders in the most prestigious category at home. In this particular case, I could imagine forming fairly competitive 3-person teams with both of the clubs I'm a member of (ICO, which is very small, and CAOC) but the absence of an Open category makes an already tough situation (convincing people to travel to LA) notably more difficult.

My simple suggestion for the future (if it's not already clear from my comments):

1. 3-person relays (no reason to have more - even WOC has 3 legs)
2. Three categories: 0 points (or Open) combined with 5 points and 10 points. The number of "handicap" categories and their respective point requirements could be fine tuned year over year to optimize the number of participating teams.
Feb 9, 2017 10:53 PM # 
Why have categories at all? Why not just handicap younger/male runners with longer courses and/or more controls? Splitting a field of 10-20 teams into 3 categories reminds me of my "conquests" in M-45 age group by virtue of just showing up (and finishing, eventually).
Feb 10, 2017 4:07 PM # 
dnp, while I agree that the number of categories should be kept down (maybe just 2, one Open and one 9/7-point is optimal) for more interesting events, your suggestion would diverge significantly from the international norms of what an orienteering relay is, and I'm afraid it would be very difficult to make it fair if different teams are running different total courses. For a local/regional event, yes, could be worth a try. For a national championship, no.
Feb 10, 2017 5:44 PM # 
I will point out that, in the early years of the "new" relay format, the rules were not codified anywhere, and the host club was free to fiddle with things, which allowed the event to evolve and improve. Eventually there was pressure from some people to get things down on paper, and the old rules (which until that time had still been on the books) were replaced with what was in use at the time, and development stopped. I fought against this, as I thought it was useful for host clubs to be able to continue to innovate, and that would have allowed at least a trial of a zero-point category. But it happened anyway.

I also don't think there's a compelling reason for US relays to comply with international norms.
Feb 10, 2017 10:21 PM # 
Note that this year's US Relay Champs format is far from what the rules specify; as Clare indicated, the proposed format was discussed extensively by the Sanctioning Committee and a waiver was granted. So, innovation is still possible. BAOC had been thinking of bidding for the Relay Champs (until we found out about LAOC's bid), and we'd been planning on having a 0-point category. So, it seems, change is afoot.
Feb 11, 2017 2:13 AM # 
Is that anything like a zero point module? Provides a lot of power from what I hear.
Feb 11, 2017 2:00 PM # 
The rules are actually still pretty flexible in regards to points. They give a default point system, but you're allowed to change that if you publish it soon enough. And they don't specify what the point classes have to be. For the Champs, they require at least two classes and allow for three. How many points these classes would be is left to the organizer.
Feb 11, 2017 7:24 PM # 
Why not a two point, a six point and a ten point category, for three person teams? Two points could be met by two M21s and an F21, surely an elite team (and also the approximate gender ratio of orienteers). Of course it would allow a few other combinations, but likely quite speedy. Six points would work well for a mix of middle aged and/or youths, and ten for our older orienteers.

This discussion thread is closed.