Monday, March 05, 2007

USPSA RULES 2.2.1: "Extend Rearward To Infinity"

One of the 'general' changes applied to the (Draft - For Comment Only) "2007" version of the USPSA rule book is to remove all references to "Charge Lines" and replace them with "Fault Lines".

Historically, the term "Charge Line" was used to prevent the competitor from 'charging' the target, resulting in engagement at such close quarters that pasting tape was blown off the target due to the effects of muzzle blast. (This rendered the target "impossible to score", although in club matches .... especially during the Rainy Season which emcompases approximately nine months in Oregon ... the RO would often just give credit for whatever seemed likely. Decidedly, an argument in favor of Charge Lines in stage design and construction.)

The term "Fault Line" was generally used to refer to situations where the competitor was restricted to a shooting box, the outlines of which formed the physical limits of the shooting box, or to ground-barriers which were intended to restrict lateral movement.

Obviously these definitions are vague and subject to criticism, and it is with a sigh of relief that we unsaddle ourselves from the cumbersome, redundant, confusing (and vague) term "Charge Line".

If that was the only change made in Rule 2.2.1, there would be no need to comment except for the encouragement of a hearty "Atta Boy!"

However, there are other changes included in the rewritten Rule 2.2.1, and they deserve some attention.

Here's the complete text of the rewritten Rule 2.2.1:

2.2.1 Fault Lines - Competitor movement may be restricted through the use of physical barriers or Fault Lines. Fault Lines should be constructed of wooden boards or other suitable material, must be fixed firmly in place, and must rise at least 1.5 inches above ground level, providing both physical and visible references to competitors. Fault Lines used to control lateral movement and force the competitor to shoot at targets from behind physical barriers may be positioned at any angle extending to the rear of those barriers, should be a minimum of 3 feet in length, and unless otherwise stated in the written stage briefing, are deemed to extend rearwards to infinity.
For clarity, and to provide a reference to specific changes, here is what the "Old Rules" (from the 2004 USPSA Rule Book) look like:

2.2.1 Charge Lines and Fault Lines - Competitor movement should preferably be restricted through the use of physical barriers, however, the use of Charge and Fault Lines is permitted. Charge Lines and Fault Lines should be constructed of wooden boards or other suitable material and should rise at least 2 centimeters (0.79 inches) above ground level. This will provide both physical and visible references to competitors to prevent inadvertent faulting. Fault Lines and Charge Lines must be fixed firmly in place to ensure they remain consistent throughout the match. Charge Lines are used to restrict unreasonable movement by competitors toward or away from targets. Fault Lines are used to force the competitor to shoot at targets from behind physical barriers. They may be positioned at any angle extending to the rear of these barriers. Fault Lines should be a minimum of 1 meter (3.28 feet) in length and unless otherwise stated in the written stage briefing, they are deemed to extend rearwards to infinity.
I started to show which words, phrases and concepts were changed by strike-outs on the old rule, but it soon became apparant that the changes were too extensive. Besides, most of them only served to removed the phrase "Charge Lines", or to remove redundant or awkward words & phrases..

Here's a convenient summary of the changes:
  1. Remove "Charge Line" verbiage
  2. Change minimum height of Fault Line from 0.79" to 1.4" (appropriate for a 2x4)
  3. Change minimum length of Fault LIne from 1 meter to 3 feet (appropriate for US Measurements.)
  4. There is no Point Four. That's all that changed.
Here's the thing:

There should be a Point Four. That should have been to remove the phrase:
"... are deemed to extend rearwards to infinity."
Well, maybe not. It's a nice idea, that we don't have to build fault lines back until they achieve absurd (and usually unhelpful) length.

I can appreciate the good intentions of the folks who wrote the original rule, and the folks who left it in the 2007 version. Unfortunately, in the actual event this may lead to competitor solutions to the shooting problem which are at least difficult or impossible for the RO to adjudicate, and in the worst cases render the stage 'illegal' under both current and proposed rules.

Remember those two phrases: "Difficult or Impossible to adjucate", and "Render the stage Illegal."

Here's why.

"Extend Rearward to Infinity" may make it Difficult or Impossible for the RO to adjudicate a Foot Fault":

Suppose there's a stage with two fault lines arranged in a "V" formation, with the point of the "V" downrange. Here are vision barriers arranged so that it is very difficult to see targets unless you are very close to the fault line on either side. The fault lines are only 10 (or 12 or 20 or 50) feet long, so you have to run from side to side to get around the vision barriers and see the targets.

Suppose a competitor realizes that he can position himself UPRANGE of the end of the fault line (which 'extends to infinity'), and engage all targets on one side; then he moves fleetly to the other side of the bay to engage all targets on the other side.

You are the Range Officer. You look at the fault lines and extend them to infinity with your Mind's Eye, and the competitor has obviously engaged the targets from a position on the wrong side of the line.

So, you're gonna ding him hard for a foot fault, per shot. Right?


Rule 2.2.1 clearly stages the physical dimensions of a Fault Line, and (not gratuitously) adds that the purpose of the Fault Line is to:
"...[provide] both physical and visible references to competitors."
Guess what? Where he is standing, there are no fault lines. He doesn't have a 'physical' reference to where they are (or should be), and you as the RO only have the Minds Eye view of where the fault lines would have been ... if they were physically extended 'to infinity'.

If I was the competitor and you were the RO that dinged me, we would meet again in the little sweaty stats-shack area reserved for the Arbitration Committee. You would invoke rule, I would invoke rule, and no matter what the outcome the match administrators would have gone to a lot of trouble and time to invoke an Arbitration Committee. More, a thoughtful Arbitration Committee would realize that if the stage designer/stage construction team really wanted to prevent me from shooting at that location, they would have made a few minor changes to the stage. But they didn't.

The results of this arbitration would be:
  1. I 'cheat' and get away with it, or ...
  2. I 'cheat' and don't get away with it ... but the report of the arbitration goes to USPSA where they have to justify it. But either way ...
  3. The match is slowed down and a trumverate of competitors are pulled off the line and their match is enturbulated because they're spending an hour on an Arb Committee instead of working on their match ... which is the reason they paid the match fees, not to sit on committee.
Who do you think they'll be mad at?

Everybody. But the BOD will have to re-visit this rule, and maybe think about what they can do to prevent this from ever happening again.

Second case:
"Extend Rearward to Infinity" may Render the Stage Illegal":

Why "Illegal?" Because the stage design allows the shooter to move rearward to infinity until it was possible to engage all targets from a single position.

I entered a blog article about a specific example of this in January, 2007. I also provided a High-quality video of the stage, which I also provide in low-quality from YouTube here.

As you can see, at least one Open Division competitor managed to engage every target without movement from a single position. At least two other Open Division competitors did the same thing, taking only a single step to engage the last target .... but if they had move another step uprange, they wouldn't have needed to take that sidestep.

This is in clear violation of Rule 1.2.1, in both the 2004 and the 2007 versions of the rule book.

Admittedly, this is the consequence of stage construction problems. It was a good stage, it's just that it is illegal and will result in the stage being removed from the match as soon as one competitor manages to "engage all targets from a single location ...".

In either case ...

... there is a very good chance that the stage will ultimately be thrown out of the match. Why? The alternative is to change the stage(s) so that the next guy won't take advantage of "fault lines which are deemed to extend into infinity".

Remember, it's a game. If one competitor finds a superior solution to the shooting problem, every competitor who sees it will strongly consider applying the same strategic solution.

There won't be one person taking advantage of this hole in the stage design, there will be a LOT of them.

Call it "gaming", call it smart thinking, call it the Lemming Principle.


It may be impossible to find an elegant solution to this problem.
  • We could remove the "extends to infinity" clause, but (until you review the consequences in detail) it looks like A Good Idea.
  • We could include a reference to the rule (1.2.1) that precludes shooting all targets froma single location.
  • We could ... well, I don't know. This is where you are invited to suggest our own solution.

Ultimately, this is a problem which can best be resolved by stage design and stage construction. It doesn't really suggest a good way to resolve it by writing rules. The above were the best ideas I could come up with, and if you have a better idea you should immediately write to your Area Director. Comments here are invited, and encouraged, but I don't really expect that the Board of Directors is going to monitor this site to discover the best way to correct the rule book.

Still .... where else are you going to find an extended discussion about the subtle flaws.

UPDATE: Guest Comment

Stan Penkala offers a solution to all of the problems identified.

No comments: